It was the evening of the census. It was 2011 and my feet were firmly embedded in the rich moist soil of Essex, England. The winter, which seemed to have taken forever, was drawing to a close.
Wilting daffodils bowed out making way for tree blossoms, giving them a rightful place in the sun.
Spring, a beautiful time of year in England where the change of season is so obvious and uplifting. This is home and I am happy, not wanting to be anywhere else.
Discussion began that evening the 26th March, about nationality. Should your birthplace, a country for which you still hold a passport, be considered and recorded as your nationality on a census form, when more than five sixths of your life had been spent elsewhere?
Now the sky was wide, high and very blue. Cotton wool clouds, barely moving, hung above me. They made a sharp contrast of reflected light as the sun crept out into the open sky, hot, very hot but welcoming. I was at the side of a badly tarred road, damp patches under my arms and perspiration running down my spine. I scanned the tops of bushes for some form of life.
Way in the distance to the left the greying crags of the Drakensberg reached upwards and arched outwards to complete the picture.
Then I heard them before I saw them, bright and colourful swaying images way down the road to the right. African women, plastic containers of water on their heads tilting this way and that, in single file, happy voices carrying across the distance.
My eyes are drawn to the sky above them, much further away, soaring high above a cluster of forest trees, in the azure sky, I can see an eagle searching for a late breakfast . Probably after guinea fowl , hares or even a baby monkey, poor little devil. Cruel and heartless? No, that’s how most things are here, it isn’t a fairytale venue, but a vast unforgiving place of great beauty, and splendour; this is home, in Africa.
I couldn’t have been anywhere else.(no census here in Africa)
But sadly, I had only been dreaming.
The tiniest seed of the past had been planted in my mind the night before. We had tossed my life and loves across the oceans back and forth in discussion. Irish, South African, British? The pen hovered, waiting for me to “give in to ‘the logic’ of it all”. he said.
An Irish citizen, who lived for thirteen years in a British Colony; the last seven of which, as a holder of a South African passport. Then 27 years as a South African citizen. After visiting the Emerald Isle, land of my birth, on holiday, I was smitten and reclaimed, the true heritage gene came to the fore. But for ten more years, still living in South Africa it was ‘duel citizenship’ for me.
And now during the last thirteen years, I am living back under English rule, experiencing another stunning seasonal change, I hope it was noticeable, that I have grown to know and love this place.
It was the evening of the census, one hundred years ago. It was Sunday, 2nd day of April 1911 in Dublin, Ireland and the master of the house, Charles Henry Coulter was out of town. The home where the family resided was 70 Balally, Dundrum in Dublin; where it is believed they lived for at least another five years.
Charles at 38, was ten years older than his young wife, Ellen, his occupation, a dairyman. Ellen was home that night with her 74 year old father in law, Thomas Coulter and her four children. They had a boarder there too that night, a gardener, an Englishman by the name of Fredrick Wilcox.
Charles Henry Coulter was born in County Dublin, married Ellen West from County Kerry. Old Thomas Coulter, who lived with them at the time, was born in County Down, Northern Ireland.
The children listed were Edward, four; Charles, three, Henry George, two and baby Annie, 18 months old. My mother, Eleanor was born the following year in September 1912. The family grew again in 1914 when Albert was born and again in 1924, when baby of the family, Violet came along.
This was the heritage and lineage from my Mum’s side.
“Enough, enough!” Get serious. We had a form to complete.
This was a legal document.
…and to anyone who wondered which way it would swing, on the nationality front as the pen hovered that night……. even if the first two national anthems I learnt in school were:
“God save the Queen…” and later
“Ringing out from our blue heavens, with the deep sea breaking round…”
The call of South Africa.
Yeah? So where did your vote go?
Irish it had to be.
It was, and will always be, Irish!