When I was nine, my year at school had to do a presentation during assembly on Ireland. As preparation we girls were asked to bring in any Irish objects that we might have, so that we could talk about them.
I mentioned it at suppertime that evening, then forgot about it.
A few days before the assembly, my teacher took me aside and told me that she was disappointed.
“Why, miss?” I asked.
“Honestly, I thought you’d make more of an effort than this.”
“Well, since your mother is Irish, I’d thought you would have a lot of things to bring in for the assembly.”
Looking back, I can think of several remarks:
‘Miss, I love and admire you, but do you know what you’re saying?’
‘Just because my mother is Irish and my sister and I are half Irish, you think we have objects that immediately display our nationality just lying around the house?’
‘We don’t need things from Ireland that you can touch and display, because our mother is with us every day, because we go to see our grandpa many times during the year.’
‘Ireland isn’t a strange, different country to me – it’s a place I’ve been visiting since before I could walk. It’s where my family lives, where my grandmother is buried.’
‘You know what we do have around our house, Miss? Photographs. Photographs of our grandpa and grandma and great aunt and cousins. They’re Ireland, to us. They’re not the sort of thing you’re looking to show off in an assembly.’
‘How can you ask me to explain all this in front of the school, when it’s not what you want from me?’
I said none of those things, because I was nine years old and wasn’t even aware that I was thinking most of it. I was just sick with shame at having disappointed my favourite teacher…with an under current of what I now know was utter indignation.
When I went home that evening I rooted out a cuddly lamb – with a shamrock stitched on its side – that mum had bought for me when I was about six in Cork Airport. The next morning I placed it on the table among the objects the rest of the class had brought in. My teacher was disappointed again, I think, but said nothing.
I don’t remember what I said in the assembly.