6. YEARS BEFORE –AT THE ENGLISH CONVENT—
YOUNG ANNIE DISCOVERS THE PIANO
Many years before, it happened that some
Irish maiden-aunts –5 of them sisters of my
grandmother Johanna!– taught as nuns in
English Catholic convent schools. In turn, some
of their Irish nieces were educated there.
One of these -Annie O’Neill from Mitchelstown
in County Cork– would become my mother.
It was a quality education –with the
“Nun-Discount” thrown-in. At the English
Convent School in Southampton, the
“Actuarial Propensities” at play would, in
time, dispose some of the said colleen-nieces
to become nuns—Take the Veil, Make a Vow,
Make a wish, Become a Bride of Christ.
(Also, restock that pool of Irish Nuns.)
[An etymological aside: “Colleen takes veil”?
It is an oddity of word-origin: the Gaelic “cailin”
means “little ‘cail”. But –“cail” means …no, not
“woman” but…”veil”. Veil? “Veil” refers to “Virgo
intacta’s” virginal seal! A Veiled Reference to
Her Veiled Reverence? That age-old Male
Seal of Approval –“Freshness Sealed In”?]
Did Annie herself have a Vocation?(A Calling?)
Years later she hinted she’d…”considered” it
–and decided “no”. (We kids all breathed
sighs of relief!) She sometimes teased us with
her “Game of Feigned Regret”. Regarding her
brood with a sigh, she’d muse aloud, “Maybe I
should have…”. Floating it momentarily, she’d
‘catch’ herself & dismiss the thought with
a shake of her head. (An amusing muser.)
At the convent, a concert pianist of acclaim
had abandoned worldly fame to become a nun.
(–in an anonymity befitting her selflessness,
her name is unrecorded.) She became Annie’s
piano-teacher, Annie her star pupil (–Annie
who had never before as much as seen a
piano!) Now she discovered an extraordinary
talent. And a love that swept away all timidity.
7. THINKING FOR HERSELF –BEETHOVEN;
WWI & GLUM HEROES & “NEVER AGAIN”;
THE PINKNESS OF MAPS; IRELAND FREE?
For Annie, the piano was a liberation. She
embraced the new world before her, opening
herself to music, fired by Beethoven, Chopin,
Tchaikovsky, Debussy. (Satie, too.) And the
connected world of writers, poets, artists; the
ideas & ideals; the vows of “Never Again” after
WWI’s cynical carnage –mindless & profligate.
(A favorite poem of hers scorned Majors who
sped “…glum heroes up the line to death”)
These were the years of Annie Efflorescens;
Europe’s –and Ireland’s– years of ferment.
Years of new directions. Thinking for herself.
Curious to look beyond
the convent and the conventional;
to look behind curtains; to leap over walls; to
question old orders & borders.She was excited
to have friends from so many countries.
And, yes –time to ponder the overwhelming
pinkness of maps! (Why SO pink?) To voyage
to the very brink of The Old Imperial Envelope;
even to contemplate its void. So close to the
edge; to falling off. To imagine the hitherto
unimaginable –an Ireland Independent & Free!
De-imperialized! Liberated! To become…what?
Free to be itself? Free to choose the future!
8. MITCHELSTOWN, CO. CORK, IRELAND:
LADY KINGSTON PUBLICLY REBUKES
ANNIE: “CHILD! WHERE IS YOUR HAT!”
Annie told a story from an earlier time: one
day at home in Mitchelstown, as a young
girl on the street, she was loudly castigated in
full public rebuke by Lady Kingston Herself —
“Owner” of Mitchelstown, and the very model
of a Wildean Lady Bracknell.)
In rising imperious tones Lady K.demanded of
Annie,”Child! Where IS your HAT!” How DARE
you appear in public improperly attired!”
(“In MY town!”, she did not add. In “her town”,
good Lady Kingston felt no need to do so!)
That was then! How times had changed & were
yet a’changing! It may have been “a kingdom
for a hat”, but now Ireland’s very history was on
the move. (Now, Lady Kingston would be wise
to hold on to her own hat.) A new chapter was
opening in the fitful narrative –Yeats’ “terrible
beauty”, come to term. “Straining to be born.”
There would be no turning back. Soon
would come The Rebels & The Rising Up.
Soon would come “The Troubles”. (And,
as it turned out, Lady Kingston’s Castle
would be soon enough for burning.)
In earlier times the Kingston’s had taken the
stones from old Kilcoghlan Catholic Church
to build the “White Knight’s Tower”: Kingston
Castle would be… even more imposing. But
after ”The Torching of the Tower” the same
stones –all former Catholics—would switch
sides again.( Re-converting? Backsliding?
Those Lapsing-Lapes and “Thou Art”-petres!)
Now the stones rolled down the road & built
Mount Mellary Monastery’s school; Annie’s
six brothers would get a solid education!)
[End of Excerpt 2.]
We are now back in Mitchelstown in the years leading up to the Rebellion of 1916. In Excerpt 3. we first meet Liam Lynch. The mild young Liam came to begin an apprenticeship at Annie’s father’s “O’Neill’s Hardware” store, lasting from 1910 to 1914.
The next nine years –up to 1923– of Liam’s life would be
filled with extraordinary achievement, with the War of Independence and the ill-fated Treaty (that caused Michael Collins to remark that he had “just signed his death warrant”,) followed by the Civil War of 1922-23.
And on April 10th of that year, 1923, Liam would be shot dead on a mountainside by the Free-Staters as he tried to flee. It would be the last shot fired in that bitter war.
“This should never have happened,” were his dying words.]