Laughter, Tears and Wonders – Niall Kavanagh
A Magical Irish Memoir full of Laughter, Tears and Wonders.
“I found this wonderful memoir to be even more entertaining and interesting than expected. The author has a delightful way of spinning childhood yarns which truly reflect the aptly named title. In addition interesting and little known facts of Irish legends and history are woven throughout, shedding light on what you didn’t learn in your history class.” – Jan Friedman
Niall Kavanagh captures youthful exuberance in this memoir depicting misadventure and mayhem in 1940s, -50s and -60s Dublin. Money was scarce and life could have been grim, but the children of the Northside found ways to amuse themselves. Creative, intelligent, clever and full of boldness, Niall is always looking out for a new challenge as he works out the issues of telling the truth, belonging, entertaining himself, responsibility and living in a developing and changing Ireland.
There is universality in this depiction of a life of hardship that was surpassed by great family love, faith, camaraderie, adventure, curiosity and mischief. More devilish and irresponsible than most, Niall tests boundaries both physical and imaginative and constantly seeks amusement. Along the way, he learns that his actions can result in mishaps. As he matures, he continues to seek amusement, yet he becomes more and more aware that, as his loving father told him, there are consequences to his actions.
Niall “isn’t a bad boy”, but he is a “bit bold”; reading this memoir, you’ll quickly step into his Dublin and his life. His “boldness” is a stepping stone to an awareness of his own capabilities, his ability to seek and grow, his ability to accept and relish challenges and his interest in and love for the history of Ireland. His is also a story of survival despite his derring-do and the bleakness and straitened circumstances of post-WWII Dublin.
This memoir brings home the joy of being young. We can all laugh at Niall’s dangerous exploits and explore the thought process that drive and challenge him. We can all recognize how these things become channelled to produce maturity in choices, along with a willingness to take a risk when it is required.
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Colleen and I are sitting down on the pavement kerb trying to get our breath back – our Erris Road team has just demolished a Leix Road team, six goals to two. With the help of some terrific passing from Colleen, I’d scored three of the winning goals. Our usual football pitch is a section of Erris Road with some discarded clothing used for the goalposts at both ends.
“Ye were deadly, Niall,” says Colleen, giving me an admiring smile. “T’ree goals! Dem Leix Roaders didn’t know w’at was happenin’. And yer last goal – it was a dinger altogether.”
“Sure if I didn’t have you out der with me, Colleen, I’d have scored none of dem. Ye’re the bestest player in all of Cabra.”
“Ah go away-out-a-dat, Niall. It’s the goals dat count. I love playin’ with ye. Will ye be me fella?”
“Yeah, I’ll be yer fella. Will you be me mot?”
“Of course I will,” Colleen replies. “Now, give me a quick kiss. Wait ’til ol’ Buckley passes.” Mr Buckley, an old neighbour of ours, is making his shuffling way past us, walking stick in hand. “Dis is our secret, Niall, and we’ll tell no one,” Colleen continues, her eyes closed and her lips puckered, ready to receive my lips on hers and the sealing of the deal. “Ol’ Buckley is gone – quick, give me a kiss.”
“OK, Colleen,” says I. The first kiss is ever so brief; it’s a deliciously wet, salty one. We’re still sweating bricks from the massacre we’d inflicted on the Leix Roaders.
Colleen and I keep it all very quiet. With our friendship now including this new relationship, we agree to some regular clandestine rendezvous.
On Saturday afternoons we go to the pictures. Holding hands in the darkness of the Cabra Grand Cinema on Quarry Road, we sit in the back and steal innocent kisses. Only when we’re safely hidden away do we hold hands, and under no circumstance do we kiss unless absolute privacy is guaranteed.
Another regular rendezvous of ours is on Wednesdays; after school, we go to Kavo’s field. Kavo’s is an acre of waste land behind the Cabra Grand Cinema. The Dublin/Belfast railway line is on the other side of the field’s end wall. We meet there to talk, kiss and hold hands. We count kisses, and one time we count to a hundred.
“Dat’s a record, Colleen. Me lips are fallin’ off me,” says I.
“Yeep. I bet it’s a record. Ye’re a smashin’ kisser, Niall.”
“And so are you,” I respond, as I lie down on the grass for a much-needed break.
Colleen needs a break too. She lies down next to me. Holding hands, we feel the Belfast Express train thunder its way past.
“Let’s show each other our t’ing,” I suggest, in a matter-of-fact manner only the innocence of the moment and that of its participants could create – as if I was asking Colleen what time it was rather than the suggestion I had made.
“OK, Niall. We’ll do it together. One, two, t’ree, go!”
With that, I pull down my trousers and reveal myself. Colleen pulls down her knickers and exposes herself to me.
I feel bewildered, looking at the private part for the first time.
“We’re different, aren’t we Colleen?”
“Yeah, we are,” she responds with equal bewilderment.
“Yours is nicer dan mine,” says I, admiring how spick and span she looks compared to me. “It’s tidier, and ye don’t have an’in’ hangin’ out of ye.”
“Do ye t’ink so, Niall?” replies Colleen, looking down at herself and then looking closer at my revelation.
“Yours must be awful hard to carry ’round,” she continues. Not to further my disappointment she adds: “I like it, Niall, but I’m glad I haven’t got w’at you have. Does it hurt ye when ye’re runnin’?”
“No, Colleen,” I respond, feeling like I was losing out on something while at the same time being encouraged by the ‘I like it’ part of Colleen’s response. “It hurts when I get kicked in the mickey. Other dan dat it never bothers me.”
“Can I touch it, Niall?”
“Ye can if ye like, but don’t grab it hard.”
“OK,” says Colleen. “I won’t hurt ye,” she adds, as she ever so gently pokes at me.
“But how d’ye pee without a Mickey, Colleen?” I ask.
“I’ve a little hole down der, and it comes out of dat,” answers Colleen.
“Oh,” says I. “Our back holes are the same, but our front ones are different.”
“Yeah,” Colleen responds. “It’s time to go, Niall. I’ve got to go to the Legion of Mary with me sister. Let’s get dressed.”
“Yeah,” I respond, thinking about my school homework waiting for me. “I’ve got loads of ecker to do.”
We climb over Kavo’s wall and head home, but not before we have one last kiss.
“I wonder why we’re different, Colleen,” says I, as we turn the corner off Annaly Road onto Erris.
“Me Ma told me, when we grow up we’ll know everyt’in’.”
“When do we grow up, Colleen?”
“Me Ma didn’t tell me dat,” is Colleen’s resigned response.
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“This was a wonderful book about the joys and terrors of a young boy growing up in Dublin during the middle of the last century. It is filled with the antics, sometimes terrifying, and the tears and joys of childhood. The story moves from his birth to his early twenties. You will laugh at times and hold your breathe at other times as you follow Niall’s story. There is even a smattering of Irish history thrown in to explain some of the dynamics of Irish life. I loved the book from start to finish.” – Patricia Jenkinson
From the Author
While all our days are linked, I’ve always thought of each new day having a life of its own. Each one with an exciting virgin beginning, pregnant with its own unique potential, and gifting us with memories – treasures that enrich all our nows and our dreams of our as yet unfulfilled tomorrows.
I was born in Dublin Ireland on 27 July 1942. Post-WWII Dublin may have been bleak, but for me, then and for the first thirty-three years of my life, it was utopian. My life has been crammed with surprises; next July I’ll be seventy-five, and that I’m still alive is perhaps the biggest surprise of all. I was fourteen when my Da died, 1 April 1956 – and he was only forty-nine. I never expected to see fifty, yet here I am.
Sadly, I was forced to leave my darlin’ Dublin in 1975; I immigrated to the United States (illegally I might add), in search of work. My first wife Teresa (a Dublin girl), our three children Elisa, Susan and Graeme, our dog Mandy, and would you believe, my mother-in-law Rita, emigrated with me; Elisa was five, Susan was three, and Graeme was one.
After twenty-eight years of making a new life together in another country and following a two-year battle with lymphoma, Teresa died 21 February 2003 – she was only fifty-nine.
In July 2005 I was blessed to find a new love and a new life in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico; SMA is a beautiful Spanish, colonial town, two-hundred miles north of Mexico City, high in the Sierra Madre Mountains at an elevation of six-and-a-half thousand feet. That’s where I live today, along with my wife, darlin’ Darlene (an Oregonian girl), and our two dogs, Hannah Banana and Max Loco.
Please forward my message to Niall. I’m an old friend from many years ago. My US phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx.
Hello Duncan, We have passed your message along to Niall today, together with your email address. We hope you manage to reconnect. Kind regards, Publishing Push