I dedicate today’s song to five Facebook friends who celebrate their birthday today. We wish a happy birthday and a happy St. Patrick’s Day to Jenny Kearns who lives in Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary, Ireland: Eleanor Falvey who lives in Piltown. Kilkenny, Ireland: Milford Strongstream who lives in Carlow, Ireland: Cameron Poole who lives in Hobart, Tasmania: Paul Wilson who lives in Haworth, West Yorkshire.
Sheila and I also want to wish a happy St. Patrick’s Day to my best friend and allotment buddy Brian Moorehouse and his lovely wife V’ron. This couple has been the best of neighbours and friends to us, over the past decade, and Brian is constantly helping me do jobs up at the allotment which I am no longer able to do myself. V’ron and all her family come from the old country of Ireland and love a good old Irish song and a drop of the hard stuff.
My song today is ’Forty Shades of Green’. This song about Ireland was written and first performed by American country singer Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash wrote the song in 1959 while on a trip to Ireland.
‘Forty Shades of Green’ has also been recorded by Daniel O’Donnell: Foster and Allen: Roger Whittaker and Ruby Murray, among others.
Irish guitarist Gary Moore quotes the song in the title track of his 1987 album ‘Wild Frontier’ as a reference to a once innocent Ireland ‘before the wars began.
This song reminds me of my dear late father. When he came to West Yorkshire, England with his growing family (of which I am the oldest of seven children} in the mid-1940s, all his previous experiences had been in Ireland. He was Irish through and through and he only had one colour. His colour was ‘green’, the only colour that all citizens of the Emerald Isle are born to love.
I recall when we started living in our newly built council house on Windybank Estate in Liversedge, West Yorkshire that we were issued with a booklet from the council that contained certain rules of what tenants could not do to change the uniform outer appearance of their property. One of the rules was not keeping hens or any other poultry in one’s garden. Having bred hens for years, dad was greatly put out by that rule. We’d always kept hens since we first arrived in England. Dad did this to ensure that our family had fresh eggs during a time when the country was still subject to war rationing on certain foodstuff which included fresh eggs. Most of the country ate powdered eggs while we still had the occasional fresh egg topping. Dad got the full boiled egg, and his three oldest children would be left to argue for who got the top of his egg. Being the firstborn and the male, I usually won out. My hardest task was to persuade my father to neatly cut off the top of the egg instead of bashing it with a spoon.
Another council rule was that no tenant could repaint their house door as the colour of all council property doors on each avenue of the estate was a standardised shitty brown. This rule was one step too far for my father, and as soon as we moved in, he painted the front door dark green, along with the window frames around the house. The council eventually obliged him to have it repainted the standard colour of ‘shitty brown’ as my mother called it. However, what colours one had inside a council house was not regulated. Walls were either papered or painted and floors were either left bare and mopped daily or covered in lino. Only rich people carpeted their floors.
Determined to exercise whatever freedom he could, my father painted everything that was made of either metal or wood inside our house, green. Nothing seemed safe from dad’s paintbrush, and if it could be covered in a shade of green, then green it would be painted. I cannot recall if dad painted the wooden bedstead top and base, but I know that all the inner doors were painted green, all the cupboards, the larder shelves, the kitchen table, the wooden windowsills, and one or two walls. Even the wood casing of the old wireless (radio) we listened to was painted in an Irish shade of green.
Dad had never brought up to be a handyman or accomplished decorator about the home. If he put up a shelf, it would usually fall down as soon as a few pots and pans had been placed on it. When he painted, he never had the smoothness of brushstroke to avoid splashing everywhere. He had been reared in a poor family and left school to join the workforce two years earlier than he should have done, to help out the family. His only skill and adroitness of foot was seen when he played football. He was good enough to play for his home county, County Kilkenny, as well as going on to play soccer for the Irish national squad for a brief period. Any finesse dad ever displayed was seen in him kicking a football, not wielding a paintbrush! He was a poor painter (mum called him a splasher), and despite him being an industrious man his brushstrokes with a paintbrush were invariably wider than the width of any frame he painted and left much to be desired. He could never paint the window frames inside the house without catching the glass windowpane also. When dad painted the radio (which was intricate to say the least) he finished up getting green paint spots on the dial cover where we would tune in the various stations. For the whole of my life, I could never see the dial sufficiently well enough to get Radio Luxembourg, as the precise spot to tune in was located somewhere beneath some green paint spots!
I recall that the few activities my father engaged in was walking, cycling to work on his green-painted bike, and cutting the green lawn and the perimeter green hedges at home. In later years, uniformity gave way to individuality, and the council eventually allowed tenants to paint their outside door fronts, the colour of their choice. I don’t think I ever again say an outside front door on Windybank council estate painted a ‘shitty brown’. Naturally, dad lost no time and within a few days of the previous colour restrictions being relaxed, our front door and window frames colour-matched the other forty shades of green that could be seen in the lawn, hedge surround, cabbage plot, plant life and inside the house. Until my parents moved into a smaller council flat in later life, after all of their seven children had married and left home, our house on Windybank Estate remained forevermore green.
For ten years before he died, my father cut the grass at the Catholic Church he attended in Cleckheaton. Dad was the religious type, whereas mum never observed Holy Days after she left her parent’s house to get married to dad. Going to church once a week was often enough for mum, and the only times she would attend church outside a Sunday service was for family weddings, baptisms, First Communions and Confirmation services. Dad cut the church grass like he cut his hair, cropped short! He would cycle to the church three times weekly to cut the grass for free. Mum always thought he should have charged the church for his grass cutting labours and would chide him that he was doing it as a penance for past sins he’d committed. I can still hear her tell him, “No matter how many times a week you cut the old grass at church, Paddy, you won’t get into heaven any sooner!”
When dad passed away, I almost ordered him a green coffin to be buried in, but wisely refrained from doing so. Going through his belongings after his death is a necessary task to help in the process of healthy bereavement. We occasionally came across some of the clothes he wore about the house during the week that had the obligatory spot of green paint on them! Dad had one good jacket and one pair of trousers, and one pair of brown shoes that he only wore whenever he went to church services, funerals, and weddings. I never saw him in a suit or ina black pair of shoes.
No prizes for guessing what my favourite colour has been ever since the day I was born? Why, green of course! What other colour could there possibly be for an Irishman? Love you dad. Your oldest child, Billy xxx
Love and peace