Read Maggie's Breakfast Online
Authors: Gabriel Walsh
by Poolbeg Books Ltd
123 Grange Hill, Baldoyle
Dublin 13, Ireland
© Gabriel Walsh 2012
Copyright for typesetting, layout, design
© Poolbeg Books Ltd
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eBook ISBN 978-1-84223-534-8
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording, or
any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
resold or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this
condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Typeset by Patricia Hope in Sabon 11.4/16.5
Printed by CPI, Mackays, UK
About the author
Gabriel Walsh was born in Dublin. He later went on to study in America and France. Gabriel has lectured at colleges in Los Angeles and Cork and was a staff writer for Universal
Pictures in Hollywood. He has worked on different occasions with actors such as Jack Nicholson, Gene Wilder and Robert Redford. He wrote the original screenplay
Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in
which received a Writers Guild of America nomination. He also wrote the film
which received an ecumenical award at the Montréal World Film Festival.
There are times, when I look up at the sky, I see mingled among the stars faces of people with whom I shared some of my hopes, joy and pain. Often these faces appear brighter
than their adjacent celestial neighbours. In wonderment and awe I see my parents Paddy and Molly, they who deposited me here on earth. I see the shadow of my sister Rita and the silhouette of the
kind nun at Goldenbridge Convent, both of whom had the religion of love. In another part of the vast infinity I see Maggie Sheridan and hear the arias she sang on the operatic stage; and I remember
gratefully how she pointed me in a direction that took me to many defining destinations. I also see the face of Sally Faile, a friend who helped keep me afloat when I was sinking and floundering in
the confusion of my youth. In another illumination I see the face of Melanie Cain, a partner in pursuit of fantasy and art, and also the mother of my beloved daughter Juliana, who became and is the
Supernova of my existence.
During the First World War thousands of sixteen and seventeen-year-old boys in Ireland enlisted in the British army. To facilitate this and because of the need for bodies in
the trenches, the English conveniently ignored age requirements at the time of enlistment. No one, it seemed, was too young or too old to die for the Crown. Many Irish who enlisted did so because
of the dismal poverty in their own country. There weren’t many alternatives to “taking the king’s shilling”. Countless Irishmen chose to die on the battlefields of France
and Belgium instead of in the poorhouse in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland.
At the time of the ‘Great War’ my father, Paddy Walsh, was one of the thousands of young Irish boys who joined up. At the age of seventeen, Paddy Walsh survived the carnage without a
scratch on his body and remained a soldier in the British army for several years more than he might have originally intended. Paddy experienced first-hand in the Great War what most people would
not want to see or remember. His prolonged stay in the army doubtless had something to do with the sense that he had no place to return to. It is more than likely that his reason for leaving
Ireland had been to do with the fact that as the second son he felt unwanted at home. Second sons didn’t inherit from their fathers and were generally considered to be akin to the dog that
slept in the yard rather than the one who got to sleep in the house. For my father the reality and pain of abandonment at home overwhelmed the images of the death-trenches that awaited him on the
battlefields in France when he decided he wanted to be a soldier.
One summer he was made aware that his father back in Ireland had taken ill and, with the same determination that had impelled him to leave home in the first place, he decided to return to County
Kildare and revisit his past. When he returned there wasn’t anybody to greet him at the isolated railroad station that served the crossroads of the village he came from, Maganey near Athy.
After standing alone at the station and maybe even wondering if he should go home or not, Paddy Walsh picked up his bag and started walking to the cottage where he was born and where, before he
left, he lived with his father, sister and two brothers. While crossing the field towards it, he heard several rifle shots and bullets went whizzing by his head. When he made his way to the rear of
the cottage and looked in the back window he saw his older brother John, heir to the small farm, rifle in hand, still trying to find his target. Within seconds John was outside and the brothers
were in a fistfight but my father with his military agility separated John from the rifle. The two brothers eventually retreated back to the cottage where my Uncle John wanted to burn the English
army uniform my father wore but Paddy would have none of it. The uniform was a symbol of freedom for him. It meant travel, adventure and in an odd but obvious way it meant identity.
For a week or so, while my grandfather recuperated from his undiagnosed ailment, my father spent his days at home and his nights at the local Three Counties pub (named because of its proximity
to the counties of Laois and Carlow) talking about the differences between England and Ireland and the Irish and the English. Under the influence of a few pints, the subject was civilly
The day my father was set to leave his father’s cottage and rejoin his army outfit in England, he came across Molly MacDonald, an attractive twenty-year-old country girl. When he saw her
washing the windows at the railroad station he couldn’t resist the urge to talk to her and he did so unhesitatingly. For Paddy at age twenty-three, Molly might have been the most beautiful
woman he had seen in a long time, although at the pub he did boast about seeing and meeting beautiful women while serving in France and Egypt. I often wondered what he said on that day to my
mother, who as it turned out was a package of pain and penance wrapped in a natural rural beauty.
Uncle John was as distrustful of the MacDonald clan as he was resentful of his brother wearing the English army uniform and he unwisely advised my father to stay away from Molly. In his narrow
mind the MacDonalds were way down the scale on the social ladder. Uncle John made it clear to my father that he would never approach a MacDonald if they owned all the cows and grass in the county.
John rarely ventured out of the realm of the attitudes and values of the small Irish village he lived in.
With a certain kind of rebellion towards his father and brother and a display of romantic adventure, Paddy fell in love. With a soldier’s impatience on short leave, he proposed to Molly
and spent his army salary on a gold wedding ring: the most expensive thing he had ever purchased and the most beautiful item my mother had ever seen. From my father’s side of the family,
marrying a MacDonald was a greater sacrilege than joining the English army. This rejection left Paddy with a great sense of detachment that was to distinguish him in his dealings with my mother,
his growing family and just about everything and everybody else he encountered in his daily life.
* * *
Against all opposition, Paddy married Molly MacDonald and they escaped to Dublin. They arrived at a pivotal time in Irish history, when the Civil War was breaking out.
In July 1921 the War of Independence had ended in a truce and in December 1921 Michael Collins and other members of the revolutionary
Ireland’) had signed an agreement with the British government that gave independence to twenty-six of the thirty-two counties that comprised the Island of Ireland. Presumably Collins and his
negotiating team accepted this as a stepping-stone that would eventually lead to the unification of the entire island. Collins and his negotiators also accepted the most contentious aspect of the
entire agreement: an unpopular proviso in the document required swearing an oath to the English Crown. This was no doubt accepted with the intention of eventually doing away with it, once the new
Irish Republic was established. It was considered by those in power in England that the notion of not swearing allegiance to the Crown would spread to other parts of the Empire and might eventually
contribute to the diminution of England’s global influence. Lloyd George, the English Prime Minister from the Liberal party, bowed to the insistence of the Conservative party in opposition to
him at the time, that the oath be part of the agreement. Also, a young Winston Churchill, a member of Lloyd George’s cabinet, advocated that the Irish government of the new Free State should
swear allegiance to the Crown.
The man who led the faction that rejected the taking of the oath to the English Crown was Éamon de Valera, the then leader of
and President of the
notional Republic of Ireland
De Valera went against Collins and a majority of the Irish people who voted and accepted the treaty at the time. The consequence of de Valera’s decision
led to a split in the ranks of those who sought and dreamed of separation from England. The result of the break-up led to the Civil War and the carnage that ensued. The war ended in May 1923 in a
defeat for de Valera and his faction.
Paddy had been drawn to the Pro-Treaty side led by Michael Collins and, doffing his British uniform at last, for a short time wore the uniform of the army of the Irish Free State.
It might not have been more than a year or two into the marriage when Molly and Paddy began to drift from each other: if not in body certainly in spirit. He fought for the Free State; she in her
ignorance and innocence had sided with those in favour of rejecting the negotiated treaty. She might have taken this stand to exert a sense of independence of her own.
Their flight to Dublin from the countryside coincided with a harsh and impoverished period in the history of Dublin. With money as scarce as sunshine at the end of the Civil War, the population
of Dublin resembled the poor and impoverished masses of some cities in India. For my mother, frequent pregnancies and a growing family underlined the pain.
* * *
When they got undressed to go to bed at night my mother Molly would moan, groan and complain about how she felt about my father Paddy. With the zeal of a religious missionary,
she consistently and proudly reminded him about her humble beginnings, as if they were a badge and a symbol of her suffering.
“If we picked potatoes we planted them ourselves in our own bit of ground. Didn’t your own flesh and blood let you leave home without a penny? Disinherited like a lame dog in the
back yard! Your brother John got everything when your father died, God rest his soul! I’m tellin’ no lie. That’s as true as the Crucified Jesus. Sure didn’t you run away
from home yourself when you was a young fella? Didn’t ya join up with the British army and leave your own mother and father? The MacDonalds were decent people. Didn’t we own our own
cottage in Maganey? That MacDonald cottage is still standin’. I’ve never heard a good word spoken about the Walshes. The Walshes thought they were too good for any MacDonald. Well, they
weren’t! Some people said you were disowned because you married me, a MacDonald. I wouldn’t believe that for a minute! Me mother and father were decent people, I tell you no lie! They
always did an honest day’s work. I was a clean and proper girl when you met me. I was scrubbin’ floors and cold marble steps since I was fourteen!”