I’m at home in my parents’ kitchen. My mother is sitting on the couch reading the newspaper, Dad at the kitchen table reading a book. The radio on in the corner. RTE Radio 1 or Radio na Gaeltachta. I’m curled up in an armchair, sipping my tea and eating a scone with jam my mother made that morning.
A polka comes on. Slowly, gradually my mother’s foot picks up the beat and starts tapping a light staccato on the slate tiles. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, one and two and one and two and-. The tempo and the tapping begin to amplify and I become gradually aware of both. A grin spreads across my mother’s face and suddenly she’s up, standing in front of me, hands out, “Up you get!”. I grin back and around we go, flinging each other around the kitchen like mad eejits. We spin and tap and spin and tap, raucous laughter filling the room. The tempo picks up, my hair is flying. My father looks on, bemused. Round and round and round we go, my mother whirling me around the kitchen floor. Faster and faster and faster the beat picks up as we dance and dance and dance until my face is red and my chest is about to burst. “Around the house and mind the dresser!”, she shouts. On and on and on and on and stop! Breathless and laughing, hugging and coughing, we break. Dad smiles to himself and goes back to his reading.
Not the first time, not the last.
When I heard of the great Brian Friel’s passing this afternoon, my mind immediately took me to the little house in the fictional town of Ballybeg and the five Mundy sisters. The slow tapping, the infection of the beat, the unbridled, almost primal letting loose of an Irish set dance. This, in turn, took me back to that house in Co. Limerick, to my mother bursting into life in a madcap tour of the kitchen, taking me along with her. Surging up on the memory of a tide of pure joy, I am hit by a certain sadness that I am not at home to jig and reel and polka my way around the tiles with her right now and celebrate the memory of Ireland’s greatest contemporary wordsmiths.
Brian Friel, ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.