This weekend I had the privilege of being in Northern Ireland to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my cousin G (that’s a different post). I was also extremely fortunate to share a few meals with Auntie P and her husband of 10 years, Dr. G. Auntie P, like my mother, is from Northern Ireland, and her mother, like my grandmother, owned a house in Newcastle, a large village of 8,000 on the northeastern coast. Newcastle, now a popular summer beach destination, in some circles was made famous by songwriter Percy French as the spot “where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.” The wet rainy Irish weather not withstanding, Newcastle is a beautiful place that we visited a few times as children.
Auntie P, like my mother, spent over 30 years in northern Nigeria, mostly teaching at a boy’s mission school in Gindri, an hour or so from Jos, my hometown. She spoke Hausa, the language of the north fluently, and later had a particular heart for Fulani’s, an ethnic group, many whom make their living as cattle herders spread all over the Sahel. As it turns out, my Nigerian grandmother was a Fulani too. After fleeing what was to be an arranged marriage, she fled to Jos where she met my grandfather who was a school teacher there. Sadly, she died before my father met my mother so we never had the joy of knowing her.
As for my Irish grandmother, Auntie P met her in the early ’70s in Newcastle. Granny had put her hand out for a lift (a ride) to the bus stop and Auntie P stopped to pick her up. Apparently that was the first time Granny had done that. Being the outspoken, strong person that she was, Granny told Auntie P, she’d never seen her before. Auntie P explained that she was home to see her mother, but that she was a missionary based in Nigeria.
“I’ve got family in Nigeria,” Granny exclaimed, “and I’ve just come back from visiting them.” (Now what are the chances of that happening?) As the conversation progressed, Granny shared that she was glad her grandchildren were attending a Christian school in Jos. Well, it so happened that Auntie P had a British teacher-friend from Hillcrest, that same school, coming over to Ireland to visit the next day to give a talk at a church in Banbridge, a nearby town. Auntie P invited Granny to come – which she did – and during that event, the teacher showed slides of Hillcrest, some of which included us – her grandchildren!
From time to time, we would see Auntie P in Jos, but the last time I recall seeing her was in Newcastle. She’d come home for an extended stay to care for her aging mother. Following a stroke Auntie P nursed her to the end which came in 1980. Since I was in Newcastle in 1979, our last in person connection was 35 years ago (!). I’ve been to Newcastle a few times since then – my most recent time was in 2003 with my Mum, but clearly a visit there was long, long overdue. And it did not disappoint.