A Letter To My Father - Frances Black shares a favourite memory of her dad on holiday

By Frances Black

Hi Dad, it's been a long time since we talked. Sometimes it feels like only yesterday, and yet it's been 23 years since you passed. I want to say thank you for the beautiful memories that you gave me as a child. The wonderful holidays that we had when we went to the stunning island that you were born and reared on, Rathlin Island.

I am not saying that life was perfect for us by any means – I know times were hard for both you and Mam rearing five kids in the inner city of Dublin, but somehow we got by, didn't we?

My favourite memory is when I was 16. You had retired from your work as a plasterer a few years earlier, and you and Mam decided to open up a small grocer's shop on Charlemont Street. At that time, you also had very bad arthritis and needed someone to travel with you on a trip back to your homestead on Rathlin.

It was the end of July and I was so thrilled that you asked me to go with you. Mam couldn't go due to work commitments with the shop. I was the youngest of the family and the others were either working or away.

Do you remember, Dad, that you wanted to stop off at Auntie Maggie's house in Loughinisland, Co Down, on the way to Rathlin? We had no car, so we got the bus to Newry, and then another one to Newcastle, Co Down.

We missed the bus to Downpatrick, so you found a lovely B&B on the seafront where the landlady cooked us a meal of steak and mushroom pie. I had never tasted anything like it before.

Afterwards, we took a short walk on the seafront, and I asked you questions about the British Army trucks going up and down the street.

I couldn't understand what they were doing in this beautiful seaside town, and I had never seen soldiers with guns pointed before. When you started to explain it to me, I knew by the way you spoke about the conflict that it brought you huge sadness. I could see the sorrow in your eyes.

The funny thing was, even though it was at the height of the conflict, not once did I feel in any way scared because I was with you.

We watched the news that night and saw that three Catholic civilians were killed as a result of a bomb attack on Andersonstown Road, and an off-duty RUC officer was killed by a British soldier following an argument at a checkpoint in Bessbrook, Co Armagh. I watched you walk up to your room that night with a heavy heart.

The next day, we headed up to see Auntie Maggie in Loughinisland, where you spent three days talking with her and having cups of tea, and I helped Charlie (who worked for Auntie Maggie) and Charlie's daughter to work on the farm.

I will never forget the dinners that Auntie Maggie cooked. Everything that was on the dinner plate was straight from the farm. The potatoes were balls of white fluff and, with the homemade butter, they melted in your mouth. There was a lot of laughter when she was around. I could see that you really admired her and looked up to her. She was so wise and gentle.

By the time we got to Rathlin Island, the weather was beautiful. The journey on the boat over was rough. There was a huge swell on the sea as we travelled with your very dear friend Danny Hannaway.

Danny had a boat; he was another islander who had married a Dublin woman. Her name was Carmel. They were such a lovely couple with a lovely family.

When we arrived on Rathlin, there was a car waiting to bring us up to the family farm, 'Glacklugh'. Your eldest brother Michael and your sister Mary were waiting and had the warmest greeting that you could have imagined – lots of shaking hands and smiling with warm words of welcome. They were really delighted to see you, Dad.

After dinner that evening, I joined Uncle Michael as he fed the calves and milked the cows. He was always whistling a tune – a low, quiet sound as if whistling through his teeth – as he slowly sauntered to the barn. There were very few words from him but that felt okay.

The next morning, we called over to see Auntie Tessie and Uncle Dan, who lived on the farm across the fields. Tessie was your youngest sister and, again, what a beautiful woman she was, always laughing with a happy twinkle in her beautiful green eyes.

What a brilliant holiday we had, Dad. It was the first time in my life that I really got to know you.

We talked about the history of the Northern conflict, you told me many stories of ghosts that appeared on Rathlin, we laughed and we even sang old Irish songs together.

I will carry the precious moments I had with you for those two weeks in 1976 in my heart always, Dad.

Thank you for everything. Happy Father's Day. I still miss you.