Lough Derg is somewhere you go to be starved, stupefied from lack of sleep, frozen by the cold, or, if the weather is warm, eaten alive by midges. Why would one go there? Why do we swim across oceans, climb mountains or run marathons? There are no answers to some questions.
However, on my first visit to Lough Derg – motivated by curiosity and during which I questioned my sanity – I picked up a leaflet the words of which I have never forgotten. It made such an impression on me that the words imprinted themselves on my mind and I still remember them even now when the little leaflet itself is long gone.
“We have careful words for the stranger
And smiles for the sometimes guest
But for our own the bitter tone
Though we love our own the best…
…How many go forth in the morning
Who never come home at night
And hearts have broken
For harsh words spoken
That sorrow can never put right”
On first reading, this may come across as a mere morning squabble. But as you reread you realise that it could well apply to bigger family differences and could be about much more than a trivial morning irritation. My grandmother had a very down-to-earth analysis of these situations when she pronounced: “When two dogs have a fight, the best-bred dog walks away.”
Some family feuds can go on for years, and the longer they last the more difficult they are to resolve. Then someone dies and the opportunity to build bridges is gone forever. I sometimes visualise someone looking with regret into the grave of a family member with whom they have had a row and to whom they have not spoken for years – too late then to repair the damage by reaching out the hand of forgiveness.
Experts tell us that most family feuds happen around the times of weddings and funerals. Emotions are running high and old sores come to the surface. Sometimes the split can be about money, land or wills. But often it can be about something very trivial.
One man told me that their family row began with a rotten banana – a young wife complained that her sister-in-law had brought her bad bananas when she was in hospital. And it snowballed from there. Another family fell out over an old shed, and even when the shed was long gone the row smouldered on.
All these situations resulted in siblings ignoring each other and, even more chilling, children falling out with their parents – though a family split is often not about just one thing but a combination of many little things. There was great wisdom in the old biblical advice: “Let not the sun go down upon your anger.”
Come Sit Awhile by Alice Taylor is published by The O’Brien Press, RRP €19.99.