Saturday, November 13, 2010

Drogheda & A Perfect Day

My perfect day included reading at the end of it a stunning essay by Hilary Mantle, author of Wolf Hall. Today, it was included in the Saturday edition of the Guardian. I will bring it home and share.

Even though my day ended perfectly,  it did have a bit of a wobbly start. Last evening when I came back to the hotel after a long working day, the young man at reception was puzzled that my bags were still in my room. Why wouldn’t they be? I am here until the 19th.

It turned out that they had no record of me having reserved it for the coming week. Since my plan had been to leave early the next day for a day trip to Drogheda – which I am still learning to pronounce –packing up my bags and moving to god-knows-where before 8:00 AM and the train I had planned to catch held no allure.

I tossed and turned all night and was up and dressed and down to the front desk before the usual punctuation of gulls heralded the first light of day. Usually, the gulls are followed by the mellow thrum of pigeons, but today I waited for neither. The person who could sort out my dilemma was supposedly working the morning shift. Together, we checked the computer. I held my breath. The computer crashed, rebooted and then suddenly all was well. I was now free to head off to Drogheda, however you pronounce it, at least as soon as I quaffed my coffee.

My reason for wanting to go there was because of an 1874 letter by my great-great grandmother where she said to her son Thomas: I have been told that the Corporation of Drogheda placed the Jackson coat of arms over the town hall, in gratitude for the munificent gift old George gave them (I wish he had been sleeping when he did it) but I never had time when passing through, to see if it was the one.

Well, me too. I never had time when passing through, to see if it was the one. Not that I would know what the one would look like. In fact, no one knows anything about where this crest was for sure or what it might have looked like. Unfortunately, the old town hall was demolished fairly recently at three o’clock in the morning while supposedly protected by a preservation order. You have to love certain kinds of capitalists. They sure know how to do the old carpe diem thing.

There was a subsequent city hall built in 1865 by a certain Benjamin Whitworth, and it was one of the places that I wanted to see with my own eyes. I also wanted to check out what there was in Drogheda in the way of local history books and as well to meet people steeped in the history of the place. At least I can report in on all that: Mission Accomplished, and I don’t mean that in the George W. Bush sense of things.

I already knew before I went to Drogheda that there had been beaucoup de JACKSONs in Drogheda, starting at least in 1657. I had spotted their names in the Council Book of the Corporation of Drogheda. Year after year, they popped up with predictable regularity. First as builders, then as Aldermen, then in a last mention where a pitiful George Jackson was recorded pleading for help because he couldn’t get his financial act together. This guy sounded like a fine candidate  – for lots of other reasons as well – to be the father of my five times great-grandfather who became a schoolmaster in south Armagh. This schoolmaster, also named George Jackson, had been jilted by a lady in Bath, fell into a fit of depond, and then lost the family farm in a game of Ducks and Drakes.

If I was right about the father of the jilted George being the mewling bit of humanity pleading for a better break on a pension, then Drogheda was clearly where I had to be. I have to say, after being there today, my hunches about all this feel quite right. I still have some more arcane bits to wiggle into place, but I suspect that Drogheda will start to assume a more meaningful place in the telling of this family tale.

A couple more things are worth mentioning. There was a second town hall built in 1865 and it may be significant that it is on the exact street and block where the earlier JACKSONs lived two hundred years earlier. Better yet, it is no longer a City Hall but is currently a gaming and gambling hall. Clearly, Old George still lives and breathes.

Whitworth built an attractive building for the city of Drogheda and it can still hold up its head as a major example of the Lombardo Romanesque style, but when I stuck my nose in there today what I heard was something decidedly less posh: under the G-53.

My great-great grandmother would be muttering into the linen of her Presbyterian bonnet if she had waddled into the Whitworth building alongside me. I know what she thought about gambling. She once read the riot act to her famous son when he assumed the Presidency of the Jockey Club in Hong Kong.

On the other hand, perhaps she would be blessing me for not taking the time to view the pickled head of Sir Oliver Plunkett just down the way, but that’s another story.

No comments:

Post a Comment