Paddy McFadden, my first father-in-law, was an important man in my life. He had been brought up in the Bogside in Derry, in Northern Ireland. He was a Roman Catholic and when I first knew him I was seriously thinking of becoming a Roman Catholic myself. (I was young, hotheaded and -although North London was hardly rural El Salvador- inspired by the liberation theology). An only child in a lapsed-Protestant family, I was also drawn by the magnetism of the Catholic family culture I'd encountered.
Through Paddy I learned that the importance of not only the communion around the bread and the wine in church but also of the communion of minds meeting over a moderately-consumed bottle of whisky. He loved to talk about politics. He believed vehemently in the importance of education. Education had enabled him to join the civil service. Though retired when I knew him, he had risen to be the manager of the Employment Exchange in Littleborough (Coincidentally, his grandson -my son- and I were sitting by the Pennine Way just yesterday looking down on that area).
Paddy was a member of the Labour Party. He was, I think, a man of the centre of that party: his heart tended leftwards, his head, though, veered towards well-intentioned realpolitik. He wanted the opportunities he had had to be available to everyone. He stood for election and became a councillor on Greater Manchester Council. One cause he espoused passionately was the establishment of a war memorial to the members of the International Brigades from Manchester who had fallen in the Spanish Civil War. He was a great Orwell fan but it went deeper than that: he had also known, as a child in Ireland, people who had fought in Spain in the "Connolly Column".(I remember him talking about the "brave young Christian Brother" and other characters in the Christy Moore song, Viva la Quince Brigada - Paddy was a real link with an important part of the past). I speculate as sadly he's no longer here to ask but I think like many people from his background and geneneration he felt he understood from his own experience what motivated militant republicanism in Ireland. However, he felt that needless violence was deeply wrong and that the less glamorous humdrum work of government was not only more morally acceptable but also more likely to deliver results for oppressed people wherever and whoever they were. There was a passionate firebrand in Paddy (he kept a case of old Wolfe Tones records in the spare room) but being a humble man he was happy to direct his passion where he felt it would be most effective. I hope I've got that right. In the war, he had been at Dunkirk. When asked about it he always said his enduring memory was of digging latrines on the beach. However, he was awarded medals -which ones I don't know- and chose not to receive them. Whatever else he'd been upto we'll probably never know.
In his youth, Paddy had been a keen walker. He had spent a lot of time in the Peak District, walking over Bleaklow and Kinder Scout. I think I'm right in saying that though these adventures he met his wife Margaret (my ex-mother-in-law). These have become favourite places of mine, too. His walking companions had included a young Bernard Cribbins. Years later, Cribbins found himself on This is Your Life and, as a result, so did Paddy. We all went along to the studio to watch. My ex-sister-in-law Sue discovered, to her delight, that someone we don't know just recently happened to post a clip from the show on Youtube, featuring Paddy! Watch out for him: he's the man in the pixellated image on the left which I took from the video (I could hardly align him on the right, could I?)
Sadly, in the last few years of his life, Paddy contracted Alzeimer's disease. He died in the early 1990s. Before that, I was lucky enough to go back with him to Derry.
Elegy for Patrick
OK, so the Irish songs you taught me
were sentimental, to say the least,
but once in your bones you could never get them out:
a vendetta of words, almost a eucharist.
Outside Aunt Mary's house the liturgy
is written on the wall. We take a walk
around the city, searching for a place
we'll never find. Perhaps it's blown away.
Paddy's been away so long, he says,
he can't be sure. We'll ask. (Meantime,
we'll do the sights: see how the cannon
that originally pointed out to sea
now point at the bank. The irony's not lost).
When asked, Aunt Mary says:
Oh that! It was the boys on the corner did it.
They made such a clean job of it as well.
In a way, his loss of memory began
there, in Derry, as we walked around.
The first to go, the trivial monuments.
From thereon in, the semtex took a hold.
4 years ago