Fact or fiction... how far back in time do our memories go?
According to a new study, any memories we have of our lives before the age of three-and-a-half are purely fiction. Researchers writing in the Psychological Science Journal concluded that any memories before this age have been sparked by conversations heard later in life and can be a result of memory mixed with imagination. But these well known faces beg to differ, as they tell Leona O’Neill.
‘Mum arrived with my baby sister and I just wanted her taken back’
Leesa Harker, creator of Maggie Muff and the author of bestselling books including Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue and Maggie's Feg Run, recalls her earliest memory being asking her mother to take her little sister back. She says:
I remember me and my granny on our sofa, looking out the window of the house.
I was just two. We were waiting for my mum coming home from hospital with my new baby sister and it was snowing outside.
The car came driving up and parked outside the house and in came my mum with my sister. And I said, 'I don't want it. Take it back.'
My mum then coaxed me to help her give my sister a bath - the old 'get the child involved' tactic - and it worked. I was then delighted with my new human toy.
I also remember shortly after, being stung by a bee.
I was maybe three years old. I had been on a tricycle when it happened and had run to my mum.
The next part of the memory is me lying on the sofa in our house with a cool flannel on my head and Sudocream on my arm - where the sting was - and I could hear my mum on the phone in the hallway to my dad telling him I had been stung.
And I remember thinking - this is serious because she's telling dad to come home... so I might die.
But actually, it was just his daily phone call to her.
The drama queen in me started at an early age!"
‘Granny had a flowerbed and we ran around that for hours’
The earliest memories of best- selling author Claire Allan, whose new thriller Her Name Was Rose has just been released, centre on her grandmother's garden. She says.
My first memories would be of me and my brothers and sisters playing in my granny and grandad's garden. They lived in Grafton Street, near Rosemount in Derry. They had a garden that was full of flowers. Granny was really proud of it and it was always really well tended. So any time we were there we would be out running around the garden. She had a flowerbed in the middle brimming with beautiful, colourful flowers and we would run around that for hours.
Grandad had a shed at the bottom of the garden and he was always waving up and granny would be waving from her kitchen window. My daddy was there with a camera or one of those Super8 film cameras.
And we would always get a bunch of flowers cut off to take home with each of us. My poor mother would have every milk bottle in the house being used as makeshift vases, filled with them.
That beautiful garden made such a lasting impression on me and was my very first memory. Us all running around there and then coming inside for a ham or corned beef sandwich which tasted amazing. Everything tasted better then, maybe because you had worked up an appetite with all the running. Nothing ever tasted as good as when in childhood.
The sun was always shining and the smell of freshly cut grass and the perfume of the flowers was unbelievable. I don't think you smell it as much in the air these days. There were different smells back then.
It's funny how something as simple as running around a garden sticks in my head. But it was just one of those ideal childhood memories for me."
‘I pulled my toy milk lorry up and down our street doing deliveries’
BBC Radio Ulster presenter Sean Coyle's earliest memories are of a business venture. He says:
The first toy I remember asking for was a milk lorry. I have no idea what age I was, but I remember pulling it up and down our street with a piece of string.
It had six milk churns and I would leave a churn, in my mind a bottle, on a door step and then collect it on the way down the street again.
When I got to to my house I turned and went back up the street placing a churn at a different door. This continued until I was hungry.
I often wonder what my parents thought when I asked for that milk lorry - where do you start looking for one, the toy shops wouldn't exactly be overrun with them.
I remember losing one of my churns and couldn't find it in the house, so this heartbroken little boy knocked at the doors of all his customers asking if they had it, but no joy. I was down now to five deliveries.
But worse was to come. Another one went missing and it wasn't long after that I had to let the staff go and close up.
So I guess the moral of this story is - little boys don't grow up, they just gradually lose their milk churns."
‘On Saturday all seven children had our bath in front of the fire’
Irish country music legend Philomena Begley recalls Saturday night bath time as a young child. She says:
One of my first ever memories was as a very young child. On a Saturday night all seven of us children would be bathed in an old tin bath in front of the open fire.
We all used the same bath water and the same towel, that's if there even was one.
I often think we came out maybe dirtier than when we went in. But every Saturday night the tin bath came out, whether we needed it or not."
‘Great-aunt Tess gave us these delicious homemade doughnuts’
UTV News reporter Mark McFadden believes his earliest memories are to do with one of his favourite subjects, food. He says:
This won’t come as a surprise to those who know me, but my first memories seems to involve food. I can recall my great-aunt Tess babysitting me and my brothers while my parents went to a family wedding.
I remember scribbling in a colouring-in book and then Tess came in with the most delicious homemade doughnuts.
Crispy, sugary, still warm, and utterly gorgeous. The bride and groom from that wedding celebrate their golden anniversary next month and I’m now 52 years old, so I guess that means I was two when I was introduced to the world of doughnuts.
That same summer we had a long family holiday by the golden shores of Donegal.
I recall my dad and my uncles taking turns to carry little old me back to our holiday cottage after a tiring day at the beach, with the herby smell of slow-roasted stuffed lamb drifting on the breeze as we neared home.
I remember helping my mother to shell runner beans into a huge bowl, and getting honey straight from the hive at the farm next door, and my wonderful, eccentric uncles getting excited about Beaujolais Nouveau. It was a steep learning curve for a two-year-old — from a young age we learned about food and wine!
Unlike my wife Donna, I’m not blessed with an excellent memory. But it seems the tastes and aromas of childhood are indelibly printed on my mind.
Maybe George Bernard Shaw was right when he said there is no sincerer love than the love of food. Now, I’m sure there’s a doughnut round here somewhere.”
‘We made a tent with a tartan rug at granny Annie’s house’
UTV journalist Rita Fitzgerald’s abiding memories are of her grandmother’s garden. She says:
I have a very faint memory of sitting in a pram looking out at my mum doing chores. I vaguely remember this as an old-fashioned perambulator. But my most abiding early memory is at my lovely granny Annie’s house in the countryside in Lislea, Co Armagh.
I can see myself with my cousins — aged about three-and-a-half — making a little tent in the garden using granny’s tartan rug that she later would have had placed over her lap.
I remember this house as a wonderful, happy environment and will never forget the unique smell of the pantry. Even today I get a hint of that smell sometimes, but it’s never quite the same.
The house is now long gone, but certainly lives in on in our memories.”
‘I went round and round being chased by our collie’
Radio Ulster presenter, Undertone and enthusiastic cyclist Michael Bradley’s earliest memories in life all revolve around bicycles — and tricycles. He says:
In our front room in Creggan I had a little tricycle. It was a tiny thing, but then I was tiny too. I remember going round and round in a circle being chased by our collie dog, our sheep dog, who was called Prince.
I would have been about three years old.
That is one of the abiding memories that I have, although I have a theory that over the years you polish those memories and edit them, but that is the earliest thing I remember.”