Ordinary people are not as ordinary as you think

Why research my history when I can take dramatic liberties with my past?

I come from a long line of ordinary people. Country people. Labourers, farmers, civil servants, the odd teacher, religious, a policeman or two. 


The occasional alcoholic or rebel to splash some colour into this ordinary line.

Not country-hopping, cigar-chomping Che Guevara rebel. Just disgruntled young local Irish rebel, man usually, poor usually,  angry with the oppressor, and prepared to do his bit.

Like hide guns for the IRA on dank hillsides, back when the IRA were genuine freedom fighters, or help burn down the swanky English landlord’s mansion in the town I would call home until I was 17.

The grand uncle involved in burning down that splendid house back in the 1920s, went back to his small farm and a life of curmudgeonly frugality. Never spoke about his past. At least not that past

An ordinary man. Living among ordinary people.

Ordinary people I was never curious about growing up.

Because that would have made me ordinary too, and unworthy of a life among the Ches and Fidels when I was old enough, or swinging around London with Paul, John, George and Ringo.

So I walked the streets of our one main street midlands town, went to school there, played football and swapped comics there. But I didn’t belong there, wouldn’t be long there.

I didn’t feel part of this line of ordinary people. I was out of step. Out of line.

The family history has it that the maternal grandfather I never knew caught pneumonia and died as a result of being out in all weathers concealing and guarding those guns.

His wife married a hard-up small farmer, but died seven years after her first husband, leaving my 14-year-old mum and her younger brother and half-sister to scramble to make any kind of a mark.

Which the two full siblings did, their sister dying in her teens.

The money left for mum to go to teacher training college was no longer there, so she made do as a Civil Servant.

Up in the big city. Fun and freedom. For a while. Life-long friendships made. And maintained. So tight a band, we called both mum’s closest buddies “Aunty” all our lives.

One of the three still alive.

Mum was married at 24, to a young policeman, in a country which forced women in State employment, no matter how brilliant or talented, to quit their careers and become homemakers.

A vivacious and bright woman, this forced work exile and her less than salubrious upbringing had its impact on her.

And on us six children, in wildly different ways.

And just when she was establishing a life beyond family obligations, taking painting classes and making strides as a self-thought teacher in local primary schools, she became ill.

Died at 46.

Ordinary people, you see.

Now my father didn’t see it like that and when I was younger I just didn’t get it.

Dad lived locally, talked locally, and thought locally. Couldn’t know enough about the people around him.

“I’m not curious,” he told me one time, “I just like to know what’s going on.”

I did a bit of travelling in my early 20s — abandoned a teaching career that never started, quit an office job and fecked off to hang out in the Netherlands, and then in rural France.

Nearly four years out of the country.

Then back to Ireland before it was too late to start some kind of half-way interesting, sufficiently well-paid career.

And so journalism college, and a quasi-career writing and editing for a living since. Mostly editing.

I have lived in and around Dublin city for most of my adult life.

Living in the capital city, and close to all things official, my dad asked me several times to go and look up our family history. Delve into those dusty record books.

I gave the odd half-promise but never did.

Why would I? Just to confirm the sheer ordinariness of my background? And me?

Sorry, I’d prefer to dream. Or write my own version(s).

As soon as I was old enough, I cut out of our small town, away from all those ordinary people.

I was different.

Or so I thought. As young people do.

I am older now. No longer so dismissive, but still not inclined to peruse our back pages.

I am no longer that arrogant and ignorant youth looking down on them all, It’s just that my interest lies in the interior world. My own and that of others.

I remember telling my wife one time you can be living anywhere, but it can be New York in your head.

Now, it’s not quite the Big Apple in my noggin, but there is plenty there to explore, and plenty to write about.

I am curious about myself and others. But it’s more about what lies within. And the lies within. The stories and fantasies I spin and tap out on a computer keyboard. 

Enda, the son of a policeman and a thwarted school-teacher.

Sampled one career and never went near the other.

But then my dad never had the educational opportunity to throw away possible teaching careers, or any other kind.

Secondary school education wasn’t available to him growing up, and joining the police was the best option available to him, he felt.

And he made the best of it. Leaving life on the beat behind to teach for many years in police training college. 

A confluence of circumstance and inclination. Just as journalism has been for me.

There is part of me that has always gone against the grain. A bit. Always slightly out of line.

Thought a little differently, it has transpired, and acted a little differently.

Not that you would know it, as I type away in my ordinary house, in our ordinary estate, and yes, in an ordinary small town.

But not ordinary at all, as you find out when you seek out, and find fellow travellers, and thinkers, and cranks and story-tellers.

And the country I live in is not so ordinary after all. And I am thankful that I live in the period that I do.

Because there was a time not long ago when to go against the grain, or think a little differently, could cause you genuine grief, and even bring disaster to yourself or your family. Or both.

An unmarried mother could be signed away by her own family to slave labour in laundries run by staunch Catholic institutions, books were censored and burnt, and married women had to leave their careers.

To be different, less than ordinary, could really cost you back then, but really not so long ago. Could cost you your happiness, or sanity even, unless you were strong-willed, or brave enough to be eccentric.

And maybe that’s why some of my ancestors drank a little too much, or fermented a little revolution or two before going back to bailing the hay.

But now, the ordinary people of this country have slowly turned their own oppressors over, letting in divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage, and choosing to marry their partners or baptise their children. Or not.

There are still so many things wrong, of course: the rich getting richer and jobs and home no longer guaranteed for many. As everybody knows.

But you paid heavily for your dissatisfactions in previous generations. Took to drinking, maybe, or yearning forlornly for something you maybe couldn’t even name.

Now I type on a computer screen and think a little. Dream a little. Like Tom Waits said, I’ll tell you all my secrets but I’ll lie about my past.

I no longer blame the place and the people around me for the things that ail me. They are not as conservative, as unchanging, as pre-ordained to routine as they seemed when I was young.

Back when I didn’t fit in and blamed my troubles on being uprooted at the age of five from my suburban city idyll when the family moved to our small town midlands exile.

There is some truth in all of this, and some fiction … after all, it’s my story, isn’t it?

Cup of Toast


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Lucy At Home UK parenting bloggerDIY Daddy

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55 comments on “Ordinary people are not as ordinary as you think

  1. viewfromthebeachchair

    I have found small towns hold a lot of stories. I think we all have stories. Just do we share them? #mixitup

    Liked by 1 person

  2. RaisieBay

    Interesting choice of music. I think that’s the great thing about being able to tell stories, you can make them how you wish. I have some stories I could tell but I hold back, I don’t know why. I’ve lived my life in a Big City, the same one, barely leaving it, always living in it. It’s both personal and impersonal, I know so many people but I know so little about them. I’ve often longed for life in a small town, but then I’d have to keep my secrets even closer to my heart. It’s so true that we live in a much more forgiving time, when I was younger the ‘different’ family members where always kept hidden, or forced to confirm. I never belonged because I didn’t care what people thought. In fact, a lot of my family don’t talk to me now because I talk about my disability and how it affects me. They think I should hide away and tell no-one, but that’s not progress. I will never be ashamed of who I am just because I’m different.
    I went to Dublin once, when I was 17, no-one could understand a word I was saying!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It should always be okay to be different. Okay to dare to be different. I think that’s what I like about big cities: the choices you have in people you get to share stuff with, and the one you choose to hang with. Impersonal can be so freeing too. But then it’s nice to move between the two, from the impersonal to the personal. Balance is all

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think all teenagers feel that they are special and that they are going to change the world. It’s the excitment of youth! It’s not until you reach your 40’s that you realise that you are ordinary. You can either crumble and think life owes you something, suffer mental health issues, drink too much and wish your life was different OR look around and realise that ordinary is amazing! Ordinary family, ordinary job, ordinary house……they all lead to a pretty amazing life if you want it to be….😊 #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I sure recognise that in myself as a younger man … and I sure see it in my daughter’s distain for her parents’ ordinariness … or ordinariness as she sees it!


  4. Daydreamer mum

    Ah just fab. These are our stories mostly truth a bit of tweaking for the audience. I always find ‘ordinary’ people quite fascinating , those that tell you they’re boing then drop an anecdote that stuns you #globalblogging


  5. I am a small town girl too. Luckily, I was able to go to college and get my degree. I taught chemistry for over 30 years. It’s had to look at your parents (your mom, especially) and wonder what if…?

    Love this quote: “I’ll tell you all my secrets but I’ll lie about my past.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely … I just wonder how well my mom, in particular, would have done as a young girl with the opportunities we have today. And, yes, I think Tom Waits is a literary talent as worthy of praise and examination as any of the greats.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. cookehogan

    Great post Enda. I’m from the same background including a Flanagan rebel from Cavan. It colours our heritage and I believe we’re all rebels in our own lives, constantly striving to make our mark, no matter our individual paths.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting take on it, Fiona … that means I can fancy myself as the literary rebel, fighting the good fight from my little home office. Yeah, I like that …

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice post. We all are extraordinary in our lives. That is the simple way I look at it. #TriumphantTales

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: So What If Your Life Is ‘Ordinary’? • Old House in the Shires

  9. Is there really such a thing as ordinary? We all have something that makes us extraordinary #DreamTeam


  10. One of my great fears is live an ordinary life that does not leave a legacy – beautifully written piece!


  11. Thanks so much Tom


  12. I love the way you drop the thought that some of this may be fiction, and leave us guessing. Great post, Enda.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Brilliant post man. None of us ever really knows each other when it really comes down to it. Life is better with great companions, but its still basically a solo trip #triumphanttales


  14. This is a great post, found it really interesting #,thatfridaylinky @_karendennis

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh my word, what an awesome blog post Enda. I grew up primarily in the wealth and splendour of the Cotswolds but can relate to a lot of this. i left home, went travelling, returned to college as a mature student, became a journalist and brutally cut my home out of my life for many years. Now I’m older, living in the orbit of London as I have for 20 years, I feel perpetually homesick. And then there’s the Irish history. I fear mine is based in the North and I did spend time in Belfast researching their history a while back. Mostly teachers as it happens, but there’s interesting stuff int he background. Some great successes, some scandal and, yes, I’m afraid being held at the barrel of an IRA gun! I think, my friend, we have quite a bit in common.


    • Hi John, I replied on Twitter briefly to your comment there. Just seeing your full comment now. Fascinating. Fascinating how we both share so many differences and similarities in our immediate histories. In our attitudes to “home” and trying to make our own individual marks. It’s important to stress, John, that the IRA in the early days was a different organisation to what it became. Not that it was perfect but it came into being at a hugely turbulent time in Irish history. And early 1920s Ireland was an especially difficult time in our story, with a Civil War that divided families, friends and neighbours, and ultimately shaped our very political and social history. I have come to think that “home” is maybe more a state of mind than anything. Thanks for your comment, John.


  16. Alyssa Ekins

    Really enjoyed the post! Looking forward to reading more of your blog

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Dynamic Dad

    A very interesting and engaging piece Enda. As you discuss with John above – “home” is definitely a state of mind, but history still forms a big part of it. And, as we all know, one man’s rebel is another man’s freedom fighter. There is always more to the story than it at first appears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course you are absolutely right … and that’s why I claim creative immunity for the less than historically accurate ruminations on my blog. Thanks for your insightful observations


  18. Such an interesting story. I think there’s nothing so colourful in my family’s history, but then again, who knows? There’s no such thing as ordinary, that’s for sure, only the appearance of ordinariness, but underneath everyone has some extraordinariness! #bloggerclubuk

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I find reading about ordinary lives fascinating, there usually is some extraordinary hiding there somewhere, especially if you dig deep enough. Thanks for sharing some of your story. #mixitup

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Absolutely love this post Enda! The rebellion of youth to struggle against the people who came before them… only to realize that the people who came before them had their own rebellions. It’s odd to look back at my youth and see things so differently than I did then. #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Heather. The folly of youth. But also the energy that rejection gives them to achieve things!!! Thanks for your lovely words

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Great read and looking book is always insightful X .#Blogstravaganza

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Hi Enda, I’m rolling back through with the #DreamTeam

    Liked by 1 person

  23. diynige

    Wow! As always Enda, a beautiful written post. It’s interesting hiw in our teens we are going to change the world. I know I was going too! But never did. For all of that my life may be an ordinary life but at times I have had extraordinary life. My family originated from Ireland and I have done some research and it’s been interesting to see how it has reached into my life of today. Great post always read your posts lefted wanting more.
    Thank you for linking to #Thatfridaylinky please come back next week

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Nige. Maybe we do change the world … just not as dramatically as we imagined as teenagers! There is much extraordinary in the ordinary. So it’s not so ordinary. Takes a while to figure that out, maybe?

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I like to think we are all extraordinary in our own little way. Thanks for sharing with #TriumphantTales, do come back next week.


  25. I was an introspective child and kind of always knew that there is something extraordinary in nearly every ordinary person.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Wonderful post. It really made me think. I love delving into the history of my family, just to imagine their lives and the trials they faced and successes that came to them. Equally there is so much in the here and now that is interesting too, however ordinary my life seems. Thank you so much for linking up with #Blogstravaganza 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Thanks Jo. I’m afraid I never felt the urge to do so when I was younger. A reflection on me more so. Thanks for commenting


  28. I was looking forward to reading this and have not at all been disappointed. You tell your family’s history (or not as you elude to at the end!) beautifully and keep the reader hanging on to find out more throughout. It felt like a bit of a ‘who do you think you are?’ styie post – a progarmme I love – I am a History teacher by trade after all! I like your take on how we begin to feel more comfortable with ordinary as we grow older. I found that idea strangely uplifting. Thanks for a great read. #theatsesh

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your lovely words, Hayley. Those programmes are indeed, fascinating. Pity I dodn’t think these family histories were more interesting when I was younger, though!

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Lucy At Home

    I think all young people think they’re different to their parents and going to do things differently, but we realise as we get older that we are more alike than we thought! However, I’ve always been fascinated by my family history. It’s not “exciting” in real terms, but my dad did lots of research into our family tree and his office wall was covered with it and I thought it was fascinating! #blogcrush

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true that … and especially true when we have our own kids and find ourselves reacting like our own parenrs did!!! Having sworn I would do It all so differently. And better of course!! Hah to that!


  30. Pingback: #Blogstravaganza Linky 85 - Cup of Toast

  31. What a wonderful piece Enda, making the ordinary rather extraordinary, at least in my view! #triumphanttales xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

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