IN THE MIDDLE of each of Joey Maher’s soft palms, there is a deep round hollow. “I still have the mark of the ball, there,” he says, turning his big hand upwards to show the circular hole scooped out by decades of hard hits. Joey was a handball player, with three world championship trophies on his mantelpiece. “Maybe it damaged the veins there and the blood won’t go through them or something,” he says. “I don’t know.” He hasn’t played since a stroke several years ago, but still carries the marks of his thirty-year career.
THEY ARE everywhere across Ireland: small white structures sitting discreetly along road verges, on hilltops and in gardens; so familiar the eye passes over them. Many are just a weatherbeaten alcove of painted cement at the top of two or three shallow steps, though some feature expansive rockery facades and artificial caves, or cliffhanger Biblical dioramas.
But each of Ireland’s roadside shrines is unique. Most were built in just one year: 1954. The Vatican had declared it a Marian Year, and Ireland seized on the idea with gusto. Hundreds of shrines and grottoes were thrown up by groups of neighbours who formed Marian Shrine Committees. Teams of local people pitched in after work, hauling scrap metal and buckets of cement, raising money with collections outside Mass. They picked places at road forks, on village greens, near holy wells – wherever a scrap of land was free. It was a matter of pride. “A stranger approaching our city on a winter’s night, and being greeted by this shining figure of the Queen of Heaven,” one correspondent wrote to the Limerick Leader in August 1954, “would, no doubt, be assured of the warm Christian welcome that awaited him in our midst.”
Tapesponders are people who exchange tapes, instead of writing letters or emails. Gerry Feighan, a member of the Chatterbox Recording Club in Co Armagh, explains what it’s all about.
“Tapesponding would be equal to a phone conversation. The only thing is, the message from the sender is recorded. In the early days, it would have been on a reel-to-reel tape. Then when the cassette came in, that made the whole process much easier.
“Some people might play some music, then chat a bit, play a bit more music. Maybe talk about yourself and where you’re from. You join the club and you’re sent a directory of all the members, and their interests, where they live, their age. And who they’d like to converse with – male or female or whatever. So the first thing you’d do is send a letter and say ‘I was going through the list and saw your name, and I noticed that you’re interested in such and such. I would like to exchange tapes.’ And usually you get a reply back, Okay.
“I remember I was corresponding with some people from Rhodesia, before it became Zimbabwe. I taped with a professor in Lexington, Kentucky. Then there was a gentleman in Germany I corresponded with, he had been in the Hitler Youth when he was growing up. And when you heard his experience from him, as a child and how he grew into it, it was a completely different understanding of the thing.