Paula Cunningham

Geography and Sweetshops

Lisfannon, Buncrana, Bunduff, Mullaghmore, Rossnowlagh.

The best places to swim were always over

the border.  In the car killing time


we played I spy with my little eye…

and Spot the soldiers,  their camouflage

too dark for August grass


 …something beginning with

h…  The wee white house, windows for eyes

one either side of the thick red line on the map.


We imagined the little old woman –

she was always little and old –

waking each morning in the


South and having eggs

for breakfast in the North

and maybe crossing


again to clean her teeth

and check her hair

in the big old bathroom mirror


in the South.

What accent would she use?

Did her cattle favour


Southern or Northern

grass?  Where did they give good milk?

And where did her children


go to school and did they like to change

their accents too and did they ever

get confused?




The sea and Southern bread, and sweets we couldn’t

get at Auntie Maggie’s shop.  Skittles, Golden

Crisp, and ‘richer, smoother, creamy’ Dairy Milk.


In the sweet-shop in Buncrana, women

smile at us and call us refugees.  We learn

to use our strongest


Northern accents

and look sad.  This guarantees

free sweets at the beginning.




Back home, we never knew

when Auntie Maggie’d come to stay.

We knew to open the windows


when the siren went.  We knew

if an inspector called that this

window or that door


hadn’t been broken before.

We knew that Auntie Maggie’s blood pressure

was bad and that it blew sky-high –


she’d get bloodshot eyes –

each time an unattended car

appeared outside the shop


but that mostly people forgot

and it was nothing,

a scare.  And then it wasn’t


and she’d come to stay

and her Maeve didn’t eat gravy

and she didn’t have to


and Auntie Maggie’s boys could say bad words

and nothing happened

and they could eat sweets all the time


and she’d say nothing

and they were ruined.

And when the windows came in all the sweets


in the shop would be ruined too

and even the ones buried at the bottom

and even the ones in the store-room that didn’t have


a window

would have to be destroyed

but we would have eaten them anyhow


and we could have cried

at the thought

of all that waste.


"Geography and Sweetshops" is from  Heimlich's Manoeuvre (Smith Doorstop Books, 2013)