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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

The Fall and Irresistible Rise of Irish Plastic - A Short Extract From The Novel

He sat and looked at the building from the vantage point of a café across the road. He ordered scrambled eggs with toast and a coffee but an attack of nerves got to him and he could not force the eggs down his clamped throat. After all the things that had happened to him at sea, he felt it was ridiculous to be so nervous. He was only enquiring about a language course after all. It was obviously a family trait. Or maybe it was a class thing? That is what is grandfather would have said. He saw his father again, unable to lift a phone and ring about a job for sheer nerves. Did middle class people get nervous? How would he know? He had not met that many. Then the building looked dark and forbidding, claustrophobic. He stood up in a consciously theatrical way so that other diners looked up from their breakfasts. He was going to do it. He drank the dregs of his coffee and, left the eggs.

The first thing he saw was the sign in the hall – Conradh na Gaeilge. Through the door to the right there was a counter and a girl sat with her dark brown head bowed reading a book.

Hi, said Peter, not really knowing what to say.
Hello, the girl said.

When she looked up from her book, she saw Peter’s intense face staring at her and his blue eyed gaze caused her to redden. Nothing was said for a moment and then both started talking at once, which caused them to laugh simultaneously. He had never seen a more beautiful face. Her eyes were the light blue of mountain skies in summer, her skin was white peach soft and her hair tumbled in thick tresses across her brave shoulders.

Have you come about a course? She said finally.
Erh yeah but I’ve no Irish. I'm from Manchester.
Ah so what. We’ll take anyone we can find!

Peter caught the joke immediately and all the tension he felt just melted away. He noticed that her throat had reddened slightly and that she was trying to avoid his gaze. He could hear that her accent was a country accent. She sounded like two of his old teachers. Or Mrs Duffy from the corner shop.

Are you from the North?
Yes I am from Donegal

A man walked through the lobby at that point and he and the girl had a brief conversation in Irish. Peter did not want the conversation to stop, partly on account of her voice but partly because he could hear the echoes of his ancestors in the cadences of the language, the ancient consonants, its soft sibilants, the array of vowels issuing from that gap between her white teeth and pink tongue. The way her red lips said amárach mar sin? at the end of the conversation. He took a resolute step closer to the counter.

What’s your name, if you don’t mind me asking?
My name is Eibhlín, she said as she eased a flank of hair away from her face – you?
Peter. Peter Baker. Look er..I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a nutcase but I don’t like being inside buildings and I was wondering. Well..ya see..erm well this a bit weird.. so you might not....
What are ye going on about Peter?..she laughed and shook and her head and her hair fell forward again.

He was so conscious of his flat Manchester accent and the coarseness of his upbringing compared to this Queen of Ireland that he found it difficult to speak but her laughter and her ease with him brought his own natural humour back and he struck a comic pose for her with his hand on his hip and shot out what he wanted to say, trying to mimic her accent as he did so.

Well Eibhlín, can you tell me about the course, if we sat over the road?
Are you inviting me for coffee? Ha ha that’s some craic’re hilarious… of course I’ll have coffee with you. Today's quiet enough anyway. You go over and get that table that's just come free and I'll tell them upstairs.

Once they had settled at the table, Peter found that his confidence returned and he treated Eibhlín to a range of stories about his former seafaring self but then he noticed that she glanced at her watch and remembered that she was supposed to be working. He then told her quickly why he wanted to learn Irish and about the remarks made by the soccer supporters that he was not really Irish.

Ah ignore all that. There’s a lot of eejits around, especially in Dublin and around the Pale. They even say I am not Irish.
No way!
Yes way, I am afraid. They hear my accent and think I’m from the North, you know - Northern Ireland?.. which is part of Ireland anyway.
Pay no attention to them. They are just selfish people. They've no time for their own history or even the language.
Could you teach me Irish.
Me? Ah I’m no teacher I am afraid.
It’s just that me and classrooms don’t go together too well.
I suppose I could. The basics, caithfidh me imeacht… I better go Peter. Lovely to meet you.

She rose to go and the light danced across her hair and the sun graced her bosom and Peter felt bereft.
Ah don’t go. Just five more minutes. Please Eibhlín.

She laughed nervously, sat down again and blushed to the very depths of her cuticles.
So you are going to come to college here?
Well that is the plan.
I studied in Galway. You would be better off in the west than here.
Will you come and see me if I do?
God you are very forward Peter Baker…ha ha.. I just might…Is this the girl in every port scenario because I wouldn’t be in to that.
Ah Jesus Eibhlín! No it’s nothing like that. It’s just that you are so nice and well… ah you wouldn’t understand. Maybe I really am a nutcase and I’m chasing something that’s not real, not real at all….leave it, let’s leave it..
No go on. Tell me.

She now looked at him with an earnestness that belied her outward serenity and Peter glimpsed a much more serious side, a determination, to her character.

Tell me…what you were going to say?
OK..I get mad intuitions and I see things and I think you can tell me who I am. Like am I Irish or am I a Manchester lad and that's it?
Well why can’t you be both? I like your Manchester accent. Anyway, we don’t always say someone is Irish if they actually speak Irish or are passionate about Irish culture.
You don’t call them Irish? My God what do you call them then?
Well we would say that he or she is a Gael.
So what would Manchester Irish be?
Gael as Manchain. Manchester is one of the few towns in England that has a Gaelic name, Manchain, because there are so many Irish there.
Scuse me – city not town.
Ok city.. ha ha .
So I am a Manchester Gael?
I think that about sums you up Peter. Manchester Gael suits you. You are Irish but not like the lads at home. You are cheeky Irish. Irish with street attitude - like Oasis. You put me in mind of Liam Gallagher. I better go.

They both rose and there was an awkwardness about the leave taking.

Are we going to kiss?
I'd rather not thank you. Call by next week, if you like. Monday morning is always a good day. Thanks for the coffee.
Are you free this weekend?
No, I’m going home to Donegal. Call next week Peter. I’ll be here.
Is that my first lesson then?
Ha ha..OK fair enough… sin ceacht a haon... that's your first lesson.

She offered her hand and he took it and brought it to his lips and she blushed again and ran across the road to her place of work taking no heed of the traffic. Conradh na Gaeilge he said to himself. He wanted to stay there until lunchtime so that he could see her as she came out of the building and then she would wave and smile and come over to him. But no, she would think he was mad or a stalker or something. There and then, he decided that he would bury his grandfather's Spanish medal and old spectacles in Irish soil, at Howth Head, so that part of him could forever look out on the place where the Behans left their native soil and rest at the point where one of their descendants returned to honour their name.
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Title: The Fall and Irresistible Rise of Irish Plastic - A Short Extract From The Novel
Date posted: 23 Aug '08 - 10:46
Filed under: General
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