Friday, 21 March 2014

The Irish connection

Every year, on St Patrick's Day, I am reminded of my Irish roots and how much they have - often inadvertently - steered my course.

When we're young, we believe our lives are totally within our own remit but as we grow older we realise that the generations which preceded us have a surprisingly bold say in determining our future!

From the obvious to the subtle, we carry within us the traits that have been handed down... and down... and down. My pale skin nurtured for hundreds of years in a cool, wet climate still balks at the heat of an African sun. The qualities of determination or laziness or cheerfulness or misery that we display could very well date from an ancestor who would recognise them in us, too, if time travel was possible. But luckily, we don't seem to be purely a product of our inherited genes. We each have the capacity to add our own particular quirks and experiences to the mix - ready to be passed down to our children, and to theirs.

For me, the epic journey of my grandparents from Ireland to South Africa over a hundred years ago lurked in the back of my mind for most of my life. Who would have guessed, when I sat next to my grandmother as a child, learning the piano and listening to her reminisce, that it would spark not just a lifelong love of music - but a novel many years later? That it would propel me to reconnect with a time and a place and a generation that was long gone?

Ada, the central character in The Housemaid's Daughter, soon learns the joy and the torment of heredity. It influences her own life and it steers the life of her beautiful, spirited daughter, Dawn, in ways she could never have imagined.
Or perhaps she did?
From the moment I learned about inheritance from the kind doctor whose house is no more, I knew Dawn would never belong to me...

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