Endless rows of houses with glowing hallway lights pass us by as the sun has not yet risen over Dublin. As I look up into the black and purple sky, I can see the heavy rain clouds are swirling and the wind makes a fuss and tries to push us back the way we came. My schoolbag is heavy, and the straps press down hard on my shoulders but I’m a tough kid from Cherry Orchard and can carry the weight.
The maze of corporation houses that line the streets of amber lit lampposts feel like a never-ending quest to navigate but on we must go, or we will miss the bus. My older brother and sister walk five steps ahead and coax me every now and then to hurry up as I’m slowing the pace. The wind howls all around me and I close my eyes thinking of the nice warm bed that I was forced to leave despite my protests.
We are sitting at the bus stop now and the light from the passing cars breaks through my tightly clenched eyes; the noise of the rainwater being thrown to the pavement with each passing car. I open my eyes a crack and see the towering shadow of “The famous Gala” in the darkness. A dance hall of great importance in days gone by but to me just another building in the backdrop of our morning routine.
I feel the cold on my legs, my grey school trousers; worn at the knees, not designed to repel the cold East wind that haunts the streets of Dublin, relentlessly howling and pushing, almost wanting to lift the bus stop into the air and take us with it. I imagine it will drop us off at the school gate and I wave it goodbye as it moves on. I push my shoulders up. Trying to disappear into my coat for respite, willing the number 18 bus to come quicker and save us from the elements.
We push our way onto the bus with my sister shouting 25p return to Rathmines please, the morning ritual. Up the stairs we rush hoping the front seat has not been taken and I can see light beginning to break the dark skies as a new day tries to greet us. I nestle in beside my brother on worn out green and brown chequered seat as Morpheus finally releases me from his sleepy grasp.
We shortcut through the swan centre in Rathmines before walking down a still dimly lit Leinster Road. Autumn is everywhere, scattered conkers lie on the ground and the wind and rain still try to push us home as we make our way to St. Louis Primary, keeping a tight grip on my brown paper bag containing the 10 Applejacks I’ve just bought, using the 10p my father gave me the day before. The bag is buried deep in the pocket of my duffle coat with the sweets no doubt stuck to the paper from the heat of my hand. Through the school gate we go. The welcome heat for another day of playing the recorder, corned beef sandwiches and falling off the climbing frame.
Its 1993, I’m 9 years old, and this is Dublin.
In 1994 my parents joined the Rural Resettlement Programme. A programme designed to give families from Dublin a chance of a new life in the countryside. Of the counties that they could choose, my parents decided that Co. Kerry was the right fit and on the 20th of September we boarded a bus in Busaras, taking the 7 hour journey to the town of Castleisland, and eventually arrived at our new home in the area of Glountane, just a few miles from the Cork / Kerry border.
The sun has already reached the full extent of its power for the morning and the heatwave of 95 continues to hold Ireland in its burning grasp. I open the door and the birds are in full song as I look across and see mount Eagle in full glory, its golden terrain sweeping down into the glen below, turning to a neon green as it goes. I hear the cows lowing just beyond the fence across the road.
The gravel crunches beneath my feet as I make my way down to greet them. There is no hurry this morning. In Co, Kerry, time doesn’t nip at your heals but rather whispers to you softly. I have no concern with the clock, only the sounds and smells of the beautiful countryside that surrounds me. My father calls me back to him and I follow him towards the road. It’s a narrow boreen; each side, high walls of thick foliage, now burned to a straw yellow from weeks of relentless sunshine.
The road dips and rises as we go, and I stomp my shoes into the ground to conquer the inclines and welcome the relief as the ground gently carries me back down from the top. Narrow gaps in the hedgerow show me glimpses of the bogland beside us, as it makes its way towards a never ending horizon. I think of getting home from school when me and my brother will play in the dried-out drainage trenches that zigzag the landscape of it. Hours of fun that will take us through to bedtime.
I tell my father “I’ll be okay from here” as we near the T-Junction to the main road. He tells me to be careful as he turns and makes his way back toward home. The sound of the country is all around me now, birds in full song, a concert just for me I tell myself. I love the gentle but constant buzz of crickets in the grass margin at my feet and glimpses of coloured dragon flies darting in and over the ditch. A familiar grey donkey comes to greet me at my neighbours gate as I climb up onto the first rung. “Good morning I softly whisper as I gently trace the line of his muzzle with the edge of my hand. The school bus will wait. This is my morning ritual and it shall not be broken.
I greet my friends at the crossroads, still learning how to translate their strong Kerry accents into words I can understand. They welcome me with the usual “Michael boy” and we continue to discuss the things that all young boys must do. Football, TV programmes and adventures yet to have.
The little white bus beeps as it approaches and the driver Jack greets us good morning with a toothy smile. The door slides open, we jump on and the engine creaks and groans as we navigate the narrow roads, feeling like parcels in Postman Pats Van, thrown left and right with each bump and bend, and not a seatbelt between us.
These are the care free mornings, the last of the innocent days of a kid from Dublin, now living in the beautiful wilderness of the Kingdom. Free from the biting grip of the cold east wind but missing it terribly at the same time, now with a new world to explore, one without streetlights and chequered green seats. A world of nature and endless horizons.
The school gate is crowded, and we spill out of the bus making a dash for the wall as we take it in one leap. A tennis ball is now a football and its game on whilst we try to condense ninety minutes into five; before Mrs. Cotter calls us in with the sound of the bell.
I’m 11 years old, and this is life in Kerry.
Mike Murray was born in Dublin in 1984, moving to Co.Kerry with his family in 1994. Mike has lived in Newry for the last fourteen years where he runs his own Barber shop. Mike is married to Melissa and has four children. He is currently writing a semi autobiographical book, roughly based on his own childhood, which he hopes to complete this year. Writing is a hobby of his.
On behalf of the Museum of Childhood Ireland, and Robert Burns, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful participants for their time and their stories. We are thrilled to be presenting this project and we hope you will enjoy following along with us in the coming weeks.
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