We have had a busy weekend. I ordered a new bicycle to replace the one that was beyond repair, showed The Girl a Marx Brothers film, got more willow for making baskets, climbed the Tower of Kildare, went camping and presided over a pet funeral.
I brought The Girl to the neighbour’s house, where she has friends her age. The day turned unexpectedly solemn, however; the girls’ hamster had died, and I was asked to be the gravedigger.
I and the children gathered round and bowed our heads as the girls knelt down and laid the pet to rest. They wrote its name in crayon on popsicle sticks, taped them into a tiny cross, placed it over the grave, and hugged each other.
The mourning ended abruptly as their new puppy ran over, ate the grave-marker, and ran away trailing popsicle-stick splinters and pursued by four indignant girls.
As I helped The Girl write invitations to her seventh birthday party, it occurred to me that my fellow Americans would not recognise most of the names. The Irish have many of the basic Williams and Annes, Emilys and Roberts, but recently parents here have returned to traditional Irish names: Caomhe (pronounced Queeva), Soirse (pronounced Seer-sha), Ciara (Keera), Diarbhla (Derv-la), Brighde (Breeda), Niamh (Neev), Siobhan (Sha-vawn), Diarmuid (Deer-mwid), Eoin (Ee-oin) and Enda (Enda).
Few of these common Irish names ever made it to my native USA, even though many Americans embrace their Irish heritage; most major cities celebrate St. Patrick's Day, for example, even though the larger German population gets no St. Boniface parade. The last few decades also saw a fashion for unorthodox names. In the 1984 film Splash, a mermaid calls herself Madison after a street sign, and Tom Hanks’ character protests that it’s not a real name -- two decades later it was the most popular name in America.
You'd think these trends would merge, and to be fair Aidan and Liam have become popular boys’ names – perhaps because they have an English-friendly spelling. But the schools of Iowa and Arkansas have not filled with Eoins or Caomhes, and even most of Ireland’s more phonetic names remain alien to Americans; the New York Times mistakenly called Ireland's new leader Enda Kenny a woman, perhaps thinking of the name "Edna."
Irish-Americans I know have named their children Colleen ("girl" in Irish) or Erin ("Ireland" in Irish) but these are not names here. The few superficially similar names often appeared in a different gender; I knew many female Pattys in Missouri but no males, which baffles the Paddys I know here, and the same holds true for the Shawns and Seans.
Nor did the more recent American names reach these shores. I told The Girl about her cousin Heather; she said, surprised, "She’s named after the plant?”
The Girl and I went camping last night -- within sight of our house, but a little farther each time. A short time ago she didn’t spend the whole night in the tent; when dreams woke her, she crept sleepily to her familiar bed inside. By camping on our land with her every month or so, I hope to help her grow comfortable with sleeping far from home.
I awoke before she did this morning, and as I relaxed at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee, I turned and saw her looking at me in the doorway. “Did you really spend the whole night in the tent, Papa?” she asked sceptically.
Top photo: The Girl feeding ducks at the canal terminus in Naas.
Bottom photo: Our neighbour driving by in his carriage.