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Assumpta Fitzgerald was one of those characters that you never really got to know, however hard you tried. She always seemed to be doing battle with one person or another, but people (with a few exceptions, Fr Mac, Kathleen!) did respect her. She was a strange mixture of independance, defiance and an underlying vulnerability that drew people to her. One of those people was, of course, Fr Peter Clifford, but I shall deal with that later.
Assumpta was born and grew up in Ballykissangel. no brothers or sisters were ever mentioned so it can be assumed that she was an only child. Her parents ran the pub which she later inherited and which is one of the focal points of the series. Assumpta's background seems to have been a troubled one, although it was never actually spelled out in the show. However, in the book 'Ballykissangel - Behind the Scenes', the reason for her hatred of the clergy is given.
Assumpta's dislike of the clergy dates back to childhood. Her parents separated when she was young, but not before priests had tried to force them to stay together, an action which brought misery to the entire family. So, she despises everything that Father Mac stands for: indeed, she barely tolerates him.
She attended the local school where she was a bright, but mischevious pupil, notorious for being late even though she lived the closest! After school, her life took a turn when she went to university in Dublin. She studied an arts subject (no idea what one!) and gained her degree.
It was at this time that she first met Leo McGarvey, the man who was to become her husband. They had a relationship which lasted through college and they had intended to stay together when they graduated. However, at this time, Assumpta's mother died. Her father had died some years previously and so Assumpta inherited the family business, the pub. Leo wanted to stay in BallyK, but Assumpta told him to go to London, where he had been offered a trainee position in Fleet Street. Reluctantly he went, and Assumpta was left to run the pub by herself.
And that is the key word - herself - Assumpta is seen as a very solitary creature throughout each of the series. On many occasions, we have seen her in the bar, alone, which makes her feelings for Peter all the more poignant. She built up the business from a run-of-the-mill pub, to a place where the whole village spent their free time, a place where they could drink themselves stupid or have a coffee and a chat. Despite this, she never seemed to make a great living from it and always had to work hard at making it a success. Having devoted all of her time to the pub, she had little free time to spend with her friends, indeed, the only person of her own age that she ever saw was Niamh, Niamh provided the contrast, around the same age, but happily married with a young baby. Despite all of Assumpta's protestations to the contrary, it was obvious that this what she felt she was missing out on.
So, there she was, a girl in her early twenties with the responsibility of running a business, all the time conscious that this was not what she had intended to be. Then, along comes Peter. He is young and handsome, the perfect match in age and temperament. There is just one hitch - he is a Catholic priest. The relationship is a non-starter before she has even realised that that is what she wan.ts When Peter came to live in the town, Assumpta found herself a new friend. It was an unlikely pairing - Assumpta's hatred of the clergy was notorious - but in Peter she saw something else, a man who cared about everyone no matter who they were or what they did. He was genuinely concerned with everyone's welfare, he didn't live by the Bible, believing in letting people think for themselves and he didn't judge.He was also one of the few people in the village who could cope with her difficult moods. He had a sense of humour that broke through the wall when nothing else could and she appreciated that.
Bit by bit, the viewer realised that the feelings between Peter and Assumpta were strengthening. This was first apparent when Leo Mcgarvey made his first appearance in the show. He and Assumpta had been very much in love at Uni, but when he asked her to go away with him, she refused, knowing that her feelings for Peter were stronger than her feelings for Leo.
This all came to a head in series three. Peter, at last went part way to confessing his true feelings to her. But, Assumpta knew that he was losing control of his emotions, not that he wanted to tell her so she knew it wasn't right for him and backed away. However, when Peter tells her that he is going on retreat and that is the end of it, we really see what Assumpta has been feeling when she cannot hold back any longer and bursts into tears.
She disappears to London and comes back with Leo in tow, having married him while she was away. Peter is heartbroken and it seems as if even Assumpta did not realise the effect that her marrying another man would have on them both. The marriage fails after a few weeks and Leo leaves, knowing that he never stood a chance against her feelings for Peter. I. for one wanted her marriage to Leo to work. They had obviously been very close and he was a good man who cared about her a great deal, even willing to give up his life in the city, a life which he loved and missed, to come and live in this tiny village to be with her.
When her marriage ends, Assumpta comes back to Ballykissangel and, at last, unable to hold back any more, Peter confesses all to her. He tells her he loves her and they decide, at last, that they will be together. There is a brief spell of happiness for them both as they begin to think about spending the future together. But, tragedy strikes, as it usually does, when people are at their happiest.
In 'The Reckoning' Peter's world falls apart. Assumpta is killed (I still find it hard to write that . . . ) by a faulty fuse box. For me, this was the tragic end to a tragic life. Assumpta's life was short, and, on balance, not very happy. She was an intelligent, lively girl stuck in a place that, at best frustrated her although she called it home. The one thing that she wanted, the one person that she loved was not hers until it was too late. It seems that her life was a very lonely one - it held great promise but she was never what she wanted to be, happy.
I just want to finish by saying that, although Peter/Stephen's attraction was a powerful force for me (!) as far as character goes, there will never be another person on television like Assumpta. My defence for writing this page and indeed, this whole site is that I, like many people in the country and all over the world, saw much more of people like Assumpta in my own home than I did my own family. When someone is in your living room every week without fail, you cannot help but get involved and care more about them than you probably should. Whether this is a fault of society or not I can't decide, but if nothing else, it reminds us all that we are still capable of caring about what happens to each other, despite what the critics say. Judging by the response that this site has had over the past few weeks since Assumpta's death in Australia and, more recently, in Britain there are plenty of people out there who care and, although incredibly saddened by what has happened, it's good to know that I'm not the only person who has been totally carried away by this.
In Assumpta's words, I had intended this to be a 'platitude-free zone', but the situation calls for it. Assumpta, we will miss you.
Sarah Turner - 27th April 1998
visitors since 27.April.98