But back to the main subject of my post.
In Northern Ireland when I was growing up I saw my cousins often. I have 20 first cousins and, as most of them lived within a 5 mile radius of our home, we visited each others houses often. Whole families of cousins would sometimes come for tea on a Sunday afternoon and mummy would make a salad and we'd maybe have coffee cake and apple creams or a sponge flan with jelly and mandarin oranges set in it. After tea, while the adults talked, us children would run riot, playing wild chasing games or putting on 'shows' in the sitting room. Sometimes this ended badly - I remember one occasion when we broke the china cabinet - yet these wild afternoons are some of my best childhood memories.
During the summer holidays we would, as children, take turns stay for longer periods at our cousins' houses. This was great fun: we played all sorts of dangerous games, my favourite being the construction of a 'ghost train' tunnel in hayshed at the Derby cousins' house in Ballynagarve. It was terrifying but exhilarating to crawl through the precarious structure we'd made with bales of hay piled high at that time of year. And my cousins' parents were a little more relaxed about certain rules so we got away with things we weren't allowed to do at home. I remember riding back to the farm with my cousins on the top of a tall load of hay bales on a trailer being towed by a tractor for a couple of miles on a public road. Again I was scared and a bit guilty, as I knew this was forbidden, but such a lot of fun.
One set of cousins, on my Dad's side, lived slightly further away in Maghera. Again we would take turns to visit, usually just one of us at a time. I liked going there as Auntie Joy was one of my favourite aunts, really kind and lovely. I have some good memories of visiting there too: they had geese in the back yard which was exciting for us, especially being chased by the gander. I remember going out on the tractor with Uncle Roy; he'd let us ride beside him sitting on the wheel mud guards, another thing that was banned at home. And I remember helping to stack the turf that they burned in the range cooker. I love the texture and the smell of turf burning; it always reminds me of visiting these cousins. I don't know whether it is still used for fuel these days in Ireland; no one over here in England has ever heard of it.
These memories came flooding back to me recently when I heard the news that Uncle Roy, one of only two of my uncles who is still alive, had died last October. Unfortunately I didn't hear about his death until a few months later - my cousins were too exhausted and busy to call - and, as neither me nor any of my sisters live locally, we're out of touch with local news. I've now written to offer my condolences and will visit when we next visit Northern Ireland in the summer.
I count myself blessed to be part of a big extended family. While other friends and acquaintances have come and gone over the years, my cousins have always been there. Although I see some more than others, mainly those who are closest to me in age and who were among my best friends as a teenager, I am always pleased when I get the chance to catch up with them as we did when we had a cousins' party in Ballyronan in 2015. My cousins were a huge support to us in the difficult times when our parents were ill and a source of comfort when they died. I am sorry not to have been there to offer the same support to them.
My Kate is an only child but she is lucky to have many first cousins, 16 in total. Unfortunately, due to a family fall out on my husband's side, she has never met some of them and has lost touch with another. However, she does see quite a lot of the cousins on my side of the family, including those who live on the other side of the world. This summer the NZ cousins are visiting the UK again and we have planned a family holiday, booking a villa outside Barcelona for all five families. It's looking like all of the cousins will be there, even the adult ones. We're very much looking forward to this family reunion.
|Kate and her cousins during last reunion in 2015|
|Sister and cousins in Portrush July 2015|