Wealth…or Poverty…Childhood decisions.

I have struggled my entire life with the issue of wealth. I was born into a wealthy business family in Co. Kilkenny. We owned a number of businesses. We were corn merchants, we had a  hatchery and a hardware store. My paternal Grandmother Nessie, came from a family who were writers, artists, musicians and antiquarians. They lovingly restored Graiguenamanagh abbey, which was in ruins, and published their own art and writing, selling it through their newsagents and fishing tackle shop in the main street. Many of their descendants have become famous TV personalities in the UK and Ireland.

My paternal grandfather came from farming stock originally. They had a farm beneath Brandon Hill and one enterprising member of the family decided to become a wool and corn merchant. It was a successful business. He branched out and bought the Globe Hotel and the family ran both.

Virginia Creeper clad walls of Mount Brandon.

My Grandparents Lived in Mount Brandon, a beautiful house built on a granite outcrop which looked out over the town of Graiguenamangh. My family bought it, and a number of other properties, from its builder, William P. Kelly, through the bank when he went bankrupt. He had built the house for his wife and had placed a stained glass window, with their family crest on it, at the end of the long hall. I loved this house. Interestingly William ended up moving to England and he wrote many fictional books about Egypt! I managed to find some and buy them!

Steps leading up to the Terraced gardens, pond and tennis court.

In the 60’s, when I was growing up, my grandparents employed a full-time Gardiner, Mick, and a housekeeper, Kitty. Mick kept the gardens beautifully and also ran the orchard where all the fruit and vegetables for the house were grown.

Kitty ran the house, cooking and cleaning. I always remember that she was always busy. If my grandparents had a big ‘do’ other members of Kitty’s family would come and help out for the occasion. I remember watching Kitty’s life in the kitchen  when I was very young. We lived in Graig until I was nearly ten years old so I watched Kitty a lot. I spent a lot of time in that kitchen, fantasising about an earlier time when they had servants who would run when the bells in the rooms were rung for service. The kitchen and scullery were at the end of the house, with two ‘maid’s rooms above them. A back-stairs led up to them and another door led out into the courtyard which also provided access to the orchard. I felt more comfortable at this end of the house than I did in the ‘outer’ part, with its breakfast room, dining room and drawing room, its antiques and huge gilt mirrors. That part of the house was separated from the inner workings of the house by huge velvet curtains which hung across an archway at the end of a long hall. The children’s’ ‘playroom’ also lay hidden behind the curtained archway. We spent a lot of time here too when we visited, playing the piano and generally being ‘out of the adult’s way!

Patrick O’ Leary in Graiguenamanagh’s Duiske Abbey grounds beside a Celtic high Cross. Patrick was an antiquarian and prolific writer. (I always wondered who my uncle Philip looked like and now I know. Philip also wrote the O’ Leary biography!)

I loved the thought of maids in their uniforms, blacking the wood-burning Aga and polishing the silverware which hung from the kitchen walls.  I could imagine them sleeping in their little rooms upstairs which looked out onto the rose garden and croquet lawn. They would have risen early to get the fires lit and to start the Aga going for the day. Once the breakfast had been served they would have spent their day cleaning, making beds and cooking. Not a fun life really but somehow to my ‘child’s mind’ somehow preferable to the life my grandparents were living! They ran their businesses, and their eight children, the ones who were old enough, were trained to run them too. My father, the eldest of the eight, was expected to take over the business eventually and so he was trained as an apprentice, starting off in the hardware store which was, in his time also a food shop.

Pictured in front of her stone cottage in Graiguenemanagh, County Kilkenny, Ireland is Mary Nolan Malone (left) (mother of Josephine, Mary, George, and Stephen Malone). On the right is friend, Mary Drew. The date of the photo is unknown.
(Picture courtesy of Jesse Valentine Ambler).

He hated it. His own observations of his family and the way they ran their business struck a deep chord in him. I remember one story which he told us, one which led to his ‘acting out’ for his entire life.  He was being trained at the meat counter and taught how to slice the ham and sell it. One day he sold meat to a woman who came back in a little while later complaining that dad had given her bad cuts of meat. Too much fat apparently! Whoever it was who was training him apologised profusely and made dad cut her more meat and this time only give her the best cuts. Doing this in front of the woman and making him feel small had a lasting effect on him. He felt completely belittled and humiliated. When the woman left the shop the man told him how to sell the meat properly! When rich people came in to buy meat he was supposed to give them the best slices, with very little fat on them. But when the poorer people came in he was supposed to layer the bad bits of fatty meat in between slices of slightly better meat. The only problem was that the rich and poor alike paid the same price.

Not only did this experience totally humiliate my father it also made him aware of the huge injustices, which he felt his family were guilty of.  I can remember him  telling my sister about how he felt when his family evicted a poor family from the house  they rented because they could not pay the rent! He grew up feeling rebellious but not having the strength to move away from his father’s control. According to my mother, dad wanted to be an engineer but as the oldest son he was expected to take over the running of the business. His dreams were not to be. After trying to escape to Australia, where I was born, he ended up back in Graig, running the business.  He was not a happy man and acted out his unhappiness with my Mother until they separated in 1972.

In his effort to be his own man he started his own cattle business. He bred Charolais cattle and showed them in competitions.

Mick holding Johnny the Bull!

He had not inherited his family’s business acumen but instead seemed to have the qualities, and skills, of the farmer who first started the Murphy business. He also inherited the O’Leary’s (Grandmother) love for creativity and art. Unfortunately he never really achieved his dreams over his lifetime. His early experiences were never healed and so he never manifested his dreams. But growing up with him had a huge impact on my own ideas of life. He loved us dearly when we were children, and wanted us to grow up a natural life. As he got older though he began to become more like his own father, controlling, and yet protective at the same time, but the early years with him were formative for me. I seemed to pick up all of his unconscious stuff when I was growing up in Graig. My anger at injustices was huge. I hated anyone being hurt or treated badly. My only way of dealing with life was to spend most of my time living in the past. I lived in the history of Graig, I spent hours in the Abbey, imaging how it must have been for the monks who had once lived there. I lived a very natural life, in the woods or sand-pit generally, far away from my parents ‘stuff’. I was psychically and emotionally like a sponge and absorbed their emotions and beliefs in a way that created the need for much healing later on in my life. The ‘Past’ of Graig and of my family were still very much ‘present’ for me.

But it was my father’s belief about wealth that had the biggest impact.  He was hugely angry at his business-man father and through us wanted to show him that love and beauty and a natural life for his children was the right way, not the controlling, restrictive, Catholic way in which he had been raised. I wasn’t aware of this at the time as it was all on an unconscious level, but it made a lasting impression on me none-the-less.

I can remember the day I made a very conscious decision about love and money. I was in Mount Brandon in the kitchen with Kitty. She had just spent hours cooking the evening meal for my grandparents and who-ever else was home from boarding school or work. She served it all in the dining-room and then returned to the kitchen and put out her own dinner at the tiny kitchen table with its little glass bowls of home-made country butter, rolled up into little scrolls. The little silver salt and pepper pots beside her she ate her dinner…alone. To my eight year old mind there was something very wrong with this picture. She had done all the work and yet here she was, unappreciated and unable to eat with the rest of the family. She was the employee after all and therefore had to be separate. At that moment I decided that love was more important than money. If this was the kind of life that money gave you…separating and loveless then I didn’t want it. From that moment on I rejected my family’s wealthy background and identified with the working class. To my young mind they knew what love was. And this wasn’t it!

This set the tone for my struggle with love and money for the rest of my life. A battle I still deal with every day! It is one of the biggest challenges to my thinking in this lifetime.  It also set the tone for the difficulties with my father as I grew up! Difficulties which I only understood when I became a counsellor and began healing myself. For me, to have wealth or not to have wealth is an existential question. It is a struggle which is in my very bones and which has created much hardship in my life…and also much growth. It has been educational, in every sense of the word. Without that early childhood decision my life would have been completely different but I wouldn’t have learned so much.

To be  Cont’d.

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4 responses to “Wealth…or Poverty…Childhood decisions.

  1. Thanks Cath, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Writing this has opened up other memories which I find interesting and lead me into ancestral research which has been enlightening!!! I find it fascinating that William Kelly had such a huge connection to Egypt. Perhaps his energy was in the very fabric of the walls of Mount Brandon?

  2. Such an interesting post. Lovely to know a bit about your background. Graignamanagh would’nt be too far from my own home place in North Tipperary. It is admirable that you had the courage to follow your convictions. Nice too to take a peek into bygone days.

  3. A very interesting post and wait with bated breath for part 2. I do believe that our past and the way we deal with it and what we take with us into our future, makes us what we are today. You can decide to take the good or the bad, learn from it and make your own decisions for yourself.

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