A yocky house with a yocky chimney


Gerard (left) and me (right), probably taken just before I got lost

In this post I write about the earliest clear memory that I can date.  I was about two and a half years old, in the late Summer of 1954. We had just arrived in Bettystown on our holidays. Mammy would have been pregnant with Eric at the time, though of course I knew nothing of that. Mammy and daddy were preparing the house while Gerard and I were playing together in the sand close to the house. I said to Gerard that I was going to go for a walk. He said not to, that mammy had told us not to move from where we were. I remember feeling confident, grown up, as I replied “I’m only going for a walk.” Knowing now how a two-year-old speaks, I’m sure I can’t have been quite so clear!

I walked down the beach in the direction of Laytown. Soon two nuns from the Sisters of Mercy found me and decided that I was lost. I guess I was lost, because a two-and-a-half-year-old should not be walking by himself on a beach. However, instead of walking me back up the strand to look for my mother, which I now think would be the obvious thing to do, they brought me into the order’s summer house/convent, which opened onto the strand. I remember going in a narrow metal gate between concrete posts, up some steps and along a path to the house. They were very kind to me.

Inside they gave me milk and biscuits and all the nuns gathered round to ask me about myself – who I was, where I was from, and so on. Some of them thought they recognised me from my mother, who had attended the Sacred Heart school in Drogheda, but this didn’t help. They tried various ways to get me to say my mother’s first name or surname, but these all failed. They asked what my mother’s name was, I said “mammy”; they asked what my father called my mother, I said “mammy”; they asked what he called her when he was talking to other people, I said “mammy”. I don’t know if I knew my own surname at the time, but I certainly didn’t know my mother’s maiden name, Murray, which is the name that they would have known her by.

I told the nuns that I used to live in a nice house with a nice chimney but that we had moved to a yocky house with a yocky chimney. The house was in a little lane on the Laytown side of the main entrance to Bettystown beach. Eventually a woman who worked as the nuns’ housekeeper came in and told them that people in the village were looking for me. This woman took me off on her bicycle back towards Bettystown. Mammy was out on the road looking for me and she saw me coming. She grabbed me from the woman and was very upset, though I didn’t understand why. I had had a great time and really enjoyed all the attention.

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