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Macroom, Co. Cork
Since the recession and my temporary contract in the county library system ended back in 2009 I’ve had the pleasure of teaching painting to some people in my local town, Macroom. Ironically, I was asked to take over the class at the library counter when a woman I knew was checking out a book (the Englishman who’d taught had become too elderly). The timing couldn’t have been better.
Though a little anxious (did I know enough to be able to teach them anything?) I attended the first class after taking every book on painting out of Macroom library and the village library. Research, research, research. What can I say? It’s the historian in me and I can’t escape it. Though I probably didn’t learn an awful lot from going through these books, the act gave me the feeling that I was creating some expertise. In the end I needn’t have worried. They were so friendly, so grateful for someone to just lean over their shoulder and give them a few words of advice or encouragement, it wasn’t long before I relaxed.
It was at the tea break (of course there’s one of those) that I realized that this experience would contain more than art. As I listened to these people talk and discuss various things about what was going on in Macroom I realized how much they knew of the history of the town, how much a part of the town they were, some from birth. Some of the laughed and reminisced about how much things had changed I realized the huge changes they had witnessed locally, changes that represented those Ireland had experienced. Macroom cloaks for example (18th c. origin) were worn up until the 1970s by some women, especially to mass. It was something you could wear to mass everyday and no one would be any the wiser if you had your old pinny on underneath. The choir I’m in wear replicas sometimes when performing.
Macroom cloak replica
Another person in the art group remembered leading the family cow from their house, down the road in town to graze in one of the nearby fields. There’s still a mart twice a week in the town where cattle, sheep and miscellaneous animals are auctioned off (farming is king in this country). And of course nick names. With Marys and Seans in abundance there had to be ways to distinguish one from another. One woman in the art group, Sheila, grew up just near the bridge going into the town and, to distinguish her from all the other “Sheilas” was called “Sheila the Bridge.”
I just itched to record all of this information, conscious that so much of this social history would be lost. While trying to beat down the compulsive historian in my head, the writer rose up and started musing on all the wonderful stories each reminiscence generated. You can never tell what will provoke a “novel” thought. A headline, a TV bit, an overheard exchange in a café. You never know. For my friend Frances Kay, her highly acclaimed novel, Micka, was inspired by her drama work with troubled youth in Newcastle. The novel’s power comes the voice of the two main characters, two ten-year old lads, whose awful family backgrounds contribute to the terrible choices they make.
See Frances Kay’s blog, www.FrancesKaywriter.wordpress.com. Her book, Micka, is available from Amazon.
Kristin Gleeson is a writer, artist and musician who lives in the west of Ireland in the Gaeltacht.
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