Augher, United Kingdom
My alarm went off at 3.45am for a 4.25am taxi to take me to the 5am bus to take me to the airport for an 8.55am flight to Belfast… and that was the easy part! I’m sure getting out of Alcatraz was a cake walk compared to getting through security at Stansted Airport! Politically speaking, the flight from London to Belfast shouldn’t be considered domestic but when it comes to carry-on liquid allowances, even I’m willing to concede that technically it is! None the less, I was forced to surrender my potentially lethal and explosive contact lens solution, toothpaste and deodorant. I was able to salvage most of my moisturiser and sunscreen by transferring them into small, user-unfriendly bottles. Three times through the machines and they were convinced that I wasn’t going to take the plane down with the last of my Fresh Ecru Foundation!
The flight itself passed in sleepy daze and before I knew it, I was passing through the gates in Belfast where I was met by a warm welcome from the inimitable Miss Christine McKenna. It was suddenly strange to find a friend so familiar in such unfamiliar surrounds, so out of context for me but home to her. She loaded me and my suspicious liquids into her car and we headed for Augher – a place I’ve heard so much about but only just learned how to spell.
We made a pit stop at the local supermarket to pick up biscuits, five types of bread and at least 10 pieces of gossip. It was immediately apparent that Augher is a small town where everyone knows everyone else – I’m sure news of my arrival was already circulated by lunch time.
I should mention that I met Christine in Sydney while working for Minister Paul Lynch and through her met her best friend Ann Gormley (one time employee of above mentioned supermarket and subsequent member of the Lynch mob AND avid readers may have already picked up, sister of Barry Gormley who I met in Vancouver); sisters Edel and Brenda and cousin Lisa-Marie – a group collectively known as ‘The Aunties’ (except Edel who had provided the children to whom they predominantly act as aunts to in a Sydney-context). All but Ann were home in Augher for a visit. Got that?!
En route to the McKenna Farm, we drove along ‘Gormely Mile’ – a stretch of road inhabited entirely by members of Ann’s family. Just when I thought Christine was pulling my leg after about the 5th house, she waved hello to a passing car casually adding ‘…and that’s Ann’s sister-in-law’!
Gormleyville eventually gave way to McKenna Country as we arrived at the family farm to a scene that had me feeling I was at my own home within minutes – so many sisters! so many nieces and nephews! All heart and chaos led my Pudsey and Brigid McKenna, so like my own mum and dad that I immediately felt a pang of home sickness.
I was eagerly shown around the farm, introduced to the animals and shown how to collect and date eggs by an excited cohort of children before being inducted at ‘the eating clinic’ – the large kitchen table where a steady stream of food is served around the clock to meet the constant needs of the various adults and children that make the McKenna house a home.
The day passed in a whirlwind but night swept Brenda, Christine and I to a pub in nearby Omagh to catch up with a couple of Brenda’s friends, followed by a drive about town to point out the site of the infamous bombing and subsequent memorials. I remember little else of the ride home as the need to sleep got the better of me.
I don’t often feel the ‘Irishness’ of my heritage, today it felt undeniable.