The Roll (Role) of Wallpaper

What will be the topic of my second blog post, when you do one post, and the inspiration came quite easily – you do start to wonder where will I get the inspiration to keep readers interested in history? But sometimes the inspiration comes to all authors at strange times and when it arrives I’ve realised that its best to take out the laptop and write, never postpone inspiration, either take notes or put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. Its late, as I compose this post but not late enough to postpone writing until tomorrow, sleep on it and I might lose the momentum- best to “Roll” with the inspiration:
Curiously, the inspiration for this blog post is a real-life event that inspired me to become a historian and an author, it’s all about the Roll (Role) of Wallpaper and my grandmother, Molly. A memory recently surfaced about wallpaper- yes wallpaper! and the manner in which wallpaper had a role (deliberate pun on Roll!) at the young age of eight or nine years in becoming what I now know to be the family detective, aka genealogist, author and historian. One day my primary school teacher asked us about our families, where we came from? were we all local or were some of our parents from a different county or country? did we know our grandparents? could we ask our elder relatives questions about our ancestors and what their lives were like in the early 1920- 40s? In the 1980s growing up in West Cork the memories of the War of Independence, The Civil War and the Emergency were as fresh in the minds of most people then as are the 1980s to most of us today. They lived through tumultuous milestones of Irish History and my grandmother Molly was the one I knew I needed to ask.
Molly was born in 1903 and lived with us until I was about 10 (she lived with her daughter thereafter). Luckily, she lived for 95 years and she enthralled me with her stories of war, women and their struggles in Ireland especially in the 1920s. Everyday was a story and everyday a new pattern of her life as a domestic servant, barmaid, mother and grandmother was relayed to me in ordinary conversations. Little snippets and stories that I now realise informed my desire to be a historian.

So, following on from the teacher’s request to find out more about who I was and where we came from? I set about asking Molly questions. But first she said “you’d better write it down” , out came the copy book and pencil. Sure enough, she told me who her parents were and where they lived and who she married and who were her parents- parents and grandparents, off she rattled names and dates. “Nanna”, I said “how do I know who married who?”. “Draw a picture and write notes under each name”, she said. Then came the frustration for an eight-year-old as I realised that this was not going to fit on a single page or a double pull-out page from the centre of the copy book. I told her I couldn’t manage to get it all on one page and I couldn’t do smaller joined script writing. (Back in the early 1980s cursive script was the only script allowed in the school).

Molly wandered off to the back of the kitchen, went searching in a cupboard and came back with the remnants of some rosy-pink-patterned wallpaper, about six feet left on a roll. As I looked at the wallpaper, my head really began to wonder what this had to do with my homework project. She unrolled the wallpaper, with the un-patterned paper side up and told me to start with myself , then my parents and each of their parents and so on and try and add in as many dates of birth and death etc and work back- wards through the roll. So I set about uncoiling the roll and writing as I went back in time, taking the time to draw boxes underneath each name for their information and to use a ruler to draw the connections etc – this was to be my first family tree ! 

Then when we completed our masterpiece of writing all the family information into the wallpaper roll, she bound the roll with a piece of velvet cord sourced from her sewing basket.
I definitely felt like I would be the only one in school next day with a Roll of Wallpaper for a project and sure enough I was. A few strange looks came my way from my young friends as the roll of wallpaper peeked out through the top of my school-bag. I remember when the teacher told us to take the projects out and mine had to be rolled across a few desks to get the full scale of this in-depth family tree. I don’t remember much about what the teacher said in response, other than it was a clever use of left over wallpaper . For me that Roll of Wallpaper played an instrumental role in my life from my choice of university courses to the many genealogy and family quests I have researched, even the inspiration for this business. History is Our Story! Our family story and our global or village story. We are all living history each day!

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