“In my father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you”
Mai Buckley (nee Fitzpatrick) walked into 3 Glenview Terrace, The Spa, Mallow in August 1944. She has been there since. She married Jack Buckley, A North Corkman an employee of the Sugar Factory in Thurles who had moved back to Mallow. She walked into a house that was shambolic. Only a burnt out range with Jackdaws in the chimney. She had a husband at the time who had serious concerns like would the Cork hurling team achieve the 4 in a row and all the Guinness that entailed. Within 4 years she had 3 children, one with cerebral palsy.
Reverend Father McCarthy , Family, Friends, neighbours, and Julia although she is still my Aunt Julia, our mother’s sister.
My mother had a vision, an image from childhood. What was it? The 1920’s. An elegant gentleman walks out with his wife and his 3 children of the time. The gentleman entertains his children by rolling coins along the pavement. He is witty, debonair, a domiciled Dubliner in Thurles. That gentleman is my mother’s father John Fitzpatrick, an idealised and idolised figure, always in her mind.
That little scene of the strolling couple represented order, an order of family life; secure, simple relationships with the attendant delightful domestic details that brought content to the soul. The flower in a vase, the well-made table. To her child’s soul. She never forgot those things..
In the hungry 1930’s my mother would grow up to see all of that domestic order swept away. Other forces threatened, especially poverty. So her mother Sarah Fitzpatrick set up the butchering business. The front room was broken into as a shop. My mother saw at first-hand what business does to family life. It takes it over. She saw how the unique intelligence of each family member is enslaved by the “business”. The business rules over every thought and all those little feminine details of family life, the well laid table, the meals on time, domestic order is gone.
The family members, especially the boys, seek fulfilment outside. They have the ready cash. The pub, the card table and the race track beckon.
To marriage was it an escape for her or a statement ?
One would never use sentimental terms like “falling in love” with my mother but when she thought of marriage I would think that the ideal of the walking elegant gentleman was in her mind. Jack Buckley, the tall man in the factory, with the soft hat, and the glasses met some of her ideals.
“He did drink”, she told me “but at weekends only”. No man is perfect. He had potential.
True! He had “notions” about himself and the Powerstown Buckley’s. His chat up line. However she could be the most scathing about those “notions” and yet she had an encyclopaedic fascination with the Buckley family.
She did marry him.
By the 1950’s she had her house in order, a husband who was now a teetotaller and daily mass goer. The mass going was not her idea. Jack, the weekend drinker was converted into Sean the daily saint. As children we often wondered about that Jack.
And our dominant memory the first clutch, I, Pat, and Emer was of the walking. We were walked. The two clutches by the way in our family are marked by the sons. Son number 1, Son number 2. Feminists take no notice! My father was called the “Boss”. He wasn’t.
The memory of my mother and father elegantly dressed walking on a Sunday afternoon and we unfortunate three trudging on ahead of them. Except there was no coin rolling from my father. The only coins we glimpsed were of the heads up or down as we passed the pitch and toss schools at the end of Joseph’s Road. I see the bowlers on Ballymagooley road silencing the lofting of the steel bowels with their coats to let my parents pass through.
In time we three escaped the discipline of the walk. But we now realise that our parents imbued us with character, a sense of ourselves, backbone, values that have served us all well in our lives.
The elegant couple walking. That is the picture of my parents etched into the memory of the people of the town at the time. The simple pleasure of walking. And its consequence a return to a home ,a place of order, a room where my father under my mother’s pleased gaze , could pursue his hobbies, Cork Hurling history, the history of the turf, books, coins, birds eggs, nature study. The life of the mind. A place of peace and sojourn.
So my mother set up another house one that was counter to her own mother’s business model.
There was another way.
A way that was a role model to all her brothers and sisters and I see the generations of Fitzpatrick’s, Buckley’s , Maher’s now before me. I am aware of all your fine houses chock full of the little feminine details which civilize the soul and all the accomplishments of your children and grandchildren. My mothers’ way is all round us today. A vision of elegance, civility and well-ordered family life. Of course there are new challenges to the family. There always are.
My mother was probably not unique, even though we grew to realise she was. She is representative of all the women who rise every day to make their families lives better.
So lastly to my mother’s greatest achievement. Faced in the 1940’s with a handicapped child and without any social help she worked tirelessly to make Pat her daughter, our sister, the independent and strong person she is today. Pat ran the seed office in the Sugar Company for over 30 years. That was a testament to my mother’s indomitable will power.
IT was my mother’s reward as a widow that it was Pat, who became her companion, friend and her angel of grace, ushered her into the world of Bridge where they both became I believe, and what do I know of Bridge, combative, competitive and compelling partners.
It was Pat, who gave my mother her quality of life in her own home right to the end.
It was Pat who slept in a camp bed at the foot of my mother’s
bed to tend to her.
It was Pat who held her hand at the end.
So I return to that image of the elegant gentleman strolling with his well-dressed lady and I can see them now, my mother and father sauntering away out of sight, out of time. Their work is done. The civility in our society is one we have today is their achievement.
Farewell Mai Fitzpatrick, indomitable fighter, Farewell Mai Fitzpatrick encyclopaedic tracer of people. Mam, Nana, Grand Nana, Mrs Buckley. Woman, wife, mother.
“In my father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you.”