IT’S THE Sundays I miss most.
When I think back and reimagine those days in the eighties and nineties when those old Irish communities established by the 50s generation were at their height, it is the Sundays I miss most.
There were other days, of course, certain events like a funeral or a wedding and there were Saturday and Friday nights too.
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I remember bringing my now wife to Birmingham to meet my family for the first time. It was a St. Patrick’s Day and I said to her again and again, you’ll never have seen anything like this. And she hadn’t.
I don’t think we truly realised at the time how remarkable it was to be part of those Irish communities.
We knew we were different for sure and all of our local allegiances to Birmingham or Manchester or Leeds were accompanied by an Irish one too and whenever we brought in an outsider, an English person for instance, we knew they were seeing something new.
We knew they had no idea that this part of their society even existed. We knew they had no idea that this was happening in British cities.
Taking an English person into an Irish social club or backstreet pub of the 80s or 90s was to bring them into a different world. They were still in England, of course, but not an England they’d ever seen before.
So we knew we were a part of something different but what we didn’t know was just how remarkable it all was. I suppose what we never thought was that those crowded bars and crowded dance floors would ever end.
What we failed to see was that time would catch up with the clubs and pubs where sons and fathers and grandchildren all drank together.
Where mothers and daughters danced the same dance to the same music. Where a daughter danced with her dad or a son waltzed with his mother.
It was just the craic. It was never going to end. How could it? Look how many of us there are. I mean, come on, you can barely get to the bar.
Strange then that with time catching up with it all that it is the Sundays that I miss most. Even when I’d stopped going to Mass, a Sunday was still one of the best days.
At that time the pubs still closed during the day and come 3 o’clock the towels were going up on the pumps.
What had been going on since around 1 o’clock though was a Sunday afternoon of music and talking and dancing that felt so celebratory that it was almost as if we were giving two fingers to the world outside.
This was a time too of mass unemployment and a time of tough, dirty jobs. Men who’d worked hard all week were drinking. Women who’d worked and reared kids and barely sat down were dancing.
Young men and young women who were spending their weeks out in the streets and jobs and with the people of big English cities were suddenly back in clubs and pubs that belonged only to them.
Some had come straight from mass. Some from a match. Others from a bed they weren’t in long from the night before. With only a few hours in it there was an intensity to those afternoons that you could almost touch.
And where else on a Sunday afternoon in England are people standing to attention to The Soldier’s Song and then sitting back down to squeeze another couple of pints in?
Of course, the promises followed, that we’d all be back out at 7pm and we’d just carry on and despite the late afternoon slump some did. But many just fell asleep.
And in those days no one really drank in the house unless it was Christmas Day and nobody sat at home and opened a bottle of wine.
You went back out or you nursed a strange post-booze exhaustion and were only grateful you’d stayed in for a few hours on Monday morning.
But it is the Sundays I miss as I sit here in Ireland.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to step back for one of those Sunday afternoons and we’d all be just going in the door and it would all be ahead of us and our parents would wave over and the drinks would come down and it would all just begin.
And we’d never realise just how precious those Irish afternoons were.