Click above for your weekly address from The Queen Of Ireland:
There’s a lot to be said for growing up in Ballinrobe County Mayo, but the one thing Mayo didn’t have was glamour. It had grass and cows and fish and football, but no glamour. Glamour was in short supply in 1970’s Ireland anyway and what little there was, rarely made it past the Shannon, and usually came from abroad. When Mrs. Nixon, the wife of the disgraced president, came to Ballinrobe in a helicopter and shook hands with people at the local agricultural show, the whole town nearly had a stroke. She was like something out of a “fillim”. But glamour came to our house once every few years in the shape of Aunty Qy, my mother’s glamorous younger sister. She even had a glamorous name; Columba, which everyone shortened to Q or Qy for some reason. Aunty Qy.
She was gorgeous, and had this rich husky voice, redolent of Katherine Hepburn. She had wanted to be an actress, and did a bit on radio, but mostly, she was just beautiful. Seven different men proposed to her and in fact my mother met my father when he came to the house to take aunty Qy out. But aunty Qy said no to all her suitors until a wealthy American, an ex naval officer, proposed.
He was twenty five years her senior, but he was dashing and exciting, and in grey 1950’s Ireland, he was in Technicolor, and he took her to America. In 1970’s Ireland, America still had a real glamour. It was a faraway exotic place we’d probably never see where Mary Tyler Moore and Charlie’s Angels lived with giant refrigerators and bouncing hair.
Aunty Qy would arrive home with her husky drawl, in a swirl of beige pant suits and menthol cigarettes, (cigarettes, with mint in them!) and the glamour would almost knock me over. She’d smoke and drawl and sing ‘W-O- M-A- N, I’ll say it again!” and her bracelets would clank as she’d take out gifts wrapped like gifts in American movies with shiny wrapping and glittery bows, and inside we’d discover new and amazing things: Pez dispensers, magic tricks, a jumper with a hood on it! America had everything! We’d never seen the like! The whole town was talking about us and our jumpers with hoods on them. All the other kids wanted an aunty Qy. I wanted to be aunty Qy. She was like no one else I’d ever met. She was exotic and glamorous and different. She was like a character from a movie, a 3D emissary from a 2D world I’d only ever seen on screen or in books.
But she was flesh and blood, undeniable, tangible evidence of a big world out there, somewhere past Roscommon. I feverishly imagined this other world and fevered to be part of it. This bigger, brighter world full of new and different things, exciting and full of possibilities - where people wore jumpers with hoods on them.
Listen to the full episode of Pantisocracy by clicking on the image above, or tune into Radio One, 10pm Tuesday.