Dear Orla MacConnell (11),
These birthday greetings and good wishes from your senior grandfather are very deliberately belated, and come in this public format because they are attached to a parochial apology integrated into them, and were as difficult to write as it is to wring blood from a stone.
This is all because of the woeful offence you committed against the family last year, when you turned out to play for the Spiddal underage girls against your father’s native Barna, and scored the two goals that mattered in the end. Dreadfully true.
Orla, I would have you know that the Barna GAA club was central to the life of the MacConnell family during the decades we dwelt there.
Your father and uncles played for and supported the teams whose mentors included the late great Galway captain Enda Colleran, Bosco McDermott and Pateen Donnellan, all great neighbours.
It is also the sad truth that the manager of the underage Barna team which ye defeated was your father’s schooldays friend and neighbour, Ogie O’Flaherty.
To the best of my knowledge, neither Ogie nor his brother Enda have spoken to your poor father since that dire game.
On a rare visit back to Barna recently, there were even comments of a snide nature made to your senior grandfather.
Orla, these birthday greetings are withdrawn totally unless you promise that you will never ever play football against Barna again.
As you get older in rural Ireland, you will learn that there are unwritten social rules which must never be broken.
All that being said, and assuming that you will heed these words, can I now say that I love you very much indeed, am very proud of all your achievements to date (barring those two goals!), and look forward to watching you grow up in Spiddal.
You are a special grandchild, a credit to your father and mother, a very special older sister to siblings Lucy and Annie, and it is always a joy to meet up with you again when I get up to Connemara.
Not alone are you a good footballer, you are also an amazingly supple gymnast, dancer and athlete, a splendid artist already, and a remarkable musician on the accordion and whistle.
More on that front, dear Orla, related to the genetics you have inherited from the O’Briens of your mother and the MacConnells.
The brains and the emerging beauty come, for sure, from the O’Briens, but the music and song from us.
You do not play music by rote like so many young students but with the kinda cracked kinkiness and verve and craic of your musical uncles, Cathal and Mickie, who is due later this month to be inducted into the Rostrevor Hall of Fame (to join the ilk of Seamus Heaney, for God’s sake).
I would not be surprised at all, if you eventually join him there.
Each of us, Orla dear, are composed of many cells, and the amalgam of those adds up to what we are.
Your great grandfather on one side, Dan O’Brien, was the compassionate State officer who supervised the evacuation of the last of the Blasket islanders aeons ago.
It is also true, for example, that his counterpart on our side was Stuttering Mickie MacConnell who, in his day, evacuated rats from the farms of Catholic farmers up North, and billeted them with neighbouring Orangemen farmers.
Scrippets and scrappets from both clans lie somewhere within you. Be aware, down the road of life, of that reality.
It will only be akin to the day after tomorrow when you and I will be able to meet up for a coffee or a glass of wine, as adults, to discuss the events of your life and mine.
Time passes so quickly, and actually spurts at the stage both of us are in now.
In the meantime, dear Orla, here is an early warning to you about the real longtime cost of those two bloody goals against Barna.
At this stage, dates are the dried fruits you enjoy sometimes at the Spiddal table with Lucy and Annie.
Later on, dates for young ladies are something differently entirely, and Niamh and Cuan will explain all that kind of stuff to you.
However, from the senior grandfather, let you be informed here and now that you will never share a date with a young lad from Barna.
Parish memories last forever and, even if you are the Rose of Tralee by then, he will remember that it was his sister you rounded last year to burst through for the second goal.
The pure truth once more.
Le grádh mhór,
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