‘The Happening at Bessbrook’

Early December, 1904, and the snow lay thick upon the ground as I made my way to the mill. The work felt particularly hard that day and I was sweating with the heat of the machines and the heavy dampness in the air. ‘Are you feeling ill, Evie?’ Maura asked. ‘No, I’m grand,’ I said, though my skin felt clammy and my head was aching.

At the end of our shift, Maura was by my side as we left the mill. I stepped onto the freezing cold ground, the wind blowing against me; my feet slipped and slithered. After just a few steps, I collapsed and fell.

I remember nothing after that … only the musings in my head and the feeling of drifting deep into the darkness and then up into the light. For many many days I was lost to the world and the world was lost to me. Yet, something was happening that was way beyond my understanding.

All I can do now is tell my story.
‘Celia’s Secret:
A Journey towards Reconciliation’
‘The link between Love and Truth shall not be broken.’

Thomas Moore, the contemporary American writer, describes in his book ‘Care of the Soul’ that the family is the nest into which soul is born, nurtured and released into life. Looking at the intricate dynamics of family life, he explains that families are complex and paradoxical; containing both good and bad influences and it’s the combination of these positive and negative elements which enable children to adapt and grow. Through struggling with these forces, the child emerges into adulthood. Children usually survive their experiences of family life but many bear noticeable scars and deficiencies which can remain with them, perhaps forever. The family, he says, is not a sentimental creation; it exists for a purpose and is a rite of passage. It’s in coming to terms with these ‘battle wounds’ that we discover who we are. Undeniably, family life has a profound effect on the formation of the individual and one recognized truth is that the spirit of the child lives on in the adult.

Most families have their imperfections for they are only human. Their stories are an entanglement of secrets, memories and manipulations of the truth which throw light on the everyday workings of family life and how we manage its complexities. This memoir is the story of my family secret and its effect on me and other close family members. Family secrets can have serious long-term consequences. Sometimes, one family member may carry the burden of the secret alone fearing the consequences if the secret is revealed. Often it is not what’s said that gives away the secret, but what’s not said. Children can be left with a damaged sense of identity and a sense of sadness, loss and grief. They can feel that they have been profoundly betrayed. Pretending to be someone you are not is a waste of the person you are. Did you not love me enough to tell me the truth?

I recall my childhood and early life in order to judge the impact this had on my personality and character, my strengths and my weaknesses. Every personal experience shapes the life of the individual and shouldn’t be judged without understanding and compassion.

When I embrace the truth, I’m not necessarily rewarded with a clear conscience and peace of mind? The truth isn’t always friendly and it’s not always simple; it can cause pain and division. The truth can bind a person instead of setting them free. My story follows my own discovery of the family secret, my changed relationship with my mother and the enduring emotional fallout following that discovery. The process of reconciliation is woven, like a pattern, into my life story and has taken many years to achieve. I have put honesty and love at the centre of my search for understanding, acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation. I hope that these will remain an enduring legacy of this story.