Hunaballu is an old Irish term meaning "good times."
“Bridget Murphy, quit yer lollygaggin'. The Lord didn’t put you here to daydream.”
The stern voice jolted Bridget from her thoughts of Sean. “Yes, ma’am.”
Like everyone in the parish, Bridget’s family makes its way with farming, and like everyone, they spend long hours working the rocky soil and tending the animals. Bridget and her sisters Mary and Colleen also have to help Ma with the household chores and caring for Daniel, the new babe. Everyone toils from sun-up to sun-down, stopping only for the midday meal. It’s back-breaking work, and exhaustion is a way of life.
Little did I know, Bridget thinks now as she pulls her apron up to wipe the perspiration off her reddened face.
The hard life on the farm was made easier by the stolen moments Bridget shared with Sean Collins, who lived on the next farm down the lane. The friendship they'd formed as they walked to school over the years had blossomed into more. It was difficult for them to find ways to meet, but the inky darkness of a moonless night offered an opportunity to escape watchful eyes. Every evening, after supper was eaten, the animals fed, the prayers said, and the lanterns snuffed, their families went to bed to fall into the deep sleep of the exhausted. While everyone slept, Bridget and Sean met in the Murphy barn, where they made plans to be together.
Huddled in the loft, the soft lowing of the cows obscuring the sound of their voices, they talked and talked, seesawing between the wild optimism of young lovers and the reality of being young and penniless. They drew mental pictures of one scenario after another, but found every one flawed.
“But I’m 19 on me next birthday, Sean! Sure and begorrah, t'is old enough to marry. Me Ma was but 16 when she and Da were married.”
“Bridget, darlin’, you know they will not allow it. They need your hands on the farm.” Sean paused and ran his hand through his already tangled thatch of red hair. “Besides, when they find out…”
Bridget knew time was growing short. It wouldn’t be long before everyone knew what she had discovered a few weeks earlier. And when they did, there would be hell to pay.
One night, Sean presented an idea that seemed like it might work.
“My uncle Jimmy from Kilkeel, Ma’s brother, is comin’ for a visit in a fortnight. Da calls him ‘black sheep in the flock. Don’t approve of his pub and don’t approve of him,’ says my Da. I’ll be talkin’ to him while he’s here, Bridget. I’m thinkin’ he might help us.”
“Oh, Sean, isn’t he the one mixed up with the…”
“Aye. Sinn Féin. That he is, Bridget. But he’s a good one, me Uncle Jimmy. I know if I talk to him, he’ll be understandin’. I’m hopin’ we can hitch a ride with him up to Kilkeel. We can work in his pub until we save enough to get a boat out of Londonderry to America.”
As much as Bridget wanted to be with her family, she wanted to be with Sean more, and so she agreed. Finally, they had what they thought was a workable plan.
Ah, what was it they said about the best laid plans?
The next day, Ma said Daniel was sickly, and asked Bridget to come along to help when she took him into see Dr. O’Toole in town. Much to her surprise, it wasn’t Daniel who was to see the doctor, but Bridget herself. And of course, he confirmed Ma’s suspicions that Bridget was with child.
After many tears and recriminations; after stony silences and suffocating shame draped like a mantle around Bridget’s shoulders; after a forced confession to Father Finnegan, her penance was pronounced and a new plan put in place. Bridget would be placed in the hands of the nuns at the New Ross convent and industrial school .
“With the grace of God, may they help you cleanse your blackened soul, Girl,” Da said. “They’ll see that your babe is placed in good hands.”
Before she was taken away, Bridget managed to sneak out and meet Sean one last time. “Bridget, me love,” he’d said to her, “I don’t know how, but I’ll try to see you. And no matter what happens, know that I’ll wait, sure as I’m standin’ here. And when you come home...”
Continued in Part 2: Not Any Spring
Continued in Part 2: Not Any Spring