Olga Pyne Clarke (1915-1996): Home and Family

In terms of family, horses played an important role for Olga. They contextualised every significant memory that she recalls throughout her auto-biography: her childhood and relationships with family are filtered through her experiences with horses. Riding, selling, and racing horses was all done with the people closest to Olga, but importantly, there is a continual feeling that she feels emotionally conflicted when it comes to horses. Family members and friends had been badly injured because of horse-riding and one friend had even been partially crippled by a horrific horse-riding accident.

      Olga’s strained relationship with her mother was exacerbated by the family’s history with horse-riding. Olga felt that her mother did not wish she was born, commenting often on her hatred of ginger hair, her mother seemed to resent that her daughter was born with such pigmentation. As a child, Olga recalls on the same page how her mother would deliver to her a ‘I think you ought to be told’ (p.44) lecture on how to behave and then recall how she would also sit ‘beautifully turned out and absolutely at home in the saddle’ (p.44). These conflicting emotions seem to transition into her adulthood when she would watch her husband Guy race horses: she would feel concerned for Guy’s safety but also enjoy the experience of watching the horseracing.

      Olga’s marriage to Guy never had the blessing of their parents: it strained what was an already difficult relationship. Her positive relationship with her father reached the point where they stopped speaking as a result of the marriage. For most her life, Olga had to find family through the friends she made. As a young woman, Olga moved to a house called Fairview away from her childhood home of Mount Elma; this, it seemed, was a way for her to escape from her mother. That said, Olga still recalls many happy memories from her childhood with her family. One such example of this is Olga’s experience of hunting (which of course involved horse-riding). By hunting, Olga was able to join the family ritual of the ‘House Meet’ (p.43). At this ceremony, Olga was presented her first ‘Hunt Button’ (p.43) at age five. She remembers this memory both vividly and with fondness; to Olga, these memories of horse-riding and hunting were seen as bonding experiences. It was here that Olga achieved a feeling of acceptance and community into her family.

      Olga’s wider sense of home was County Cork (which is illustrated above in 1918). This county was one of many that constituted a ‘war zone’ (Noonan, p.95) in Ireland. It was as a child that Olga witness her city burn down in the 1920 Burning Of Cork. Olga remembers crying about her favourite toy shop being destroyed and sadly recalls seeing a toy rabbit she loved in its window melt down in flames. The then later invasion of the Black and Tans felt like, to Olga, an invasion of her home. Memories of the men drunkenly throwing grenades and shooting innocent people broke her heart, as a force, the Black and Tans ‘neither looked like police nor behaved like them’ (Townshend, p.24): they violated the people and landscape of Ireland, the place that Olga saw as her home.

Bibliography

Townshend, C. (2013) The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence (1918-1923), Penguin, UK

Noonan, G. (2014) The IRA in Britain, 1919-1923: ‘in the Heart of Enemy Lines’, Oxford University Press

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