“Your grandad was a tailor”.
“No he wasn’t. That’s a lie”.
“Yes he was. My ma told me.”
“My dad is a solicitor”.
“Yeah and your grandad was a tailor”.
“No he wasn’t”.
He lashes out and the teacher intervenes.
“What is going on here? You must not hit people”.
“Miss, she says my grandad was a tailor”.
“Apologise to him for saying that”.
“But, Miss, my ma says he was”.
Going home that evening, the boy says to his solicitor father. “My friend said that Grandad was a tailor. The teacher made her apologise”.
“But he was a tailor. Now, you are to go to school in the morning and apologise to your friend.”
The conversation came not from the rise of new money in the 1990s, but from the argument of two school children in the 1940s.
The friend recounting the conversation says she finds it odd, even sixty years later. What was the problem with being a tailor?
Perhaps it was being a tailor in a small rural community that was the issue for the solicitor’s son. Tailoring not for guineas, but for shillings; not making bespoke suits, but repairing trousers, turning collars and reversing coats.
“We spent so long trying to shake off our past”. My friend shakes her head. “When I worked in England, people were proud to be able to say they had worked their way up”.
In a country where class should not be an issue, why was a primary school boy afraid at being reminded that his grandad had been a tailor? Was there a feeling of insecurity, a fear that the past could return? In 1940s Ireland there were rural areas unchanged from the 19th Century.
“We are as bad now”. she continues. “When I am in England, there are lots of shops to go where I can buy things for sewing and dressmaking. Here, things are hard to get. We have to have everything new. We don’t want to admit to repairing things”.
“Perhaps we feel insecure”, I suggest. “Perhaps we are worried at the past returning”.
“Maybe”, she said. “I learned dressmaking, you know. I was always proud to be able to sew”.
“And so you should be”, I said.
I pondered what a man who made his living sewing tents would have made of a country where people no longer sewed. And if Saint Paul thought us odd, what would the carpenter from Nazareth have thought?