“So – are you ready for the big day?”
Trolley dumped, this was as I was heading towards the car with the shopping.
Oh yes, says I, thanking the enquirer for the kindly interest – just about there, I should have knocked on virtually all the houses by polling day.
“Eh? No! I mean the big day – the Stone family wedding!!” Simultaneously my wife nudged me in the ribs and laughed. It was a classic misunderstanding – and a Freudian slip too.
This week I took time out from the real big day – getting things straight garden-wise before the guests appear – to help councillors Fiona Robertson and Alasdair Rhind and their hard-working team put out Tain’s flower baskets. (Very nice they are looking too: “That’s you on six o’clock early watering duty every Monday morning, Jamie.” Oh well, I like gardening after all.)
“That’s pretty much it” said Alasdair, as he headed into Market Street to check that we’d laid out the right number of baskets. So I slowed down a bit and then stopped to pass the time of day with two cheerful looking white-haired gentlemen (who I didn’t recognise) standing opposite Mr Shafi’s shop and watching the proceedings.
“Yer councillor fella’ll be goin’ to de pub!” Oh no, I hastily assured them. Could be me, certainly, but that was never Alasdair’s style. Then I asked them where they were from and if they were on holiday in Tain.
“County Meath” said one, “And I’m from Offaly” said the other. “And we’re renting here because we’re doing the drainage for Asda”.
Oh my, I thought to myself – things may be changing big time in my home town, in terms of Asda coming, but in another way clearly things had changed not at all.
My father once told me how until the early 1960s, much of the field drainage in Easter Ross was regularly dug and repaired by squads of Irish navvies who came over here for the work and comparatively good money.
This is why “Dublin”, the small group of houses to the east of Ardross, is called what it is. The century before last, when the railway was being built and some seriously large-scale drainage schemes were under way in Easter Ross, this was one particular location where the Irishmen rested their heads. Today the place name is one of the very few remaining reminders of the work all those men did, work that we should still be grateful for today.
Also this week, I was speaking in the street to my childhood friend, Edderton’s driving instructor Richard Pumphrey. I told him that I had only just realised that his late father had been a “Newfie”.
“Oh yes,” said Richard “They were over here from Newfoundland in Canada working with the forestry, and quite a few of them met and married local lassies and stayed here.”
And this, while talking with my two Irishmen outside Mr Shafi’s, made me wonder why, in contrast to the Newfies, the itinerant Irishmen of yesteryear have left little more than a placename here.
Irish surnames at Tain Academy with me? Anyone at all of Irish descent, that I was aware of, living in the Easter Ross of my childhood? The answer, at least until the smelter and Nigg came, was pretty much none at all.
These men left their works as a testament to their labours; and while they might have had a temporary dalliance or two with local girls, when it came to it, when the work was done, they went back to Mother Ireland. Why was this?
“Meath and Offally!” I said to my new acquaintances “My wife comes from not so far away – from County Armagh!”.
“Where in County Armagh?” they enquired – and when I told them that it was the town of Armagh, they asked again – “Whereabouts in the town would that have been?” Even as the words “On the Portadown Road…” passed my lips, my brain, ahead of itself, knew the answer.
“Ah…” they said. Now they knew which side my wife came from.
It is only a theory, but I wonder if the religious divide between the Reformed Faith of Easter Ross inhabitants and the deep and devout Catholicism of the visiting Irish workers wasn’t the big barrier to marriage and settlement here? I wished the boys good luck with Asda and a happy stay in Tain, and continued on my way.
“The Fire Brigade will be along at half six to put the baskets up on the poles and buildings” said Councillor Rhind.
Good for the Fire Brigade. I wouldn’t fancy going up high ladders and doing that myself.