I got off the bus at Moyne Cross and followed the one-lane road until, after about a mile, I turned into a narrow lane and walked up a hill toward a stone farmhouse. A woman just coming out of a small barn stopped and looked at the unshorn wanderer walking toward her. It was June 1972 in Longford, a rural county in the center of Ireland, and I had come in search of the woman who had nursed me through rheumatic fever when I was five – and who a few years later, as my own family was falling apart, had returned here to begin a family of her own. I had sent a letter to her maiden name, at the last address my mother had, and set out to find her. I had come to one of the poorest, most remote parts of Ireland, a place of small farms still without plumbing, where families sold milk from their few cows at the nearby creamery and grew potatoes, onions and cabbages in the rocky soil. A place where the Catholic Church and the pub were the centers of communal life, where the parish priest was the unquestioned arbiter of morality and politics, where divorce was prohibited, contraception illegal and ideas sternly censored. A place, I think today, where gay marriage was unimaginable.
But that afternoon I wondered only if, after all the years, she would know me.
“Catherine,” I said as I approached her.
“So it’s you, is it,” she answered.