A Fine House – The Irish and their Bungalows

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I was two years old when I saw what was going to be our new house, and it is one of my earliest memories. We were living in rented accommodation—an old victorian terraced house—in my father’s native village, Ballymote, County Sligo, and by the time my parents had managed to scrabble together the means for a mortgage there were three children—my newly born younger brother, my older sister and me. One Sunday afternoon in November, my mother’s aunt and uncle were visiting from Mullingar and my father offered to show ‘Uncle Mick’—a man we all loved because of his amazing ability to perfectly replicate the sound of almost any farm animal—the new house that was then under construction. I must have canvassed strongly to be brought along, probably by threatening to cry, and I was allowed come.

The new house was located on the eastern edge of the village, no more than a five-minute walk away, surrounded on three sides by fields, as it still is today. The original intention on the part of the developer was to build a mini-estate of a dozen or so houses but by the time building had started, the recession threatened by the oil crisis of a few years before had become a reality. Families began returning to England and elsewhere as the jobs dried up in Sligo. Only two of the planned houses would be built, ours and the one next door, which was to be occupied by the Kennedy family, who, like my parents, still live there today. I grew up, then, on an unfinished housing estate, looking out onto fields that were mostly untended, except in the summer when the developer who was also a small farmer, would save hay. When I was old enough to understand things such as metaphor I thought this a good one—if not exactly sure for what—and I resolved to use it in a story or a screenplay someday. unfortunately, Atom Egoyan’s 1991 film The Adjuster, set on an unfinished suburban estate in Toronto, beat me to it.

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The house was still a long way from being finished that November evening, though the roof was on and the floors had been laid. The only light came from naked bulbs that glared harshly in each of the rooms. Curls of uniformly perfect pine shavings littered the cold concrete floor. The inky darkness of the night (I have never in my life seen skies as profoundly black as during a Sligo winter) hulked just outside the windows, which were, to my untravelled eye, enormous. The night nudged the panes, just as I would discover a dozen or so years later at school, as it did in ‘The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ a maleficent thing seen through those huge uncurtained apertures that dominated the front and the back of the house. And the front and rear of the house were much longer than the one we were living in at the time; in addition to this there were no stairs in what was to be our new home. We were moving into a new type of house, with a strange name: a bungalow.

That name ‘bungalow’ came into english originally from Hindi and its meaning in that language was prosaic, being attributive to the housing styles of Bengal. Those Bengal-style dwellings, cheap and easy to construct, were used by the British colonial power to house its soldiers in the days of the Raj. In the late nineteenth century demobbed and retired officers brought the style back to Britain but while it had a brief period of popularity in the latter part of the century, it never really caught on in either Britain or on its neighbouring island. In the 1970s that all began to change in Ireland.

Originally published by gorse. Continue reading.

 

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