History makes you think….I wonder what would have happened if my grandfather had never travelled to England, or met my grandmother, had never given birth to my father and so on. The remarkable thing is that we, as individuals exist at all, it’s against all the odds, a lottery of life, by accident or design that we now ride on the tidal wave…….we are riding on the crest heading towards the shore. But thats the thing about waves, they are very short lived; we are following on from countless numbers of waves that have crashed to shore, pushed on by even more that are to follow!
It’s no coincidence that the cycle of life mimics the natural rhythms of the universe.
Often we get wrapped up in our little worlds; our tiny speck of existence in this great ocean of humanity. But every now and again we come face to face with our own mortal reality. The mask of youth has slipped, giving way to another beauty secret….the secret of living each and every moment as if it was your very last on earth; easier said than done sometimes.
Last weekend (29th to 31st July 2011) saw us taking part in the 3 day Spraoi International Street Arts Festival in Waterford, Ireland which was a very fine event indeed. As a special treat we decided to take a short detour & stop off at the medieval city of Kilkenny on our return to Liverpool.
In 1885, my grandfather, Thomas Battle was born here, this was his home town. I know very little of him other than the fact that he was born here and had a brother who was killed in the First World War. From what I can gather, he moved to North West England in the 1920’s where he met my grandmother (Eleanor Maud Rigby) in Speke, a suburb of Liverpool but was then part of the district of Lancashire. They married & raised a family in Prescot & Whiston; Eleanor gave birth to my father in 1930 (also named Thomas) and five other sons.
I met my grandfather when I was a very young child in the early 1960’s. I must have been about 2 or 3 years of age & my grandfather was living in the shed he built at 105 Kemble Street, the one seen on the left in the photo of him on a motorbike. Don’t ask me why he lived in the shed other than the fact that it was an exceedingly good shed, with its own fireplace and a bed tucked away under the long workbench…..Grandmother lived in the house and it seems to have been an arrangement that suited them both, perhaps it kept them together in some strange way. I’ve been told that a lot of people use to live in sheds in the ‘olden days’ not sure how true that was but the Battle family used to live in a caravan in the 1920’s & this was a common sight around Liverpool and the north west of England. So perhaps living in a shed reminded grandad of his time as a young journeyman? who knows!
He died in the shed in February 1961 from a stroke aged 76…..apparently he went into a comer and passed away. He was buried in Prescot Parish Church cemetery, England on the 14th February 1961. Eleanor Maud had instructed the Co-operative Funeral Services Ltd to carry out the arrangements. Their receipt stated that Thomas had;
A polished oak coffin, fully mounted with silver plated fittings, engraved silver name tablet. Upholstered with linings and trimmings and flannelette robe.”
At a princely sum of £45-13 shillings and 9 pence. This also included R.I.P. fittings, a motor funeral car, two mourners to follow the car, removal from hospital & grave drapings with personal superintendance throughout!
Eleanor paid it off in four instalments with the last one being paid on the 5th March 1962.
My grandfather was described to me as an Irish ‘journeyman’ A man who served his apprenticeship in a trade and worked as a fully qualified employee. The term originated in the regulations of the medieval trade guilds; it derives from the French journée (‘a day’) because journeymen were paid daily. A journeyman would travel the country looking for work; grandfather was a skilled joiner and wheelwright and would make his living repairing wooden cart wheels and the like.
Visiting Kilkenny for me was almost (but not quite) like going home. It was a place where my uncle Peter (James Peter Battle) always wanted to visit but never did. Peter was my grandfather’s eldest son born in Whiston in a brown caravan in 1929; he recently died in April 2011. He would always talk of wanting to go to the home of his father Thomas so this visit offered me an opportunity to do something special for both my grandfather and Uncle Peter. For grandad I decided to take along photograph of him taken in the 1950’s and have myself photographed with it outside an old building in Kilkenny; one that my grandad may have remembered, shopped or even worked in as a boy.
I found Dores shop on the corner of the high street. This is the local butchers, established in 1888 when my grandfather was only 3 years of age (the exact same age that I was when I met him!), so I felt certain that he must have known of this shop, in fact a lot of Kilkenny looks like it hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s, apart from becoming a bit of a tourist town, I can imagine it looking very similar in his day.
So that’s the first part of my mission completed, it’s almost like life coming full circle, his image and presence hasn’t been seen on these streets for over 100 years and now here he is…with his grandson, myself and Catherine; back on the streets of Kilkenny, my own homage to the past; tipping my hat to what has been…..
History is all around us, it’s within us and without us even realising it at times….we are all caught in the arrow of time; in a place where it is impossible to go back; good or bad, changing the past is not an option but coming to terms with it and accepting what you have become because of it is; this is a universal truth…..
The second part of my mission was for Uncle Peter. I always regret never taking him to visit Kilkenny, it was one of the very few places we never took him to, and he was always talking about it, even just before he died. So for this we (myself & Catherine) decided to take something personal to Peter and leave it in Kilkenny & also to bring something home that he would have liked had he been alive.
We took a silver tobacco tin that Peter always used to roll his own cigarettes; this dated from the early 1900’s and was possibly even, once owned by my grandfather. It was full of tobacco so we put a black ribbon around it. We had no idea where we were going to leave this but we took time out to look around Kilkenny Castle and then Catherine came up with the great idea to leave it in the castle….PERFECT; Peter would always say that The Battle family were related to royalty (even though it was never true). Well now, quite literally Peter IS related to royalty, in spirit at least.
We hid his silver box in an urn just outside the state rooms, in one of the most majestic part of the castle. It’s a place where nobody will find it immediately but someday a cleaner may come across it, it has no inscription or indication of where it came from so it may even end up as part of the castles own collection and may even be displayed there someday in the future. I like that idea; a part of Uncle Peter, the son of a Kilkenny ‘journeyman’ in the royal castle at Kilkenny. Just imagine that…..Peter would have loved it I’m sure!
I found Kilkenny to be a very comfortable place, I’m not Irish just second generation English but I felt at home here, the people were marvellous as they are right across Ireland and we look forward to our return to the land of our ancestors soon, perhaps next time we’ll visit the city of Cork where Catherine’s grandfather comes from! :-))