I am godmother to the child of conservative catholic parents. He made his first holy communion on Saturday and we were invited to the house for tea, buns, sandwiches and the use of a bouncy castle. Off we went and very pleasant it was too. Largely because of bouncy castle which allowed the grown-ups to chat peacefully while the children exhausted themselves.
Obviously, as it was the home of very devout catholics, we were the most wishy-washy people there. Aside from the relatives, who, I think, were largely lapsed. Dramatis personae, aside from ourselves and relatives consisted of the local priest (young by priestly standards, mid 30s, I’d say), a friend and her six children and another couple and their child.
The priest and the communicant’s mother had recently been on a pilgrimage to Turin with a group. We relived highlights of this which was absolutely hilarious. The church in Ireland attracts eccentrics and they had their fair share of them on their trip to Turin. In particular, one elderly lady became obsessed with getting two young men whom she knew on the trip. They were in Italy and she felt that they would love to join. The priest told her firmly, no, (as they hadn’t paid) but she managed to smuggle them into her room and persuaded some unfortunate nun to let her double up with her. She then smuggled them in to see the shroud of Turin also. The priest announced that she would be barred from the next pilgrimage. “How?” I asked. “We’ll give her name to the tour operator and ask them to tell her it’s full, if she calls.” The deviousness of the clergy. They’re used to dealing with odd people, I suppose.
Talk turned to the first communion ceremony itself. For historical reasons, first communion in Ireland is a little like weddings in other countries; people who would never go near a church under normal circumstances, take part in this religious ceremony. This means that often parents have only the vaguest idea of what to do during a church ceremony (the expression unchurched, which I only came across for the first time recently, was tossed around like snuff at a wake). According to my informants the parents spoke throughout mass and took calls on their mobile phones. One father assumed that the bringing up of the gifts was the start of the first communion moment and leapt in front of the procession and held it up while he started photographing madly. Amusing all the same.
The woman with six children was home schooling them (yes, really, because Irish schools aren’t catholic enough) and was married to a man working as a eurosceptic in Brussels. Not, prima facie, my cup of tea. We did not touch on politics and this was probably a good thing. But I have to say, she had six lovely, polite, confident children and she herself was charming though pretty tired looking. As you would be, I imagine, if you home-schooled 6 children aged from 12 to 9 months and your husband worked in Brussels, five days a week. I know that there is lots of home schooling in the US but almost nobody home schools in Ireland and I was fascinated by how she was getting on. She said it worked for them but she wasn’t at all pushy about it. I was filled with admiration. Particularly as, while her six, SIX, children were being polite, charming etc. my eldest was lying on the sofa explaining to the first communicant’s grandmother why he was vile (there was an incident on the bouncy castle).
Sunday was the nicest day of the year so far and we had a plan. We went to Ireland’s Eye which is an island off the North coast of Dublin.
We had a slightly rocky start as our ferryman was abused by a rival who flounced off with the words: “I wouldn’t travel with him, he has no licence and he’s an alcoholic.” The red face and shaky hands of our captain lent some colour to the latter accusation but he navigated the 300 meter chasm between Ireland’s Eye and the mainland without difficulty. The Princess was entranced. She had never been on a small boat before and hung over the edge peering into the water. The island has a martello tower and she exclaimed, “It’s like Kirrin Island.”
Everyone was pretty peckish by the time we got to the island, so we had our picnic. I picked an idyllic spot which turned out to be right in the centre of a circle of nettles and thistles. Alas.
However, it did mean that we got to see some seagulls’ eggs. Until the seagulls came back and dived and flapped at us while we ran for safety.
Then we went down to the beach and swam and played with buckets and spades while the rich arrived in droves in their yachts.
Then, it was time to gather all our gear and get the ferry back.
At the end of the pier, the children and I got ice cream while Mr. Waffle went to get the car. Daniel dropped his and the Princess very nobly gave him the end of hers instead. She repented of this kind gesture and began lobbying me for another ice cream. I resisted. She stomped off in a huff. This is something she does when she gets very cross. It was difficult for me to go after her as I had the two ice-cream besmeared boys and mountains of kit. When her father came, I was peeved. I stomped off with him and the boys up to where he had parked the car leaving her hiding behind a sign, reasoning that I could collect her in a moment and haul her off when I had disposed of my encumbrances. When I went back, I knew something was wrong when I saw her with two older Americans whom we had passed earlier. Yes, indeed, she was in floods of tears and thought we had gone without her. I don’t think that I have ever seen the poor mite so happy to see me. The kind Americans were, understandably, relieved and pleased to see me. The whole interlude lasted no longer than five minutes but she was very woebegone. Sometimes I forget how small she is really despite her will of iron. She confided to me that she didn’t trust the Americans and had planned to slip away and go back to the ice cream shop and tell them that she was lost. I was pleased to see her instincts were so sound as I have always told her to go to a shop and explain her predicament, if she is ever lost. On the other hand, I hope she will grow better at guessing which grown-ups are likely to abduct her (something she has been warned of in school, I fear) and which are not for it is hard to imagine a more innocent looking pair than the kindly Americans. All’s well that ends well. Another learning experience for both of us.
Mr. Waffle and I did not work today and went on one of our occasional walks in the Wicklow hills. Mindful of previous reprimands by readers of this blog, despite the cool and misty weather, I did not wear jeans. I was very grateful as the clouds blew off and it got warm during our walk. I wish I had brought suncream, though, as now my face is like a tomato. Alas.
We went on our longest walk yet. Three hours. Snigger not, hikers. The first half of the circuit was delightful. Warm, but not too hot, downhill to a lake with mountains on either side and not a soul there but ourselves. We saw loads of deer. The undergrowth was full of bluebells. God was in his heaven all was right with the world. We forgot the camera but here are some internet pictures.
The way back was uphill and hot and we got lost and we trekked for miles. To our intense surprise we emerged just by where we had parked the car. We left a small sacrifice to the god of lost hikers and high tailed it to Hunter’s for afternoon tea in the garden before coming home.
Lovely. And I managed to finish the weekend papers too.
I was at a first communion this weekend too. I managed to wriggle out of the actual ceremony due to looking after a sick child which meant I didn’t have to be the only Protestant in the church which is always even more awkward than being simply unchurched!
Surely they can’t be all that conservative if they hired a bouncy castle for the communion? The priest must be a very good aim with the host.
Three hours with hills is respectable for a hike.
Perversely, the only places I’ve had sunburn in recent years were the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and the Cliffs of Moher – I’m normally vigilant with the sun cream but (understandably?) let down my guard in those two spots.
If the Island was like Kirrin I assume you had lashings of Ginger Beer at the picnic.
It’s that time of year Lesley. I always love how much better behaved protestants are in church.. you should have gone.
Oh very funny, Praxis. I cannot speak for the Blue Lagoon but I can understand why you might be surprised to get burnt in Clare.
No, big failing no ginger beer. Although we were surrounded (beyond the ring of nettles and thistles) by springy heather from which we could have made beds, had we decided to stay overnight…