Sitting in a gathering at lunchtime, a speaker talked about hardships people faced in the wintertime. ‘You wouldn’t have much hardship in your community’, my companion commented.
‘In what way?’
‘The Church of Ireland people – they would all be fairly well-heeled’.
‘Maybe in some places. There wouldn’t be much tweed and corduroy in my community’.
Do people really see us as though we are characters from fiction – The Irish RM meets William Trevor?
There is a passage in John McGahern’s Amongst Women that seems to encapsulate perceptions of Irish Protestants. Moran, the central character is turning the hay, but the machine breaks.
In a way it was a relief to him that the pins had finally broken. He had no confidence that he could row the hay on the uneven ground. Now at least his dread was at an end.
Rose watched carefully. ‘If Daddy can’t get it to work nobody can.’
He looked at her angrily, as if the statement itself was deeply compromising; yet it was one he could not reject. ‘We’ll just have to go back to the old rake and fork. Thank God there’s no appearance of rain. If we hang round this tractor much longer
curiosity will bring Ryan across that bloody wall.’
They were coming close to the end of the rows when old Mr Rodden and his sheepdog appeared in the field. He entered unobtrusively under the barbed wire between the trees in the outer corner. He wore a straw hat and flannels and wide red braces over the neat white shirt. The collar was closed. He wore a tie and tiepin in spite of all the heat. Both Rose and Moran went towards him at once with smiles and outstretched hands. Moran considered it an honour to have him in the meadow. Rodden was a Protestant. His farm adjoined Moran’s but it was at least six or seven times larger and he had lately handed it over to his son. Though Moran had been a guerrilla fighter from the time he was little more than a boy he had always insisted that the quarrel had never been with Protestants. Now he identified much more with this beleaguered class than his Catholic neighbours. No matter how favourably the tides turned for him he would always contrive to be in permanent opposition.
‘I came’, Rodden said, ‘to congratulate the newly married couple. I heard they were home. And because the machine was idle.’ He wished Sheila and Sean many years of happiness and brought a message from his wife inviting them to tea at four before they went. He praised the work and weather and then asked, ‘Why aren’t you using the tedder? It’d save hours.’
‘I just broke the pins. I never seem to be able to work it on that high ground.’
‘Have you no spare pins?’
He made Moran replace the broken tines while he made several small adjustments. Then he instructed Moran to spinthe tines slowly and after watching them a bit made further adjustments before he was finally satisfied that they were level.
‘I think it will work on any ground now’, Rodden said. Moran then deliberately started to row the roughest ground while Rodden leaned on his stick watching. To Moran’s disbelief the tedder worked the rough ground as if it were a table. After watching for a while Rodden waved his stick to signal that he was about to leave. Moran stopped the tractor and walked Rodden in the manner of local courtesy to the point where he wanted to leave the meadow. The girls and Rose and Sean waved while Michael caught the beautiful black and white collie for a parting pet.
‘It never tedded that ground so well. How did you manage to do it?’ Moran inquired as he left him at the fence.
‘It was nothing. It was just that bit tight.’ Rodden had been taught as a child that any boasting was a symptom of inferiority. ‘I only made a few small adjustments.’
Are we seen as being like Rodden? Landed, well dressed, polite, understated? If it is, then I wish I could take people to see another side of reality.