The Cloths of Heaven



The bulldozers moved in on a cold, dank Monday morning. Within minutes they had razed the entire street to the ground. The teeth of a JCB chewed Kitty Phelan’s dilapidated camper van until the rusty metal remains were reduced to shavings. Had he been there to see it, Dan O’Connor would have cheered as the last evidence of Kitty and her daughter Maud’s existence disappeared under the rubble that was, ironically enough, once his tidy, red-bricked two-up twodown.

The day Kitty set up home in James’ Street with her daughter Maud, Dan O’Connor nearly had a seizure. In she drove, as cool as you like, tearing at the clutch of her camper van as she backed into the site she had claimed for her own. Then she stepped out and smiled at a horrified Dan O’Connor. Her black hair fell in a careless plait along her back, her clothes were tattered and reminiscent of the hippie era: layers of tie-dyed garments worn simultaneously, finishing in a faded skirt which brushed her painted toenails. Kitty summed Dan up immediately, and from that moment on she took evil pleasure in aggravating him. She had no qualms about smoking in the street, or drinking beer from a bottle, and when she was annoyed with Maud, her daughter, she screamed at her like a banshee, for the whole street to hear.

A filthy gypsy, was how Dan thought of her. She was bound to lower the tone of the street with her unkempt appearance and vulgar behaviour. Knowing how she riled him, much of Kitty’s behaviour was intended. Of a morning, and when she was sure Dan could see her, Kitty loved to toss the left over tea from the pot out through the back window of her camper, into the yard behind. She washed her clothes, such as they were, on Fridays and left them hanging out on a line all weekend. Knickers and bras wafted before Dan’s beady eye for two whole days. Then just as he was leaving for work  early on Monday, she would demonstratively take everything in. Oh, she dragged the street down, he moaned, but no one cared but he.

The street certainly did lose some of its charm, just as Dan had predicted, but the blame did not lie exclusively with Kitty or Maud. The fault lay with the entire street. As the years passed, so the street became ever more grubby, houses more dilapidated and well in need of a lick of paint. Windows cracked, and were not replaced. Rotting fences and rusty gates were left as a monument to better days. Renovations cost money, and in James’ Street there was none to spare. By the time the Corporation moved in, most of the inhabitants were damn glad to be gone, though they put up a good show of fighting the eviction order.

It was all part of Limerick City Corporation’s Development plans. The Good Shepherd Laundry and Children’s Home had been demolished the previous year to make room for the extension to Teach Mhuire, the Primary School, and to provide Tennis Courts for St. Bernadette’s, the neighbouring Secondary School for girls. Now it was the turn of James’ Street to be flattened to make room for the New Shopping Mall. The acquisitions were all done by compulsory purchase order. A paltry sum was offered, hardly enough for an inner city flat, never mind a proper house.

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