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Archive for May, 2012
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Ambrose Congreve, who lovingly established the world-renowned Mount Congreve Gardens in Co. Waterford died on May 24th last year, aged 104. By coincidence, I had visited the Gardens just a day or two before he died and wrote my own personal tribute to him then. http://wp.me/p1ip9d-8s
He has been on my mind a good deal over the last year and in the days and weeks following his death, I felt a haunting sadness whenever I passed the closed gates of Mount Congreve which is only about 5 miles from my home in Tramore. I was also jolted a few months ago by finding a black and white photograph among my late father’s collection of my sister and I sitting on the grass by the magnificent greenhouse at Mount Congreve back when I was about six and my sister eleven. I looked at that photograph for a long time and thought of the immense love my parents had for Mount Congreve and how my mother, especially, treasured the fact that it is a woodland garden full of wildflowers as well as the marvellous collection of trees and perennials.
All Winter, I looked forward to the re-opening of the Gardens for this season, gardens which Ambrose Congreve left in Trust for the people of Ireland. I wondered how it would be to return, knowing that Ambrose Congreve, had passed on.
I needn’t have worried. As ever, there was a friendly smile and welcome waiting at the entrance to the Gardens which are open each Thursday. Just as Ambrose Congreve wanted, there was no entry fee and it was so clear that those who were welcoming visitors were passionate about the Garden and its future.
Walking through the Garden, there was a wonderful sense of calm and absolute reassurance. Yes, the bluebells were in full bloom, carpetting the woodland and the trees and vast collection of rhododendrons, magnolias, azeleas … were sparkling with freshness, hope and colour. It was as if they were proudly displaying the heart and passion of Ambrose Congreve and keeping his memory alive.
Much of the talk in recent weeks has been on the forthcoming auction of art and antiques from Mount Congreve House and I read today that the first auction will take place in London next Wednesday, May 23rd.
It seems so fitting that Ambrose Congreve’s first anniversary falls on a Thursday – the one day of the week that Mount Congreve Gardens are currently open. I have a feeling that the sun will be beaming down and that the colours and scents will exude more than ever. I, for one, hope to be there to witness that wonder and whisper my thanks for this great gift that Ambrose Congreve brought to Ireland and has bequeathed to us.
Co. Waterford is my native heath and I am immensely proud of the depth of its history, heritage and natural beauty.
Today has been one of those special days in my relationship with this county in the south-east of Ireland. After an early morning swim in Tramore and a walk on the beach, I decided to go to Mahon Falls high up in the Comeragh Mountains. The last time I had been there was on an orienteering trip in the depths of winter and I had vowed that day to go back on a sunny summery day.
The views were magnificent. Sheep and lambs were grazing on the mountainside, the waterfall was gushing down and all the while I could see the blue sea beneath.
On the way back to Tramore, I stopped at a shop tucked away at a little crossroads just down from Mahon Falls. It was called J. Power and Son, an old-fashioned shop that reminded me of the shops my late father used to drop into for ice creams sandwiched between wafers when he would take us kids on mystery tours around Co. Waterford years ago.
The man behind the counter, who was probably in his seventies, greeted me with a warm smile that lit up his kind eyes. He was tall and wearing a grey-green hand-knitted Aran jumper that looked like it totally belonged and had seen a lot of life. Sheer instinct drew me to the ice-cream freezer where I pulled out the first choc-ice that I’ve eaten in about 30 years. We exchanged a few pleasanteries about the weather and then the man looked at me and just said: ‘ It’s hard to beat Co. Waterford on a day like this, isn’t it?’ I agreed and told him I was from Tramore and had just come from visiting Mahon Falls. ‘Ah, so you know the county well, then. Tramore is a fine town. I used to go dancing in the Atlantic Ballroom there years back. Many a good night we had when the showbands would come. Mick Del and …..’
We chatted for quite a few minutes and as I left the shop, I felt like I had glimpsed the very heart of Co. Waterford in those kind eyes at a crossroads between the moutains and the sea. A special moment when past and future met in a what felt like an eternal present.
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Certain places are like ante-rooms in our lives; places where we wait in a heightened sense of awareness for something that seems very significant. Because the adrenalin is pumping, it seems that we remember such places with a vividness and often almost reverence.
Howth Castle in Co. Dublin, is one such place for me. It was the place that a beloved friend brought me as I awaited the results of my finals in College; results which I saw as being extremely important in terms of dictating the whole future direction of my career. I know I had been to Howth Castle before that – always in May or June – to see the rhododendrons. However, until last saturday, I hadn’t been back since that day of days in early Summer 1979 – thirty-three years ago!
I wanted to go back and see the Castle woodland in bloom. I felt like I had never re-paid its kindness to me on that day when I was so nervous waiting for the results to be posted up in Trinity College about eight miles away. The vividness of the colours have been etched in my memory ever since. It was a scorching hot day and the woods had provided shade but also there was a gentle breeze coming in from the sea at Howth. It was the ultimate sanctuary.
On Saturday, I was alone when I re-visited. Little had I thought in 1979 that the energetic friend who was with me that day would be swept away by cancer less than two years later. The mere thought of such a thing would have put my anxiety about my exam results into much needed perspective!
Howth Castle has a very long history going back to medieval times . Sir Edwin Lutyens, renowned architect, is said to have been responsible for extensive renovations to the Castle in 1911. The there is a wealth of myth and legend associated with the Castle and one of the most intriguing surrounds a dolmen in the grounds which has gone down in folklore as having been erected for heartbroken Aideen, the wife of Oscar, one of the legendary Fianna. http://www.howthcastle.ie/
Howth Castle and Gardens were as tranquil and beautiful on Saturday as I had remembered them. It was quite late in the day when I got there so there were few people around. It all seemed so timeless, and the colours and scents that I recalled were there to embrace me. Wild garlic and bluebells carpetted the woodland paths and the rhododendrons were coming into bloom – not quite full bloom – but they had that wonderful sense of anticipation about them. Deep into the woods, it was just me, birdsong and the gentlest swaying of the sea breeze through the fresh young leaves.
I have been wondering since Saturday about places which have this kind of ante-room significance for you, my readers. Are they historic castles, woodlands, sitting-rooms, hotels, bars, cafes …..? Do they still exist in reality or just in memories? Or do you know?