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The day Wini sang The Red River Valley

South of the border

Willie McHugh

The Day Wini sang The Red River Valley


IN the old domestic science hall of Presentation College Headford our paths first crossed. It was there at other times Sister Raymond taught students the skills of kneading and rolling dough, icing cakes, how to knit and perfect the art of embroidering.
Irony is, it’s not where I wanted to be that long ago day. At the behest of my French teacher, Inion Ni Earraigh, I was present under protest, sulk and duress. Unaware of her penchant for producing school plays, I was inadvertently adjudicating for her whilst portraying my role as class jester.
It was from there the journey on the friendship of a lifetime started. The first steps were set to music. When Wini Moran sang ‘The Red River Valley’ she entrapped me in a magical web with the spellbinding power of her alluring voice.
On that day Wini became the greatest singer I would ever again hear. And there were other strings of talent in Wini’s bow. Shortly after, in a musty Headford Hall, she unveiled herself as the greatest actress I would ever see.
Co-ed schools had barely reached the ‘do you come here often?’ stage of acquaintance then. Indeed the conservatism of some nuns discouraged any interplay among the genders.
 “Should you ever find yourself sitting on a boy’s lap make sure there’s a newspaper between you,” Sister Rosario counselled the girls as she lectured them on the perils of company keeping.
But to their eternal credit, School Principal John Boner and Sister Mary Whyte were teachers of a more liberal governing. It was they who most encouraged such mingling for they saw the benefit camaraderie among students generated.
Wini walking up the winding path with Tina, Sheila and Frances in their navy school uniforms, tied with the tweed crios, and Wini carrying her guitar, is an abiding memory of idyllic schooldays when all was well in the world.
Wini, with the looks of Olivia Newton-John or Goldie Hawn, the voice of Emmylou, and the ever welcoming smile was the girl who always strummed the extra into the ordinary of our lives. Music, song and drama ever the backing track to our rhyming.
From schooldays we continued to pedal the tandem of friendship. And every journey invariably led us back up that avenue. The poacher-turned-gamekeeper when Wini, the student, became Miss Joyce, the teacher, in Presentation College. But she was always Wini.
Marriage to Josie Joyce led her Kilmaine way. If Wini was at her kitchen window my car took on the persona of Michaleen Oge Flynn’s horse in ‘The Quiet Man’ film.
How I was never rear-ended at the junction will ever remain a great escape of careless driving. And on the rare occasions I didn’t stop my phone bleeped within minutes. “Wasn’t it the awful hurry that was on ya” ever the message reading.
We had zillions of rendezvous that are now filed in the cavern of the mind for safekeeping as treasured mementos of a girl and a friendship to outlive a lifetime.
With Wini every encounter was dolloped in a flaithiúil buttering of sincerity, fun and laughter. Wini harboured no agendas ever.
On Thursday morning last the brightest bulb in the chandelier dimmed. Wini has crossed the Red River to Oklahoma and on towards Mulhenberg County down by the green river where Paradise lay.
The holding link in my long chain stretching back to childhood is severed now. Wini left us all too soon but then perhaps she was never destined to grow old. Wini lived life forever young.
She has gone from our Red River Valley. We will miss her bright eyes and sweet smile. But for as long as a singer sings, an actor acts, or two good friends meet, Wini will live forever in the happiest of my memories.
Wini Joyce radiated the sunshine that brightened our pathways a while. 

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