A few years back I remember going to the evening do of a wedding in Liverpool’s Irish Centre at 127 Mount Pleasant. I remember being surprised once inside the building because it was quite fabulous. Then I discovered that it used to be the old Wellington Assembly Rooms and dated back to 1815. Those who know their history will remember that the Battle of Waterloo was fought June that year. Some will also know that Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was a native of Ireland.
Growing up in Liverpool I recall that two popular songs during those times were “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” sung by Josef Locke, who I remember appearing in pantomime at the Pivvie in Lodge Lane. Mam would take my brother, sister and me and we would meet her sister, my Aunt Flo and our Hawitt cousins there. As for the song “If You Ever Go Across the Sea to Ireland” that was generally more likely to be heard sung by a slightly drunk Irishman on St Paddy’s night.
Ships have been sailing across the sea to Ireland from Liverpool ever since King John gave Liverpool its charter way back in 1207. The first time I set foot on the Emerald Isle was during the summer of 1969 when I went with my husband, John, and friends on a diving holiday near Durras, not far from Bantry Bay on the Atlantic coast. They had been the year before and the weather had been fantastic but when John and I and baby son, no 1 went, Ireland lived up to its reputation and rained more days than the sun shone. I didn’t dive but it was still a holiday to remember in that John got caught in some currents and nearly got swept out to sea. As it was he had a long walk back after a heck of a swim, too, before we saw him again. That holiday was also memorable for the size of the crayfish, mushrooms and having potatoes in their jackets served from the pan in Kinsale. I remember thinking there was something mystical about that green land. That was also the year we saw headlines about explosions on the billboards in Dublin on our way to the ferry to catch the boat to Liverpool.
My second trip to Ireland was years later and I went by bicycle and ship with my youngest son, Daniel. It was the school summer holidays and I was planning on writing an historical romance set in the 14th century. I was going there to do research. We cycled into the Wicklow Hills and stayed in an old farmhouse where mice ran along the rafters and the toilet was a bucket with a seat in an outhouse covered in rambling roses. Water was fetched from a nearby river and the fireplace had a cooking pot like a cauldron that hung on a hook. We were made very welcome and met interesting people. It was also the perfect setting for part of my book FATEFUL ENCOUNTER. We didn’t stay there long because I needed to do some research in Dublin. Unfortunately the castle was closed for renovation but there was still the museum to explore and the Liffy to wander along and the Book of Kells to see at Trinity College.
I was to use that experience again a few years later when I wrote FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY set mainly during the early 1920s.
September 2005 was the year I returned to Ireland with my newly widowed sister who was doing the driving and we were on our way to a B&B in Naas. Our niece was marrying an Irishman and the weather was perfect. The church was actually in a small village in Co Dublin and it was quite an occasion. The bride looked beautiful and the food was fantastic, as was the music and the wine flowed.
My sister and I were to return to Ireland again. This time by coach and ferry and the journey was long as we were staying on the coast in Co Mayo. This was after the big monetary crash and there were many deserted looking newly built houses. What stands out for me is visiting Croagh Patrick, the mountain visited by many pilgrims. That and being asked by a taxi driver where in Ireland did my family come from. I told him we had no Irish blood. He didn’t believe me, saying that everyone in Liverpool had a drop of Irish in them.
Was he right? When it came to tracing my ancestry a few years later, there it was in black and white William Walker, born 1791 in Ireland. I know that he was a weaver by trade who settled in Manchester and it is via his daughter who married and came to Liverpool that I am related to him. My difficulty is that there were numerous William Walkers in Ireland. Only the other year on WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? that II discovered comedian Graham Norton had a William Walker in his ancestry.
But Walker doesn’t sound very Irish to me and when I looked it up, it says that the name originated in Scotland or Yorkshire and had some connected to the word fuller. Now way back in medieval times fullers were involved in the clothing trade. So if my Walker ancestry came originally from Scotland or Yorkshire, but some were born in Ireland, do I still have a claim to having Irish blood? Happy St Patrick’s Day!