I thought this was over, but clearly it’s not.
A door on Andrew Street opened it all up again.
Try as I might, I can’t seem to keep myself out of the photos. It constantly slips in: my shadow, my silhouette; in this case my gloved hands and wind-styled hair. So that later, when I put the photos on a proper screen, the message is clear. ‘You don’t really think you are objective, do you?’ the voice reprimands me. I drown out the questions with the tapping of keys. Those are thoughts for another time; when this all is over. Whenever that is.
After a day in the National Library, I wandered down Wicklow Street looking for coffee and cake. The plaque caught my eye, stationed on the red-brick wall. Careful checking has proved this is not a coincidence. This is the solicitors’ office which finalised Aideen’s American Visa in 1940. Vincent de Paul O’Connor came here to sign the papers for the US Government, confirming that he earned £500 a year and that his daughter would not be a charge upon public funds. Mr O’Connor did not support his daughter or her career, financially or otherwise. Yet without these papers, she could not stay in America and he could not countenance her return to Dublin.
I make this discovery on an early evening at the end of January. Night has fallen and the biting wind has already emptied the city streets. There are no cars coming up the one-way street, to scrutinise my photo-taking. Huddled in my coat, I put away my camera phone and plod on, lost in thought.
Vincent O’Connor left W.P. Corrigan’s office on a June evening. He shook hands with the Public Notary and stepped out onto the street, pausing to put on his hat in the pale, milky sunlight. He had done as his daughters had requested, and had granted Aideen a lifetime of exile on the west coast of America. He had little time to ponder on what this meant, or to regret not saying a proper goodbye before she took the train to Cobh.
Gripping his briefcase, Vincent O’Connor set out for home but hadn’t gone two steps when he was halted by a crowd emerging from the Trocadero restaurant. Gin, perfume and cigarette smoke encircled him. Damn theatre people; so loud and rude. He shook his head in disapproval, wanted to shake a fist but they wouldn’t even notice.
His dead wife’s people in Cobh had promised to keep Aideen busy with practical tasks, in the belief that time, domestic life and prayer would bring her back to her senses. Exasperated, he agreed and paid for the train ticket. Three weeks later, the telegram with news of Aideen’s flight to New York landed in Hollybank Avenue, and the fury had been strong enough to lift up the house and spin it like a tornado. It lasted over a week, his youngest daughter Maeve cowering in her bedroom and their only servant Mary, trembling each time he entered the room.
With the papers signed, he is well and truly rid of that young hussey and life can return to a normal pace. A familiar face approached him on Wicklow Street and Vincent O’Connor tried to summon a smile, but a weight drags it out of him. A weight he can’t name, or can’t shake off. He raised his hat in greeting and then carried on.
I thought this was all over, but clearly it’s not. So, I’ve decided to go back to 1939. With the Abbey Tour over, Aideen returned with the Company to Dublin. War broke out, both nationally and in Aideen’s personal life, and she couldn’t stay in Dublin for long. We’re heading for New York city and the lights of Broadway, but there are a few other places to visit along the way. First stop: The train to Queenstown. That’s Cobh in Cork, to me and you.