Chapter 35 - A Recalcitrant Removal
The next six months were worrying times for Kathleen as she listened to her parents discussing schools and Convents to further her education. She was quite content with her school life and her playmates and had no difficulty in pleasing Mrs O'Leary. The problem resolved itself with promotion for her father and the extraction of a promise from him that he would find a house in or around Dundalk.
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This transition was not a welcome period for the children and they showed it in their rebellious refusal to enter into conversation about the packing and removal of the furniture and the best way to move. Packing cases, crates and tea chests made their appearance. The children helped but only in a desultory and uncooperative manner. It was frustrating as items were packed only to be needed again and once packed they were not all that easy to find.
Finally the day came. All the O'Hara family managed to fit themselves into one of McCluskey's taxis and they headed off for their new life.
Dundalk, this charming town of stately churches, factories and big shops, had the added advantage of a number of small seaside resorts close at hand. It nestled in the flat lands, stretching out its limbs to the sea, raising its eyes to the green hills of Louth and guarded by the long smoky range of the Cooley Mountains and the silent granite of Slieve Gullion. It was ten miles from the border and was the capital of the County of Louth, a lush fertile county with its rivers meandering to the sea. The smallest County in Ireland, yet one of the richest, it was said.
It was a cold Spring day when they left Crossmaglen, a very sad day for Kathleen as she watched the removal men denude their rooms of furniture, curtains and pictures. How strange and empty these rooms seemed now. Could this be the home she had loved so well? All she could hear now was the echo of their voices in the large lofty rooms, the sound of their feet on floorboards, cold in their nakedness, stripped of all their coverings. Nails stood out from the dark and dismal walls and the large shutters, now closed, gave a funereal look. Truly a dead house, mourning the loss of its family.
She lingered while the rest of the family waited impatiently outside. Now the time had come, the rest of the children were anxious to be on their way but Kathleen felt she should say her goodbye alone. This house held the secrets of her heart. It had known the happiness of a large boisterous family where children's laughter and tears were absorbed within its sheltering walls. She dragged he feet along the passage towards the door, her steps sounding the death knell of an era now almost gone. She could almost hear the house sigh at their departure. The closing of the door behind her was like the last drawn gasp of a broken heart.
Her entry into the new life ahead she met with dislike and discontent and straight away it showed in no uncertain manner. The taxi was driven by one of Mr McCluskey's sons, a quiet reticent man, quite unlike his father. All the way to Blackrock she maintained that she was returning to Crossmaglen with Frank McCluskey. It annoyed her considerably that her idea met with such a lack of enthusiasm from Frank. After all, hadn't they been good customers of McCluskey's for years. Surely, in gratitude, the least he could do was to return her to Cross where her heart was. This brought a gust of laughter from Frank as the car came to a halt on a large spacious green outside their new home.
While the rest of the children rushed out to meet the future, she sat grimly on, hoping for a miracle. Finally Frank turned round from the driver's seat and said,
"You may as well get out. Sure nobody wants you back in Crossmaglen".
Stung to the quick, Kathleen got out of the car without so much as a "thank you".
New home did they say? Why it wasn't a patch on the one they had left. Lofty and grand it had stood among green fields and rolling hills, but this, this house was like a poor second cousin indeed.
She surveyed the long, rambling, two storied whitewashed building, not unlike some of the farmhouses she had seen. Shrubs and plants still clung to the walls and the door and seven large windows gaped open to admit the cold March wind. There was evidence that the summer months saw a display of many beautiful flowers. Beneath the window, rose bushes and climbing plants clung tenaciously to the wall, forming an arch over the door.
She wasn't in the mood for appraisal but her eyes sought the occupants of the next house, a smaller replica of theirs. Here she encountered the gaze of an old man, tall and erect, showing a kindly interest in the new family. He greeted them warmly, wishing them many years of happiness in their new home and offering to make them a pot of tea. This offer was readily accepted by Mrs O'Hara but from Kathleen he received a belligerent stare. He took not a blind bit of notice of her. Their father's gruff command told her to get inside and help her Mammy; they couldn't find a thing. This was the voice of command she had come to know and respect, so, defiant and moody, she walked past the old man towards the house. His steely blue eyes, lined with laughter and the years, twinkled, and he remarked,
"I see we have another spitfire in our midst".
She came back with a quick retort.
"And what is that old 'bus doing, standing over there, spoiling the view?"
"Well it's been there a long time now, mindin' its own business and it wouldn't be a bad idea if you were to do the same". Then he turned his back on her. She was left with the distinct feeling that nobody cared as she dragged her feet to the front door, stepped in and closed the heavy door behind her, keeping the future at bay.
Inside all needed her help. She was the only one knew which crate held the groceries. She deliberately sat on it, giving no help whatsoever and continued sulking over their lost home. She was shaken out of this mood by her father.
"For God's sake Kathleen, pull yourself together and help poor Mammy. I never knew we reared such a selfish girl, puttin' all this extra strain on Mammy and me just when we need you the most".
How could she refuse that plea? She undid the lock and shortly after that they sat down to a well-earned meal.
The first night there was a strange one. On hastily erected beds a tired family slept. It was some time before sleep came to Kathleen. She had a large room all to herself, with a window back and front. The strange and varied sounds were alien to her and full of mystery. A belt of trees beyond the main road sheltered one side of the house and cut off the wind from the sea. Tonight it seemed that all hell was let loose. The banshees howled and sobbed as the trees swayed and bent in the wind. It was the Spring Equinox.
Sometime later in the night there came a merciful lull and shortly afterwards there crept in a new sound, pleasant and mysterious. It was the sound of the sea lapping against the rocks, crooning a lullaby as it washed over the sands. Was it recalling the fate of old ships, gone to sea never to return? Only the sea knew of their whereabouts and it knew how to keep its secrets. It went on humming and lulling and Kathleen remembered no more.