The Diary

The Diary

Long ago, she hid the diary, now worn and brittle, to protect the secrets within. And in that form, it arrived by courier like a dagger through the heart. How could I have been so stupid, so selfish and so uncaring?

Memories of sixty years ago came flooding back as I turned to the first page. I was enjoying a stay in a cheap Dublin hotel before my officer training at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Siobhan was a barmaid in a pub with traditional Irish music in the cobblestoned Temple Bar area. Shoulder length red hair, freckles, slim and a smile that lit up the world. I fell in love with her when she poured my first pint of Guinness. Her first entry in the diary surprised me. It described a handsome young Englishman, a little shy, whom she could tell was bursting to ask her out but took three visits and several pints of the black stuff before finding the courage. And how she wanted that young man with the blue eyes to ask her.

Why had she begun the diary with our meeting? Nothing of her life before me appeared. And I knew nothing of her life before we met other than she was from Cork. I did ask but she shook her head, and I could tell she didn’t want to talk about it. Sometimes the past is best left there and maybe so should the diary, but it wasn’t left and now I held it in my hands.

As I turned the pages our time together seemed like yesterday. Walks hand in hand along the banks of the Liffey. Kippers on the quay. Sitting in the back row of the cinema missing the entire film. And after our fourth date according to her entry, that first night we spent together at my hotel, I sneaked her in. All I wanted or needed was to be with her. It wasn’t as if I pressured her. We came to a mutual agreement over a newspaper wrapped fish and chips supper. It was only the second time I had made love and the first time hardly counted since it was over as soon as the dog saw the rabbit in the stable loft with Mary the dairy at my parents’ country mansion. My embarrassment was too great to dally with Mary again. Not so with Siobhan. We were two who knew little about the mechanics of love making but enjoyed learning together.

And so, after three weeks my time to go to Dartmouth arrived. Swearing undying love for each other we parted at Dun Laoghaire where I boarded the ferry to cross the Irish Sea.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In some cases that may be true. In my case, and this is not an excuse, not even mitigation, the tough officer training at the Royal Navy College kept my mind on other things than love. Back at home with my parents and their privileged coterie the idea that a red-haired Irish barmaid would fit our social circle was unlikely. So, I didn’t answer her letters. I didn’t even open them to spare me from thinking about her because I knew I would find it difficult not to catch the next ferry back to the emerald isle. It was best to let our love fizzle out. Best for me.

As I turned the pages of the diary, the sob that came from deep within me exploded into my comfortable drawing room.

From her writings Siobhan held no hate for me though she had every right to detest the man who abandoned her. Dates on which she posted her letters to me and what she had written in them she reproduced in her diary. Why hadn’t I responded? Was I ill? Could she come over to England and see me? And then the content of her final letter.

Siobhan was in what is now known to be a horrific establishment known as ‘the laundry’ run by nuns to contain and punish ‘fallen women and girls’. That final letter had a plea for me to come to her rescue and I had failed to open it. Would I have come to her had I read the letter at the time? I want to think so, but I know myself well enough to be unsure.

That was the last entry in the diary in her own hand. On the next page, in a different hand, someone had written, “Siobhan Catherine Mairead O’Riley born 23 January 1940 died in childbirth. The baby sent for adoption. No next of kin.”

I closed the diary. Who sent the diary to me? What happened to the baby? I do not know. I tried to find out but failed so far.

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