Life lessons on legs

There’s a pub at home that’s slowly sinking into the bog, evidenced by the creamy collars of pints of Guinness tilting unevenly to one side when not in the hands of punters. Known the length and breadth of the county, Roche’s is a pub in the middle of nowhere that reputedly pulls 2400 pints of Guinness a week, on an average week, and Christmas is far from average.

Until a couple of years ago, it was presided over by nonagenarian Maura Roche, and is a legend in its own time. When she died, it was bought by a local publican who sold his town pub and moved to the sticks. Billed as the steal of the century, it went for a song, played to the tune of cash,  in a time when only miracles would get you a mortgage.

But Mrs Roche, Mrs Roche … It was only this week that I heard her story and what a story that turned out to be.

Born in Clapham in 1915, to an Irish Republican father and a suffragette mother, Mrs Roche was one of a kind. Educated by nuns in Surrey and in Belgium, she took a BA in Languages from King’s College in London. She summered in Spain to improve her Spanish and fell in love with a Republican Spaniard whom she then rescued from a camp in France when Franco won the war. During WWII she was sent to Ireland, out of harms way, and it was there she met a publican by the name of Jack Roche.

He courted me, bringing me to the theatre, for a meal, or things like that. It was a sensible way of doing things – not like the way young  people do it today.

They bought the pub in Donadea in the 1950s and for nearly 50 years, she was a force to be reckoned with. Rumour has it that she spoke half a dozen languages fluently, travelling as often as she could alone, as Jackie didn’t like to venture far. I met her just the once. She looked like a sprightly old lady who wasn’t at all backward about coming forward and had I been smart enough back then, I might have tried to engage her in conversation. Now it’s too late.

I wonder how many elderly people are passed over because they are old, hard of hearing, perhaps not as quick on the uptake as they might once have been. But so many have stories to tell, interesting stories, stories that could teach us younger ones a thing or three, if only we took the time to ask.

I quite like the idea of adopting a granny or a granddad, if there were such a thing on the market. They’re walking life lessons. It reminds me of a story an uncle tells of a couple in his village who were married for 60 years. In every photo taken of them, they’re holding hands. An observant reporter, covering the big anniversary, commented on how lovely it was to still be in love after 60 years, to be still holding hands. Sure, they replied, in their best Clare accents, if we ever let go, we’d kill each other.

Ah the wit, the witticisms, and the wisdom  we are in danger of losing…


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