They don’t make Marys anymore. The word on the birth certificates is that the traditional name has been cast aside in favour of fancier imports. Not wishing to let a good lament go to waste, it got me thinking about the Marys in my life. The memorable ones, the influential ones.
Mary C – bucktoothed teacher in 6th class. Sprang up from the hearth of the Gaeltacht with a swagger in her stride to ply her trade with fire and brimstone. The only woman in our town in 1985 brave enough to wear sun glasses over her head and indulge in the commonly frowned upon practice of draping her jacket over her shoulder thus leaving the sleeves to fend for themselves in the breeze. This was viewed as an indicator of immodesty by some but recognised as an important status marker among fellow bridge players. She was also the first teacher to give the thumbs up to letting our imaginations roam free, even if that meant some questionable dream sequences being reported under ‘my summer holidays’. In possession of a distinctive voice, I enjoyed mimicking her from behind corners to scare the bejaysis outta the comrades. And I was always grateful for her unfashionable discretion when a gang of us were busted for robbing emblems of the biggest blessed Mary of them all on a school trip to Knock. You got the feeling that if only she were 20 years younger, she might’ve kept watch. One more time for the road *clears throat* ‘CIUNÁS A CAILINI!’
Mary G – Mary has never really been a fully signed-up, card-carrying member of my gang as such but since around the age of 12 till the present day, she and I have been colliding on and off across the mountainous terrain of life. Last time I saw Mary was a few years back as she rounded the corner at the bottom of our road out of view having quietly sneaked out of my folks’ house after retreating to my old bedroom, digging out all the packed up 45s and 33s (vinyl, brethren. Ask your parents), divorcing the sleeve notes from their covers and leaving them strewn across the floor, while the rest of us clinked glasses in the kitchen. Bouncing in well after midnight, with her half-mile radius of wine bottle opener curls in the door in front of her, she handed me a plastic bag containing a dog-eared copy of a Dan Brown book, knowing full well I hate Dan Brown, and knowing full well that I know that she hates Dan Brown. But sure that’s the kind of her. Her literature studies were steered off course by the arrival of her son, and there’s a whole other world she dreams of when she stares out that window of the sandwich bar she works in. I must give her a ring so we can meet up and dine out on our unfulfilled fantasies for an evening.
Mary M – Mary would generally be known by the English version of her surname but god pity the fool that addresses her by anything other than her Irish name. This is the woman who protested at a temporary road-works sign painted in English on the road outside her house by painting over it and insisting (successfully) that they lay down the ‘correct’ version. A language fascist, in short. Mary and I started work together on the same day. She the administrator, me trying to administer some self-confidence and belief that I knew what I was supposed to be doing (not a notion). We went on to spend four years trading banter, ideas, fighting over the radio dial and the actions of cute hoor politicians. We only ever had one serious disagreement; it concerned money and was instigated by me. I’ve regretted it ever since but to her credit she never let it corrode her affection. In many ways, she reminded me of my mother, teaching me the unteachables of operating in the workplace and the value of correct formalities you can’t put a value on. Her other enduring lesson was to surrender the universal obsession with seeking an answer to every woe that comes our way. Sometimes you have to let things be. Sometimes there just isn’t an answer. “I know you’re not the biggest believer a stór”, she grimaced to me on the phone at Christmas, “but would you for God sake say a prayer this illness doesn’t develop any further. There’s an overseas coming up in work and I’ve no intention missing out on a freebie”. Can’t keep an indomitable woman down.
Mary Coughlan – Mary’s been singing the blues to me for years with the conviction that she’s lived every word. More an interpreter of songs, but you only have to listen to ‘Doublecross’ for proof she knows full well what its writer meant. First time I saw Mary was in the early ninties in the famous Rotterdam Bar in Belfast, encased in her own world, yawning them out of her with all the fragile force of a woman on the brink. Turns out she was but thankfully sobriety has modified her rage in to something just as humorous and informed.
I could say Mary Robinson at this point; McAleese never did it for me, but I’m going to go with the singer Mary Margaret O’Hara for her unrivalled whooping and hollering. She only managed to stump up one album in the last thirty odd years but she came in to this world with a bunch of polaroid pictures of emotions to pass round. Perfect for when none of your own internal lenses can adequately capture them.
The 348th Mary From Dungloe (Real name: Niamh. Probably)
Join in and raise a cup to your Marys, tell us about yers…