– By Colette Moore –
Old Mrs. Quinn stood in the kitchen. Strands of her dull white hair falling from the bun she neatly placed in it earlier this morning. Her shawl loosely draped from her shoulders. In her hand she held an old envelope, from that envelope she took a note and laid it on the table and into my hand she placed some coins. The note held instructions on what I was to get her in Knock. I listened as she told Mammy, then repeated them to me and waited till I repeated them back to her.
Her purchase was of the utmost importance. Mrs. Quinn was in her 90th year, this was 1974 so she was born in 1884, the same year as my Grandfather as she was fond of telling me.
Tomorrow morning my older by one year sister Evelyn and I were going with the Parish of Portarlington on its annual Pilgrimage to Knock, and we were going on the special train organised every year just for this occasion.
All day I had examined and re-examined my beautiful clothes I’d be wearing, my mammy had bought me new socks in Goodwin’s drapery store. Oh my, they were so beautiful and I wouldn’t have to hold them up with bands, also I loved my new Aran jumper mammy had knitted with new stitches, it turned out so beautiful. Daddy had polished our shoes to within an inch of life, and they shone. Oh I just couldn’t contain my excitement.
Mrs. Quinn wasn’t the 1st to call that day, there were many others, Hinny McGuiness and her sister Nan and they had left instructions. Granny Burke had called and left us money and we were to buy ourselves something.
Mammy placed all the money belonging to people in a purse and wrote down what I had to get. She said “keep it separate and don’t spend a penny until you’ve got everything on that list”. There was Holy Water, Rosary Beads, Medals of all different Saints. And for Mrs Quinn a “a Green Scapular, the instruction was very clear, it had to be green, and for Aunt Maura a red one.
Daddy dragged in the bath to the kitchen floor and mammy had 2 huge big saucepans on the range full of hot water. And while she washed us, she kept repeating over and over again “Stay together”. Mr. Connolly was going and he was going to watch over us, if anything happened we were to go to him. Daddy said “watch where you’re going, stay with the group and Shamie would look after us” (that was Mr. Connolly’s name).
Packing our food for the day was just over top excitement. Mammy had baked Porter Cake, and had boiled a ham and she had bought Lemonade from Emersons Shop and custard cream biscuits.
After the Family Rosary it was time for bed , but before we went Daddy and Mammy gave us our spending money for the next day, oh how I skipped around the kitchen, I’d never had so much money not even for my Communion. It was very hard to sleep that night, my eldest sister Ann told me the “Child of Prague” that Mammy had had put out earlier had fallen and smashed. We were chatting away and Mammy shouted up the stairs, that if we kept it up she’d kill us, in her words “I wont be responsible for my actions, this day of the Lord”. That was what Mammy said every single day.
Daddy came up to turn of the light in our room as we weren’t allowed next neigh or near the long wire that held the switch.
I woke the next morning to the sounds of the kitchen, Daddy shaking out the ashes – the kettle starting to boil – mammy putting on the pan for the breakfast. I ran down the stairs – Mammy said “miracles have already started” it was the first time she didn’t have to scream and roar to get us up.
I remember running outside to see if there was any sign of Mr. Connolly stirring- the air was silent almost holy- the most wonderful day of my life.
I’ll never forget the sight of Mr. Connolly as he came out. So smart in his Civil Defence Uniform. Daddy walked with us the mile or more to the train station. All along the way we met other groups and families heading to the station. Everybody greeting each other and laughing, but when we reached the train station I almost ran home, I’d never in my life seen so many people at one place, not even at Sunday Mass. Buses full of people, Groups with Banners, families, Civil Defence, the Priest, the nuns. There was such a large crowd I was almost lost already. Mr. Connolly brought us on to the train as all the people piled on.
I heard the whistle of the train as it slowly pulled out of the Station, Daddy wished us a lovely day and made us promise to stay with Mr. Connolly.
I was so excited as the train pulled away until I heard over the speaker the voice of Fr. Byrne as he started the Rosary, Yes the Rosary was said all the way to Knock. I asked Mrs. Burbage who was sitting near us, why we were saying the Rosary so much and she snapped “tiss s Pilgrimage isn’t it”. I never said another word to her. I waited and waited for it to be over when suddenly the beautiful voices of the Church Choir started the Hymn “Oh Mary we crown thee blossoms today”.
Oh it was just wonderful.