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The Leaving’s over the leaving is just begun - the end of Ireland’s summer

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Illustration by Caty Bartholomew
The Dutch Nation's gorgeously accented voice comes down the phone, and her car has blown up in smoke and steam in the depths of Co. Limerick when driving to work in Newcastle West.

She had contacted the Automobile Association and they would rescue the poor old Volkswagen and, please, would I rescue her and her colleague.  I am putty in her gentle hands so I'm on the road in minutes.

She forgot her mobile phone that morning and I forget mine in the rush. The AA recovery unit is so prompt that they have the stricken car and the womenfolk back in Adare by the time I reach the breakdown point.

I search all the way to Newcastle West and finally decide to ring the AA control room to find out where they all are.  I walk into a good pub in Newcastle West, order a coffee and some loose change for the pay phone.

"My good wife is in trouble and I have to reach her quick,” I say to the friendly dark-haired barmaid. "I need to ring the AA as soon as I can."

The good girl's face creased with sympathy.  "Ah the poor cratur," she says with all the wisdom barmaids gain the hard way. "You poor man. Did she get too fond of it?"

I never before realized how easy it is in Ireland to confuse the Automobile Association with Alcoholics Anonymous!   We have a good chuckle over that as I clear the Dutch Nation's reputation and proceed back to Adare.

I find the womenfolk there in jig time, totally by accident, and we proceed to the garage. Two mechanics are gazing glumly into the bowels of the engine. That is always a bad sign.

They are talking telephone numbers and a new engine.  Enough of that.  It will be sorted.

The slightest of accidents, I tell the Dutch Nation, would be a lot worse, and thank God you are not a member of the other AA.

It is raining. It is a heavily humid afternoon. The three of us talk about various news events, and the womenfolk discuss artistic matters and vegetarian food as I listen to the Dublin hurlers being praised to the skies on the radio for their extremely gallant battle the previous day against All-Ireland champions Tipperary.

Adare is extremely busy because of the presence of hundreds of tourists walking past the thatched cottages under vivid umbrellas. We Irish hate the rain, but it is not that way for everybody.

I recall doing an interview up in Mayo one August afternoon like this with the elegant Kathy Crosby, widow of Bing Crosby.  She insisted on conducting the interview out in the rain.

She lived then in Nevada of the dry heat. She turned her tanned face up into the rain and loved every drop of it as I wrote into a soggy notebook.

You could sell this climate for its moisturizing benefits is what Bing's widow said. I suppose you could.

We stop in fabled Durty Nellie’s in Bunratty for a snack on the way home.  If anything it is raining even more heavily, but the village is even more crowded with tourists than Adare.  The rain does not seem to matter at all to the smiling faces under the anorak and poncho hoods.

In the pub the Wolfe Tones and Paddy Reilly are on the sound system and, smoking outside, I am delighted to hear "Lough Sheelin's Side" for the first time in years.  The Cavan ballad is one of our neglected acoustic pearls.

A Limerick granny and I are the only ones complaining about the rain. But then we're Irish.

It is just before the state issues the results of the watershed Leaving Certificate examination which has such a watershed effect on our youth. Already you overhear references to the upcoming results from the tables around.

There is, as always, growing anxiety. There is, as always, a radio news story, warning the next generation of third level students to beware of ruthless landlords when seeking apartments.

It is one of the weeks when Irish families take holidays. Groups of them are threaded through the American and European visitors.

It is as if they know that, once the Leaving results come out and a son or daughter is successful, that the family will never be quite as total again.

I join a singsong in the pub that evening, the Dutch Nation home safe and sound and, even though I modestly say so myself, I brought visible tears to several mother's eyes with my own maudlin enough but truthful ballad about the big examination:

"From a city bus at noon, one summer afternoon,
Through a classroom windowpane I saw them all,
Young heads oer papers bent as the pens a-racing went,
On an honors paper chase in that exam hall.
They looked so fair and young that it seemed very wrong,
To have them captured there out of the sun,
For those that teach the youth don't teach them all the truth
When the Leaving's over the Leaving is just begun.
For they were doing their Leaving,
And still were grieving,
Not quite believing their childhood's gone,
Though they may fail or pass,
Time comes for every class,
When the Leaving's over the Leaving is just begun..."

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