Rugby Cafe Writers were invited to write a piece of fiction or non-fiction on the theme of Ireland.
Ireland: a personal perspective
‘The Land of Saints and Scholars.’ So says the well-known phrase describing the Irish Republic. A less-kind observer, in search of a similarly alliterative moniker, might say ‘The Land of Poets and Pouring Rain.’ Both are true up to a point, but there’s more to this 32500 square mile island of less than five million inhabitants than either phrase sums up.
I know Ireland because my wife, Bernadette comes from Cork, the second city. I first visited in 2000, when I had known Bernadette for about four months. It was the traditional ‘meet the family’ trip, which was fun and enlightening.
Deep down, I didn’t want to go. I wanted to meet my future wife’s family alright, but the thought of using precious holiday to go anywhere other than my beloved France didn’t excite me. What I found though is that Ireland, especially from Cork westwards, does resemble the parts of France I love the most: Brittany, down into the Vendee and the islands off the coast there. The landscape, the buildings, the pace of life, the flora and yes, even the weather. The wonderful local cooking too, based as it is on the abundance of seafood in the area, is not that far removed.
I set about my familiarisation with Ireland by staying true to my own rule: forget the tourist traps and speak with the locals in small cafés, local shops and restaurants, to get a true impression of the country. This is easy to do anywhere in Ireland as most people are up for a chat, especially if there’s a coffee or a beer to be chatted over!
Ireland now occupies a place in my heart as somewhere I feel drawn to visit frequently. Go and discover it for yourself though. Don’t take my word for it.
In case you’re wondering, it is a long way to Tipperary. Especially when you catch the night train from Holyhead and endure a rough crossing. Dublin was exciting; I longed to stay and explore but the train was leaving for Nenagh, clanking and steaming impatiently, so I climbed aboard – final destination Borrisokane, a village to the north of Nenagh.
The address I’d been given was simply “Jacks’ house.” “Everyone knows Jack” they said, “you’ll have no trouble.” But there were no house names, or numbers. I asked a local directions: “Now which Jack would that be?” he asked, not surprisingly. However, the cottage, when I finally found it, was very pretty. I was relieved to find the key fitted the lock, confirming that this was the right house! Inside it was cosy and quaint: dried peat stacked by the fireplace, rugs on the floor, food in the pantry – but no bath, no shower, and no hot water either!
I went shopping; there were eighteen shops, all general stores, and all sold everything from bread, fresh meat and groceries to coal, wood, creosote, horse fodder and newspapers, dog food, fly swatters, hand knitted jumpers, and sweets. Adorning the till and the shelves were holy pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, rosaries and crucifixes dangled, but there was genuine kindness, and welcome advice. There was usually a story or two told by the shopkeeper too, so it was just as well no-one was in a hurry. Like the man who paid a thousand pounds for a racing greyhound with which to make his fortune, put the dog in the boot of his car, only to lose it the moment he got home. He opened the boot! The greyhound shot out, and bolted down the road, never to be seen again. Neither the dog nor his money!
The landscape was emerald green and very beautiful. On country walks I was surprised to see the occasional Christian grotto by the roadside, decorated with flowers and candles. I also came across houses in various stages of being built but mysteriously abandoned. I was told all builders had second jobs as funeral directors, and didn’t have much spare time, or money, to finish them. But the whole place seemed to have an innocence about it, and no pressure to finish anything. It was as if everyone had all the time in the world; they would stop and chat without any reserve. But on Sunday morning the whole of Borrisokane came to a standstill. Dozens of cars were parked, or more accurately just abandoned outside the Catholic church, some blocking the road as everyone attended mass. And it’s true what they say, when mass finished everyone spilled out and went straight into the pub!
Theresa Le Flem