De Britto

I’ve been loving you a long time
Down all the years, down all the days
And I’ve cried for all your troubles
Smiled at your funny little ways
We watched our friends grow up together
And we saw them as they fell
Some of them fell into Heaven
Some of them fell into Hell

–Shane MacGowan, “Rainy Night in SoHo

I use postcards, flyers, letters, and photos as bookmarks, and tend to leave them in place when I’m finished. It’s a message-in-a-bottle to my future self, tying, say, a ticket stub from a film I loved to the book I read waiting in the queue. Stuck on page 173 of Toni Morrison’s Jazz is the US Embassy receipt for my first J1 visa application back in college. The combined artefacts make for found memories as powerful as songs or smells.

On Bloomsday I took down Ellman’s biography of Joyce to look for more pictures of my new love, Nora. “Dearbhaile Hanley Christmas 1992 Limerick” said the flyleaf, and out fluttered a small photo from long before that: my secondary school class at the end of our first year. Thirty twelve-year-olds, arranged in three rows under the school crest and motto, _Crescentes in Illo per Omnia_. I’m still not sure what that means.

Our classes were named for dead Jesuits, with each intake year given a letter. Briant, Bellarmine, Borgia, Berchmans, Bobola. Our class was De Britto. We never thought much about the man behind the name. Did he die of malaria in some equatorial swamp, doubting God in a sweat-drenched soutane? (This was before Google, which shows Blessed John De Brito–with one ‘t’–to be an interesting fellow, a Portuguese nobleman who became a Jesuit Swami in Madras, and was beheaded for his trouble.) I always liked the name, and more so when an unfortunate religion teacher snapped and rechristened us. He was a country farmer who came late to teaching, and our toxic behavior disillusioned him fast.
    “De Britto!” he yelled. “It’s De BRATTO ye are. De BRATTO! A shower of brats and no more!”

We don’t look like brats in the photo. The front row kids have hands neatly placed on their knees, and the back row stands on plastic chairs, arms hanging down like Riverdancers. Our faces have the unformed blurriness of going-on-thirteen. Every single one of the girls has cut the long hair we started the year with. None of the kids is fat, not even the one we thought was at the time. Our shoulders are narrow in navy, crested jumpers. The girls wear kneesocks and navy skirts, the boys wear grey pants. (We all wore tackies, as Limerick called trainers/sneakers. For some reason we weren’t allowed to wear proper shoes. They’ve reversed that rule now, just as arbitrarily.)

I feel like God, holding this photo from the era of Live Aid and moving statues. I look at the formless little faces of my classmates and know their futures. I see which of them will marry each other and what their children will look like. I know who will get religion, become an actor, come out, or move to San Francisco. At the end of the front row sits the sweet and quiet girl in whose bedroom four of us compared notes after our first class party that same month. (The girls a head taller than the boys, and Phyllis Nelson lowing at us to “Moooooove Closer” while Fr. McGuckian read a book…) Her squishy white boot tackies are as familiar as my own scuffed Dunnes’ Stores efforts, and in the wisdom bought with twenty years, I see her future. “Don’t worry about kissing Frosty,” I want to whisper, “You’re going to grow up to be a sound engineer, and you’ll meet Peter Gabriel.”

In 1984, we hadn’t yet seen the great Sledgehammer video on Vincent “Fab Vinnie” Hanley’s MT USA. But reader, she married him.

25 thoughts on “De Britto”

  1. Crescentes in Illo per Omnia

    A reference to Ephesians Chapter 4.

    A modern paraphrase of the motto might run: “Growing up to be like Him in all ways”


  2. Quiet takes back her folded hands. Tranquille thanks. Adew.

    I always wonder when finding a match book cover, postcard, or junk mail envelope in the middle of a book if I read no further than that. Does everyone remember whether they finished each book they read and does it matter?


  3. I unpacked all my books last month, and I’m disappointed in most of them. All these transient 1990s novels–especially the ones by and about English novelists. I look at them and can’t remember a thing about them, including whether or not I actually read them. I think I need to give lots of them away…


  4. Recently I was in Normandy to honor my Dad’s experience 60 years ago. I was sharing a book written by one of his comrades with the family of my Dad’s Regimental Commander. As they thumbed through it they came upon a photograph I had forgotten about…a photo of my mom and dad on the day he shipped out for Belfast, Port Stewart, Cronmore Estate, Nottingham and eventually parachuting into Normandy. It seemed to me that this photo was to be revealed to me at that time…and once again reminded me that my kidneys are too close to my eyes.


  5. I was once party to a conversation in which a Harare emigré waxed lyrical about the new “tackies” he had purchased on Oxford St. The chances of someone from the North Atlantic anglophone archipelago understanding what he was banging on about were in direct proportion to the chances that that person was from Limerick.

    I presume the “tacky” element of the rubber plimsole relates to its reaction to the extreme heat of southern africa. Why it should be the defining characteristic of the training shoe in Frank McCourt’s sodden city must remain a mystery, unless the lingo emerged from the Dark Continent on the tongue of a Jesuit missionary newly posted to teaching duties at the society’s most socially inauspicious school, the Cresent Comprehensive. Ad majorem tackies gloriam, or something.


  6. Vinnie wasn’t interested in girls of the female persuasion, as far as I recall. So she was stuck with Peter.


  7. Oh!

    I remember that poor ole Vinny died of an eye infection, alright. Seemed strange at the time, since he was young. Now i think I begin to understand.


  8. Dervala: Don’t try selling those English language novels from the 1990’s via that hallowed institutiion, eBay. They don’t sell. In fact the beats, James Baldwin, and most post WWII writers don’t sell well. Except for Tolkien. The best sellers are Twain, Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, et al. Makes sense to me. (Oh, forgot that much of that science fiction tripe sells to some extent on eBay.) I’m a student of eBay. I buy most of my books, moccasins, pockets knives, and other important items there. Cheap. Only Amazon competes with them on books. Warm ups. Almost forgot. Something else good to buy on eBay. And you can get for cheap all the Keroac and Ginsberg you want on eBay for cheap. 😉 Somehow I’ve always thought of them as being better reading than 1990’s novels. And they’re best read only when suffering from insomnia.


  9. The one who went to Brazil? Would that be Ciara? How many Limerick girls are there in Brazil? I’m beginning to feel like a stalker. I think I’ll stop now.


  10. Yes, right in both cases, Anne! Eep. It’s been years since I saw Ciara, but Padraig is a good friend.


  11. Correction of an earlier dumb comment: I try to always throw away bad books, not sell or give them away. Why expose someone else to their content? I rather hurriedly went through my library of accumulated books (3,000, 6,000?) several years ago. I pitched the ones I’d had the misfortune to read and gave the balance to my children. My library now consists of no more than 50 books which usually leave, one way or another, after reading. While this makes rereading inconvenient it does provide more shelf space for other junk, albeit junk no less worthy than what it replaces. I have an especially useless collection of boxes that formerly held assorted computer and electronics items which serve no purpose at all, but at least are more easily dusted.


  12. Anne: no, I hadn’t seen Ciara’s site, but I read an article of hers in our local paper when I was home at Christmas…But how do you know Padraig? Are you and Mr. Waffle Foreign Affairs types?

    Jerry: I’m coming around to your policy on not hoarding books (though I keep accumulating more from the dollar shelves at Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby Street). I’ve always been very attached to my books, but they’re starting to feel like a drag. Brooklynites leave free books on the street all the time. I’m working up the courage to add to the freebies, not pick them up.


  13. No, we’re not foreign affairs types but my oldest friend (I have actually known her since my birth and she has been torturing me ever since due to her year’s advantage, but now that we’re in our mid-thirties, that year isn’t as much as it once was…I digress) is and she and Padraig are quite pally and they live on the same housing estate in Dublin which is, as far as I can see a DFA enclave, and so I have met him and Sarah over dinner and the like. Will doubtless meet him in Bxls and must pump him for info on what you’re really like.


  14. Is this where I get to confess that I’m really a 56-year-old male mining engineer from Utah, and this whole “Dervala” persona is an elaborate, though pointless, hoax? 😉

    I await news of what I’m really like, Anne.


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