Canal Bank Walk ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 157

I got a figairi early this morning to sort through a dusty cabinet  that’s stuffed with books and within seconds I was sitting down reading  Patrick Kavanagh: Selected Poems, published by Penguin,  that fell out and landed on my bare foot.

So many much-loved poems but I kept coming back to Canal Bank Walk. Then I suddenly remembered this day in 1979 ~ and my  own ‘canal bank walk’ as I made my way to my very first ‘real’ interview for a job as Research Assistant with the Economic and Social Research Institute, then located just off Mespil Road, which runs along Patrick Kavanagh’s Grand Canal in Dublin.

I had just finished my BSc in Economic and Social Studies and this was a huge opportunity to get to work in  the most prestigious research institute in my field in Ireland. I fully recognised the opportunity that was being presented to me but, and there is a big ‘BUT,’ I couldn’t resist the temptation to go sunbathing at my beloved Baltray beach in Co. Louth the day before. It was an absolute scorcher and the perfect interlude between the exertions of my exams and the nerves about the interview. There was a balmy breeze and I lay there like a blissful sunflower, face tilted to the sun.

I woke the following morning with a rather odd feeling around my eyes and a general sense of burning all over my face. My eyelids were so burnt and puffy that my eyes were mere pencil line slits and my face was redder than the reddest red I’d ever seen. I stumbled to the nearest chemist where all the staff lined up in horror when they saw me and did their utmost to advise on how the hell I could manage to look even remotely normal by 2pm.

Grand Canal, Dublin
Grand Canal, Dublin

So, all rigged out in my purple Laura Ashley dress, I walked up and down the canal in the shade of the trees from about 1.30 onwards and wondered if I should beg the interviewers to let me sit under the table to spare us all a lot of agony. I hadn’t even the guts to do that and sidled in to the interview feeling exhausted  from a sudden onslaught of nerves.

All I can remember now about the interview itself was a man suddenly asking me about formulas for stuff like Standard Deviation. A few weeks before, I was saying all these in my sleep as I’d crammed for the exams but I was totally stumped now.  The kindly man, sensing my absolute misery and the deepest blush beneath the sunburn, led me through the formulas and got me out of what felt like a bath of  boiling olive oil.

You’ve guessed it, I didn’t get the job and, you know, I still wonder would it have led me down completely different roads to those that I subsequently took. When I’m feeling cocky, I wonder would it have enabled me to ‘save’ the country from the current recession!

O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web

Of  fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,

Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib

To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing  speech

For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress


From green and blue things and arguments that cannot

be proven.

(From Canal Bank Walk by Patrick Kavanagh)

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

7 thoughts on “Canal Bank Walk ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 157”

  1. Love the word figarie (figary) Jean – apparently an Irish usage of unknown origin unless it is from vagary?
    I know exactly the sunburn sabotage – did the same thing just before my final college exams and missed them!
    Of and as for Patrick Kavanagh go talk to my Mum down the road (108) her mother grew up on the land next to Kavanaghs stony grey soil.

    1. Hi CF, interesting you picked up on ‘figairie.’ It’s a word I use all the time but Google and the rest of them don’t seem to know too much about it. I’d never attempted to spell it before. What a business missing your finals with the famous sunburn! In hindsight, I was probably a right eejit to go to the interview looking, as my sister described it, ‘like a boiled turkey.’
      I’ll have to hop over to 108 to have a chat. We lived in Co.Monaghan for 5 years so I have a good sense of Kavanagh;s Monaghan poems but can’t get enough of them or him.

  2. Fair Irish complexions and hot summer days don’t mix well! Shortly after starting my first full time job, and long before the invention of sunblock, I went out to Jones Beach on Long Island with a friend early on a Sunday morning. We had been out late the night before at a local disco and were quite tired. We spread our towels out on the sand, plopped down and both promptly fell asleep. I awoke 4 hours later with one of the worst sunburns ever on the backs of my legs. I was out of work for 4 days, barely able to move. Looking back, I probably should have gone to hospital, but I suffered at home. Fast forward 30 years and I’m visiting a dermatologist who takes one look at my legs and says, “you had a very bad sunburn on your legs at some point.” The damage irreversible. Now, when I go to the beach, which is rarely, you’ll know me by the large bottle of #65 sunblock, long sleeved shirt, hat with wide brim, darkest sunglasses, long pants, socks to cover my insteps….

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