Hello Again Armagh

View of Lake Huron from Manitoulin Island

I remember the first time I moved to Armagh. I’m a genetic Armagh native but I wasn’t born there, or even in Ireland – it doesn’t mean I’m not Irish… Like my mother often told me – Jesus was born in a stable. It doesn’t make him a donkey.

The Church I was baptised in, Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve

I was four years old when my parents moved back to Armagh after having lived in the Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve in Canada for 8 years. (By coincidence 8 years is how long we lived in California. Funny that.)

Armagh’s version of the dark hedges – taken while on the Armagh Photo Walk

I vividly remember travelling home from the airport in the car. No seat beats – I’m from that daredevil generation who didn’t bother with such safety features. Instead, I car-surfed in the gap between the driver seat and the passenger seat, a foot planted on the floor in each footwell of the backseat. Even with straight legs and ramrod back, my skimming of white curls was nowhere near the ceiling of the car. I did have, however, a birds-eye view of my Uncle’s face in the rearview mirror. And he had a great view of me. He’d catch my eye and make faces at me, making me squirm with embarrassment but not enough to make me relinquish my perch – prime real-estate in a car for a kid of four years old. I was more bemused than amused at this strange man (who it unfolded is a very dear uncle, life mentor and family comedian!) but that was merely the beginning of my bewildering introduction to Ireland.

Gatelodge at Armagh Observatory

We stayed with my Granny for the first while in a whitewashed cottage with no inside toilet and a black and white TV. Oh the hardship – the TV, I mean. The toilet, I could somewhat cope with! We had a “slop bucket” under the bed if we “took short” during the night. My Mum and her siblings still laugh about how I said in a booming Canadian accent, “How come people in Ireland sleep in the bathroom.” Bathroom was pronounced with a very long “A” – Baaath-room.

To this day, I still dream of living in a whitewashed cottage with roses around the door so the experience couldn’t have been all that bad. There were kittens galore and a grumpy corgi called, “Dusty,” that lived under the TV stand. He’d growl and snarl at anyone who approached, scrunching up his nose and baring his teeth. Us kids would copy him in making a “Dusty face.” We never needed telling to leave him be. Dusty was perfectly capable of maintaining disciple among the hordes of grandchildren that visited Granny. And when I say hordes, I’m not exaggerating. Granny had nine children, and I am the third grandchild – of twenty-nine. And that is just on My Mum’s side. My Dads side is a smaller collection, though more spread apart. I am the eldest of five cousins on that side.

St Marks Church, Armagh

There was always something going on at Granny’s and my collection of fragmented memories includes getting stung by a wasp for the first time while playing on rusty metal barrels in the “street” which what we called the driveway. Granny’s house was two miles out of town!

St Marks, Armagh

I always had a sense of “otherness” – In Wikwemikong, I was the odd child out with my fair skin and bald head amongst all the other children who all seemed to have beautiful straight, blue-black hair.

Even in school in Ireland, I felt that sense of “otherness.” I was from Canada and that seemed to interest people but I wanted to be like everyone else. Having a curly bap didn’t help matters. My Mum, unable to get a comb thru the frizz kept my hair short. In fact, she was so worried about how dry and frizzy my hair was that she took me to see the doctor. It wasn’t until she walked into his office that she realized she was on a fool’s errand – the doctor also had a head of frizzy dry curls (though no relation!)

Harvest moon over Market Street, Armagh

We moved out of Granny’s into a flat in Market Street, beside my other Granny. My Aunties had a sewing shop in the same street. My cousins lived around the corner and I was thrilled to finally have cousins to play with. All the children back in Canada had large extended families and I had felt that I was missing out.

Over time, the fabric of Irish society wove me into their culture. My accent changed to an Armagh accent, which I still have today. (Thank God! Hey bai, I can only imagine the slagging I’d get if I came back with another North American twang.)

Now I can appreciate the cultural references that tie me to my peers in Armagh. Only recently I was describing having felt a mild earthquake in California – one that a true Californian wouldn’t bat an eyelid at.

“You know that feeling as you walked through Lennox’s and the floor flexed beneath you? It was like that,” I said.

My Armagh friends knew exactly what I meant. Though that’s a place and time reference younger people won’t get.

The Mall, Armagh

When I was abroad, I was always “that Irish girl.”  I didn’t mind – it was my identity and I realised there was no escaping it, even after 8 years in California and another year in France. But at home, I have less to explain. People know what I mean when I ask, “What’s the craic?” and say, “Thon’s a quare feed.” (Nothing to with internet.) Even My Husband speaks the lingo. I heard him the other day talking about some “yoke” and he wasn’t referencing the yellow part of an egg.

I’ve travelled manys paths in my life, and am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. Yet, I’ve never been as excited by a move as this one. And the world is still out there and still full of paths to explore

Bebamikawe Memorial Trail – Wikwemikong Unceded Territory

 Byddi Lee