(First published 1/26/12) Waterford-based poet, writer and sociologist Jean Tubridy (left) writes about her Irish experience, often in lyrical, charming terms, in her blog, Social Bridge. In the following excerpt, she describes a recent night in her home town of Tramore: “At about ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve, my son and I make our way out to Newtown Cove to cast what we call our wishing stones. Usually we’re lucky and the moon is bright, allowing us to choose the stones which we feel are just right for us – it’s all about size, colour, texture and finding a stone that feels as if it symbolises those elements of life that are fundamentally important to us. Then in turn, we each cast our stone as far as we can out towards Brownstown and make a secret wish for the year ahead.”
Tubridy recently experienced the loss of both her elderly parents, and has written extensively on the experience on Social Bridge. Desirous of exploring that dolorous but inescapable part of the Irish experience with her, we recently found her at her home, and questioned her about it.
TheWildGeese.com: Your writing about your life in Tramore evokes an idyll for me. How do you feel about your life there? Is it where you grew up?
Jean Tubridy: I was born here and moved back in 1986. I had been in Dublin for 20 or so years before that and Tramore has proved to be a very peaceful place to live and has all the amenities one could want nearby, or almost all!
TheWildGeese.com: You describe in most romantic terms a ritual you enacted with your son, skipping rocks along the sea. Does Tramore, and its proximity to the sea, seem as much a part of the fabric of your life as does your family and neighbors?
Tubridy: The sea is hugely important to me and was always a central part of life growing up. In childhood and teenage years I lived in a lot of different places as my father [Frank Tubridy] was in the [Bank of Ireland], but we always made a point of going to the sea as often as we possibly could. The saying 'Time and tide wait for no man' seems to be instilled in me since infancy.
TheWildGeese.com: Do you live in the home you grew up in?
Jean Tubridy's father
Tubridy: No, because my father was in the bank we didn't have a 'real' home, as such, until the 1980s. Now I live around the corner from where my parents retired to.
TheWildGeese.com: ‘Time and tide wait for no man' -- that seems a contemplation of human mortality itself. Does living by the sea quicken an awareness of the passing of time, of the end of days that we all face.
Tubridy: Yes, I suppose it is but when growing up it was used in the sense of make the most every moment.
TheWildGeese.com: You've written extensively on your blog, "Social Bridge," about losing your parents, and how that experience both shaped you and pained you. Do you have a sense from talking to your parents, from living with them, from being with them in their final years, how Ireland shaped their lives?
Tubridy: I was fortunate to have a very close relationship with both parents and they lived to great ages. Mother [nee Patricia McKeever] was 89 when she died and Father was 91. They talked a lot about their lives and I think it would be quite difficult to find two people from more different backgrounds. Father was from Kilrush in County Clare; a Catholic who went to the [Christian Brothers school] and did his schooling through Irish. Mother, on the other hand, was from County Meath and was from a Church of Ireland family. Her schooling up to the age of 14 was with governesses. They came from very different Irelands
TheWildGeese.com: So how did a Catholic from Clare meet a Protestant woman from Meath taught by governesses? I gather they didn't meet at Mass.
Jean Tubridy's mother
Tubridy: They both found themselves leaving school just as WW2 broke out and career options were quite limited. They got jobs in the bank - Father in the Bank of Ireland and Mother in the Provincial Bank and their paths crossed in Kilkenny in the early 1940s.
TheWildGeese.com: Was there opposition to the match by your respective grandparents, each from distinctly different cultural, and perhaps even political, milieus?
Tubridy: Father's mother had died when he was in his early teenage years and his father died before the relationship between Mother and Father had developed very far. So, it was more his siblings who were involved and they embraced Mother fully. Mother's father died a few years before Mother and Father married, and Mother was a bit concerned about how her marrying a Catholic would be received. As it transpired, Father got on well with Mother's family, especially her brother with who he developed a very close relationship through shared interest in nature and sport.
TheWildGeese.com: Jean, what then might you say your parents taught you, either by word or by example, about the experience of being Irish in the 20th century?
Tubridy: Father talked a lot about the very high levels of emigration from Co. Clare and described 'American Wakes' with great vividness. He also talked of how TB was absolutely rampant during his childhood years. Father considered that he had a privileged background as his father was a vet.
Mother's experience was more related to living on a big farm, about 30 miles from Dublin [Duleek] and she was keenly aware that being educated by governesses up to the age of 14 had kept her secluded from the 'outside' world. However, she had a huge love of reading and literature as well as nature and inspired that in me.
Mother died in May 2009 and Father died in September 2010. Father was from Kilrush and Mother from near Duleek in Co. Meath. She spent her childhood in Annesbrook House which has a long history associated with it.
TheWildGeese.com: Final question, then: Do you believe there is a peculiarly Irish way of grieving the loss of one's parents, a way perhaps shaped by a mix of Celtic spirituality, religiousity, even perhaps fatalism? What's your experience been in the Irish context of your life.
Tubridy: That's a difficult question to answer. I would say that everyone grieves in their own unique way. However, there are aspects of religion surrounding death that one becomes aware of when parents are of different religions. For example, there is still a strong emphasis among Catholics to have what is called a Month's Mind -- a Mass four weeks after someone dies. That doesn't happen in the Church of Ireland. Also, anniversaries tend to be more ritualized in the Catholic Church than the Church of Ireland. There are also Catholic rituals around blessing of graves, etc. In the case of my parents, both were cremated, which is somewhat unusual but becoming more the norm here. They chose that because there were issues -- up until very recently -- about people of mixed religions being buried in the same grave.
TheWildGeese.com: Neither parent changed their religious affiliation, then? They remained true to the faiths of their parents?
Tubridy: Neither changed in terms of 'converting,' which meant that us children were reared as Catholics. However, neither were really into 'organised' religion. WG