Weekend plans

Friday already. The days are flying by. Staying with Cousin is like stepping into a life I know but do not usually live. I catch up with her friends, her children, the dogs, her in-laws, our shared family.

Walking Westie Boy yesterday I met her neighbour Julie. “How long are you home for?” she asked. Home is a loaded word, and I am not sure I could ever live here. Apparently I am an Irish citizen by right and birth, but I am English in my core. It is England that has raised me nurtured me, made me who I am. Mostly. Because in England I am aware that under my Home Counties accent lies another self, my half-Irish self, complicated by it being a Northern Irish, Protestant self, which to some means a non identity, a non country.

Which I find odd; because my English self is descended from immigrants from both Germany and France, and maybe elsewhere that I don’t know about. Why is it that your claim to nationality in one country should depend on ancestors rooted there for millennia and in another by your ancestors desire to belong to that country?

After Mother died I donated her mother’s autograph book to the Ulster Linen Library. The entries were from before her marriage. Around 17th March many were signed by friends describing themselves as proudly Irish. There were carefully inked harps and shamrocks; poems about Ireland; love of country written in flowing copperplate. A few years later those same people presumably described themselves, post partition, as British. Nationality is a strange creature. Continue reading

Damned

My holidays in Northern Ireland generally include one or more pilgrimages to places of shared family interest. As a child, I spent many holidays in Upperlands with Cousin, her parents and her siblings. So off we went to meet Cousin’s big sister for a light lunch and a walk round the dams that powered the machinery at the linen factory which used to be the main local employer.

Water power

Water power

So we walk and we talk. We recall people and events from decades ago. Cousin tells how in a moment of rage with her now husband, she threw her engagement ring onto the path by one of the dams, then had to scrabble about to find it, rather ruining her grand gesture.

It’s a great place for swans. There’s an island where they nest, safe and unmolested. Each pair had at least five cygnets. It occurred to me that this would be a perfect bird sanctuary. I said this aloud, and was distressed to learn that the land has been bought by developers and so could one day be a gated community. And I don’t mean a prison. Continue reading

Upperlands Revisited

We were back in Upperlands again on Tuesday, enjoying the new café. My two cousins identified familiar faces from the photographs on the walls. It seems a really hopeful venture. Most of the people working there are volunteers. They are all ages and both sexes. The idea is to create a community asset and then, in time, open a museum about the history of Upperlands and Clark’s linen factory.


Last year I wrote, wrongly, that Clark’s had been taken over by a Welsh firm. I understand now that Clark’s works in association with that firm. Continue reading

Upperlands: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Cousin’s sister Mary suggested we meet and walk around the dams at Upperlands.

Upperlands


I haven’t been there for years and was completely disorientated. This is where we spent most of our holidays when in NI, though as a teenager I would stay with more cousins in Co Tyrone.

The Dams


The dams are being used now to produce electricity for local use; that hydro-electric power I remember learning about in geography O level. This was the map of my childhood summers, but so much has changed.
Back in the day, Upperlands was dominated by Clarks Linen factory.

Clark’s Factory


Clarks remains, but in much more modest accommodation, and owned by a Welsh firm called Evans.

New Premises

Continue reading