By Christina Hession

Hearing my favourite Leonard Cohen song ‘Suzanne’, on the radio recently, triggered memories of an enduring love affair that began in the Carraroe Gaeltacht in the summer of 1985.

Terror, induced by my looming oral Irish exam, was obviously the catalyst for the trip. To my regret, Gaeilge and myself never got along. It may have had something to do with that doyenne of the now fashionable misery lit – Peig Sayers.

The nearer the July departure date got, the more I began having second thoughts about the Gaeltacht jaunt. Though a Galwegian, the furthest west I had ever been was Salthill. Would I be able to survive three weeks in the wilds of Connemara, without the creature comforts of home? It was touch and go as I watched my father’s sturdy Opel Rekord recede into the stone walled distance. A glacial look from Carraroe’s answer to The Iron Lady – aka my bean an ti – put paid to my quivering lip.

She reminded me of The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do. In hindsight, I don’t know how she coped with the demands of a grunt of teenagers, in addition to her own brood. My bean an ti was nothing if not an advocate for plain cooking. This was evidenced by her speciality mince and cabbage dinners, which succeeded in turning me off both foodstuffs for life.

In the mornings, my fellow housemates and I trudged the two miles or so to college for our Irish classes. Suffice to say the modh coinniollach, like the offside rule, is still an enduring mystery to me.

It’s possibly the reason I still have recurring nightmares about being ill-prepared for the Leaving Cert Irish exam, 30 years later.

Continue reading in this year’s Valentine’s Special (issue 5589)