“Angela” lived around the corner. She was my mother’s best friend. Her daughter, “Claire”, was in between my two brothers in age.
“Angela” was funny and mischievous. She was the one who told me the “facts of life”. I was so scandalised I thought it was another one of her mad stories. My poor mother didn’t know where to look when I sought assurance that “Angela” was at her lark.
“Angela” brought the party to our quiet house. She dunked our heads in the basin at Halloween telling us to “get a good bite at that apple”. She took us to Switzers to see Santy, queuing round the block in the freezing cold, barely containing ourselves as we passed the moving Pinnochio characters. She brought me to get my ears pierced. My mother had said silver studs, but she got me little “emeralds” because my birthday is in May. I loved her, and she loved all of us.
“Angela” lived in a big house. It was like a silent tomb walking up the granite steps to it front door. Beyond the door were secrets. Secrets in Dublin in the ‘70s and ‘80s were truths that everyone knew but no one talked about, except in whispers and sighs.
When “Angela” was first married she had a little girl that died. Receiving no support, and wearing her broken heart on her sleeve, her husband had her sectioned, because he could not cope with her sadness. She was released on a doctor’s advice that she be made pregnant quickly to get over herself. She had not wanted to get pregnant, but her husband followed the doctor’s advice.
When “Angela” went into hospital to have “Claire” she spent a month “lying in”. “Claire” was a little sick, but it was “Angela” that needed to be cared for. When she was sent home, “Angela” found that she was to live in one little room of the big house. It was fitted with a sink, cooker, settee and cot. “Claire” slept in that cot until she was four years old.
Upstairs, the husband had moved in his girlfriend. Downstairs, his mother, who owned the house, occupied the basement and access to the back garden. When we went to visit we spoke to “granny” who was always very nice to us, and always gave her granddaughter 10p.
“Angela” was deeply religious. She was told by the priest to stay in the “marital home”. She continued to pray and offer her suffering, which she believed she brought on herself, up as penance.
She cleaned for a very wealthy and well-known lawyer who told her, as he smoked his fat cigar, she could not leave “him”, as that would leave her destitute.
For years “Angela” slept in that room in the “marital home”, passed the girlfriend on the granite steps and she and “Claire” lived on the £15 a week “he” gave her, supplemented by her wages made cleaning.
She left that house in the late-1980s and moved to a flat where she shared a toilet on a landing with five other families. That move to destitution was her liberation.
“Angela” didn’t approve of my political activism. Well actually she was afraid. The Garda Special Branch had called to her isolated and vulnerable door to ask questions about me. It was ludicrous and stupid but she was understandably afraid to keep my company anymore. So we lost touch soon after that. I wonder what she and Claire have made of the past few months in Ireland.