This picture sent a warmth of feeling rushing through me, as soon as I found it in the photo album. This was the one! It wasn’t difficult to find myself rambling on, as it is life changing.
But I was there. My heart tells me it was probably our Dad clowning around, threatening to tickle her or steal her felt dolly. The laughter must have rung out on that spring day in the countryside for all to hear, as she knows how to make herself heard, my sister.
They lived in Waterford then and, in fact, as she is sitting on a coat, it defiantly wasn’t summer yet. They may have been visiting her maternal grandmother for the weekend, who lived in Mallow, Ireland.
It was a lovely day, sunshine! So they possibly walked down the same country road and stopped on the bank of the same river where our Dad used to take our Mom courting not long before. It might even be where he proposed, I do know they had favourite places.
Another truth, is, that this little girl could not have known that before she was a year older, she would be changing hemisphere’s forever. Sailing away on the Winchester Castle to Cape Town in South Africa, where she was to turn three years old the day she went on shore.
At the time this photo was taken Mom, Dad and their little ‘one and only’ in the picture didn’t know that I was soon to arrive, neither did they have any idea that their plans were about to be halted and changed. Plans to emigrate, starting a new life, a new beginning, in a strange land as three was about to become four.
Dad had a job offer in South Africa and planned to spend five years there and return to Ireland once the post-war slump had passed. He wanted more for his little family than Ireland currently had to offer. He had ambition too.
They boarded the Winchester Castle in 1948, on a day when the heavens opened to bid a sad farewell to them, so typical of the United Kingdom. The ship was at the time still kitted out as a troop ship, with beds like hammocks, and there were women’s and men’s quarters therefore our parents could only meet each other in the dining room or on deck. Our little lady in the picture ran a deck race for under three’s one day on the ship and won!
The journey took two weeks, and after crossing the equator, they sailed into Cape Town harbour on a mid summer day. The heat was something they had never experienced before and had not being able to imagine before they left, but with a baby in arms and a three year old in tow, they collected their life’s belongings, a couple of cases and a crate and disembarked. Cases, which I do believe, had hardly anything in them that they could bear to wear. Winter clothes!
My Dad was handed a letter before disembarking, to say he would be met by an official from the company he would be working for. He was then told that his job had been given to someone else because of the delay, but that they had work for him in Port Elizabeth. Oops! Sorry! That was my fault.
We had a train to catch.
Moving to South Africa was an adventure for our three year old, and she took it in her stride. She learnt to love the heat, the beaches and the parks; playing in the sunshine; it was nothing like the country lanes and river banks back in Ireland, which she would never grow to miss or love. But if you had asked our mother then, she would have told you how she often longed for “a grand soft day”, when the misty rain fell on the green fields and blew cool on your face, where she could breathe; rather than the hot wind and the often searing heat that filled the air and dried the earth.
In truth, the little girl in the picture sitting on the grass and shamrock plants, never knew then that her father’s plans to return to Ireland would soon be shelved and forgotten. His new career and life in South Africa was such a success, that they soon spoke often of a holiday to Ireland and no longer a return to Ireland. She didn’t know then that she would never be known as an “Irish Colleen” nor dream about the “ Lakes of Killarney” and the “Mountains of Mourne”, calling them home.
But she did learn to sing every Irish song our father ever knew, from Danny Boy to Galway Bay. She did wear a bunch of shamrock on her school blazer collar on St Patrick’s Day for many years, sent all the way from Mallow in Ireland. And she carried her Irish heritage with pride.
The family moved to a place in the country, the Orange Free State, and she was enrolled in the local school, which immediately became a bi-lingual school, as she was the only English speaking child. She coped, they spoke Afrikaans to her and she replied in English. It is the quickest way to learn another language. At lunch break in the playground, they made her stand on a chair and sing and recite in English to them. I am sure many of my father’s Irish ditty’s had a regular airing!
Our parents became two more children richer before they ever returned to visit that spot down by the river. They visited their beloved Ireland twice, but South Africa had become their ‘home’.
We are all spread far and wide across the world now, however, our little ‘picture cherub’, returned one day to the shadow of Table Mountain in Cape Town to live with her husband and four sons.