By John Fitzgerald
THE STORY of a great Callan institution had locals spellbound.
RoisÍn Power Hackett launched her booklet, The Irish House-a Psycho-geographical Map at the Friary.
Despite the weighty title, the publication and the talk by the author were warmly received.
The Irish House, a 200-year-old building, was home to Roisín’s grandparents and for decades was Power’s Drapery, a business that thrived in the busiest street in Callan until the late 20th century.
RoisÍn returned to the building after an 11-year absence to embark on a special quest: to immerse herself in the space within the building with a view to acquiring a profound psychological appreciation of the physical structure and the effects on her of her own childhood connection with the building.
The resulting essay is hauntingly evocative of the building where Seamus and Della Power plied their trade back in the days when Upper Bridge Street was the commercial hub of the town.
She describes every room, stairway, shelf and counter, and shares her memories of childhood stays with her grandparents.
The narrative is so beautifully written that I couldn’t help wishing it would just continue beyond its actual length.
It captures the ghostly atmosphere of Power’s Drapery…evoking thousands of transactions gently agreed across the counters, rekindling thoughts of happy customers passing in and out of its welcoming doorway.
You can almost hear the clinging of the till and see Seamus Power chatting amiably with locals and cracking jokes, or the giddy children queuing outside the shop with parents at Christmas…because Power’s window always had the most attractive display.
Roisín has mixed memories of the Irish House…playing hide and seek, watching cartoons and movies on TV, listening to her beloved grandparents, her granddad reading a book to her.
But she recalls too being frightened of big dark rooms and corridors, and eerie attics, and how the religious pictures and images seemingly came to life when she woke up in the middle of the night.
Weaving her way through the house, from inside the entrance to its highest point, she was saddened by the state of disrepair into which the once thriving edifice had degenerated.
The main counter in the shop had been damaged…shattered glass and old boxes peppering the floor.
Shelves behind the counters were empty. All stock was gone, apart from miscellaneous items of clothing and the odd high heeled shoe or slipper.
Rooms were damp and musty. Masonry hung from cobwebbed ceilings, and the floors were strewn with broken glass, amid which treasured old photos rested.
She found moss covered table legs and other greenery pushing out through cracks in walls.
Decay was starkly in evidence throughout, a corrosive disintegration wearing down the will of the Irish House to survive in a new era.
In the essay she makes every word count.
She interweaves her sad and happy memories with a laser sharp, yet quaintly redolent blow by blow account of everything that catchers her attention or fires her imagination, taking us on an almost mystical journey down the labyrinthine stark physical space of the building and her own inquiring mind.
Booklet pictures lay bare the condition of the house interior, hinting perhaps at the decline of the great commercial heart of Callan in which the remains of Power’s Drapery stand mute and unoccupied.
The booklet was officially launched by Joe Kennedy of Callan Heritage who gave a brief history of Bridge Street from its origins in 12th to the present day, filling in the historical backdrop to the story of the house.
Roisín thanked all people and agencies who had provided support to her in the preparation of her project, including Art Links, which partly funded it, and Barbara Hubert who bound each copy of the publication in old wallpaper found in Power’s Drapery.
She also thanked Della Power, Kathleen Reid, Nollaig Molloy, Orlaith Treacy, Etaoin Holohan, Fennelly’s and Callan Workhouse Union.
The booklet costs €15.