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Feeney, Helen

My maiden name was Leape – we used to tell people we were named after our Great, Great, Great Grandfather who discovered that there were 365 and quarter days in one year and it was his decision to put the quarters together to create a ‘Leap’ year – 29th February every four years- they added the ‘e’ at the end to anglicise it. This being famed for the day a woman could ask a man to marry her (a tradition I once bravely tried but it backfired when the joke turned out to be answered yes – fear not I did marry him but a year later!). It was of course nothing to do with my ancestry but our family liked to joke – a lot! My family had a huge dose of humour in it. Mum and Dad had a wicked sense of fun and were both natural story tellers. They came from the Gaelic traditions, fluent in Gaelic, they were both from farming families in Ireland. Mum met Dad after they had both emigrated to Coventry, England where they courted and married. I suppose that was a reason I wanted to migrate too – I always had a sense of the need to travel and see the world. At 18 after finishing A levels and before embarking on my degree I visited an Aunt and Uncle in Brisbane for the summer. This was to hold a huge fascination with emigrating to Australia when returning to England.

Mum had five children – all born in Coventry, West Midlands, we were brought up believing that we too were Irish nationals. I remember the night the census man knocked loudly at the door to our house and asked how many dwelled here. Mum stated 7. He asked nationalities and mum took the pen off the man (snatched) and boldly wrote IRISH across the page and next to our names. “We are ALL Irish in this house!” she exclaimed. I am proud of my dual nationality but growing up in Coventry – an industrial city in the middle of England, famous for Lady Godiva and making cars with two staunchly proud Irish parents was awkward to say the least. You couldn’t get away with much or avoid knowing your history, traditions and heritage. I developed a huge sense of pride for my background and privileged to say I too was Irish.

I gained a similar passion for Literature that both my parents had. They shared with us the beauty of language and music and encouraged us to become writers, free thinkers, musicians, singers and poets. To live life to the fullest – grab every opportunity presented to you. I loved to read. I was a writer and reader before beginning school and continued through to University studying Literature and Language. I developed a keen interest in the Irish writers – Beckett, Joyce, Gerard Manly Hopkins and Wilde to name a few of my heroes. Writing came easy to me and I still love to this day meandering through a memory and writing it down as best I can – often to add humour as mum and dad did to engage and enthuse the audience.

As a member of Singleton Writer’s group, I enjoy listening to the vast array of writing styles and histories the group offers each month. We write on a topic and I find once a memory or thought is triggered I can reel off words on the topic or interweave a humorous anecdote from my childhood. The audience is non-judgmental and we give feedback to each other on our pieces each month – mainly on parts that stood out during the reading or some aspect unthought of – or a connection, a memory or thought on the topic. It is a diverse bunch of people who love to write for fun and have a passion for sharing their stories. I have found out so much from this group since emigrating to Australia and settling in Singleton five years ago. As an immigrant, an outsider of sorts I was made to feel welcomed by the group and I thrive on catching up with members each month. Unfortunately, as many writers find: time is against us. With a full-time job as a Primary Teacher, and a recent promotion to Primary Coordinator, I am struggling to find time for writing. I find that I need to be disciplined and really set aside quality time to focus on the monthly topic or I fall short of the mark and end up disappointed in what I should offer the group that month.

I am currently working full time; studying a Masters in Gifted Education part-time as I have an interest in that field; I am part of an art class once a week. Balancing life with studying, working and being a Foster Mum, wife and owner of two miniature schnauzers’ it can be a struggle to meet every demand placed on you. I sing in the local church choir and have started up a youth choir once a month at church too. I am a member of SATS theatre group acting last year as Mrs Bumble in “Oliver”, Aunty Em in the “Wizard of Oz” the year before and various chorus roles. I find a huge sense of achievement learning a part and delivering lines on cue. I love to sing and really relish the roles I have performed. I look forward to next year’s play as I have taken a ‘sabbatical’ this year to concentrate on my Masters and fostering. I have continued the Irish traditions of music and play button accordion, banjo and tin whistle. I perform as part of a group in Newcastle and our next gig is an engagement party in a few weeks’ time!

Somehow, we all find the time to do what drives us and is our passion in life. I think we need to ‘play’ as we did when we were young or risk the possibility of not having any fun as we age – a possibility I do not want to happen. I aim to die feeling fully accomplished and having no regrets, as my parents always said: life is too short so grab what you can. As one of my fellow Irish writers (nod to mum), George Bernard Shaw said that when he died he wanted to be remembered as burning brightly that’s how I aim to go out having lived every minute and enjoyed the feeling of giving selflessly to others in as many ways as possible.  

This is the true joy in life: Being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” George Bernard Shaw

By Helen Feeney nee Leape (GGG Grandfather)

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