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A day in the life
(part 1 of 2)






Mega Fix


TWA Flight 800






Note: The following was written in 1993

They say that a Knocknacarra lad with a weakness for the pint passed out one night on the way home from Dolan’s pub. But so relentless was the wind off Galway Bay that it kept the lad upright until dawn.

Almost every mid-winter morning that same bay wind whips its way up the Knocknacarra cul-de-sac where the Burke family lives and rocks their semi-detached brick home like a cradle. At “half-seven” when the alarm sounds, it is still dark enough to be night time. The sun rises late this far north--about 9 AM at its latest--and for that matter so do the people. It is not easy to get out of bed. Last night’s coal fire has long since turned to ember, and the heat it disseminated throughout the house is now pretty much a memory. When they do arise, more pressed by chill than by time, the Burkes step lively.

Christy, 40, dresses warmly, lots of layers, almost always a heavy sweater. A winter morning in the West of Ireland runs about 35 degrees. Often wet. Usually windy. Christy will pilot his Honda motorbike to the Post Office where he works some five miles away, if its 50 cc engine can overmatch the wind.

Barbara, 38, will take the kids to school in the family’s ‘87 Toyota Corolla, right-side drive. She wears a woolen sweater too. One does not take heat for granted anywhere in a country where heating oil costs at least three times what it does in New Jersey. David, 14, feels lucky. He attends a Jesuit high school and can dress pretty much as he pleases. A rare phenomenon in Ireland where virtually all the “public” schools are Catholic.

Siobhan, 11, has no such luck. She has dutifully--and quickly--put on her school jumper. It is cold. Katie, 4, will go with her mother to the Naionra , a small Irish language pre-school that Barbara operates each morning. Although Barbara is one of eight children herself, and Christy one of seven, their own three children represent something of a modern middle-class norm. Of the many families in their cul-de-sac that have children, all but one have three.

The Burke house has four bedrooms but one bath. A second bathroom is rare in Ireland. On a step-lively morning like this one-- like most Irish mornings for that matter--the tepid trickle from a typical Irish shower holds no intrinsic charm. Here, understandably, folks tend to shower when they need to, not when the Irish equivalent of Madison Avenue thinks they ought.

At seven A.M. an auxilliary electric heater has kicked on in the kitchen. Although modern in style, the kitchen, like almost all Irish kitchens, lacks a microwave and a dishwasher. “We don’t like the way the food comes out,” says the farm-born Christy of the microwave. And as to washing dishes, "Democracy rules;" everyone pitches in.

When the family descends for toast and porridge, the chatter is lively and friendly and the room is just warm enough. Still, folks don’t linger over food in Ireland the way they do, say, in France. For everyone, it’s quickly on to their appointed rounds.

TWENTY YEARS AGO, like many Irish, Christy left the country to seek work. His quest took him to London where he found a job as a bus conductor and quickly worked his way up to Garage Inspector. There, amid the city's hurly-burly, he and Barbara started their family and lived a comfortable, if a bit hectic, life.

Deep-down, though, both Barbara and Christy knew something was missing. Each had been born and raised on small farms, Barbara amid the rugged wilds of the Irish West coast, in Connemara, near a town so intimate people did not even know each other's surnames. Here Barbara learned English only as a second language. Her father has yet to learn it. Christy grew up on a small working farm perhaps only fifty miles east of Connemara but far enough away in miles and in spirit that the Irish language was rarely, if ever, spoken. (more . . .)




Posted: 1993
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