I’ve just come back from a funeral. All around me were white headed men with Kerry accents, the last stragglers of a generation who came over to the UK from Ireland in the nineteen fifties. They brought precious little with them other than their religion and the ability to work hard. Many of them took jobs in the construction industry and in health care, got married, bought houses and brought up children who spoke with a different accent to their own, children who got office jobs doing things their parents didn’t always completely understand.
You may not know the Kerry accent. It’s very distinctive and, to my ears, very beautiful. It’s close to the West Cork accent, with which my mother spoke. A few years ago I changed my electricity and gas supplier purely because the saleswoman who cold-called had a West Cork accent. Half a dozen other companies had previously tried to get me to switch and I’d given them the brush off, pointing out that any money I saved would be as nothing compared to the inconvenience. But when I picked up the telephone and heard a woman speaking with a voice like my mother’s when she was young, I was putty in her hands.
As I came out of the church this morning I heard one mourner say to his fellow, ‘How’s yourself, Sean?’ The reply came with a shake of the head, ‘Falling away, Michael, falling away.’ And indeed they were. I saw an elderly woman, as fragile as a bird, weeping quietly in a corner, unnoticed. When someone asked her whether she was all right she replied, ‘My heart is broken.’ When you are young you don’t think of old people as having breakable hearts. But human hearts retain the capacity to break all the way to the grave.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t know that many people there. I only went for my mother, because if she had been still alive she would have gone. And as I sit at home this afternoon listening to a mournful string quartet and confronting the blank computer screen before me, I realise that it is for her, too, that I write, even though she is no longer around to be impressed.