There’s a support centre in Waterford City for people impacted by cancer. It’s called The Solas Centre, and they have an annual fundraising Run/Walk for Life every October.
My first foray in the event was in 2009 a few months after my mother died and I walked the 13 miles slowly but got there in the end and felt extremely emotional at the finish, as my father was at home bursting to know how it had gone. He had always been my walking mentor as a kid.
Anyway, this year it is virtual and spread over the weekend. I am bet from walking but picked some of my very favourite places to take on the challenge.
Cancer came knocking on our family door a few years back and really put the frighteners on us. I must have thought of phoning or dropping in to The Solas Centre a thousand times but never did. Just knowing I could meant the world.
Knowing there is a listening ear, empathy, advice, support is so, so important and knowing that it is just a heartbeat away is wonderful, no matter how bad a situation is.
The virtual event is great because I am meeting fellow participants decked out in our orange T-shirts in the most unlikely places.
Today, it’s about waiting for the tide to ebb so I can do my last lap for one of Waterford’s greatest treasures.
I spent a good deal of my blogging break getting stuck into trying to research our family tree.
I have loved every minute of it but my big regret is that I didn’t ask my late parents half enough about their families and their memories of times spent with them.
I know I learned a lot from them about their relatives but I also let a fair bit sail over my head and they loved sharing this information with me.
Now that we have so much down time, I would urge anyone who is fortunate enough to have older relatives to ask them about the family. It is something that can definitely lead to hours of interesting chat for all parties and can be done from a distance.
Social Media has its moments and yesterday certainly produced one for me. I was scrolling down my Twitter Timeline trying to avoid all the Christmassy stuff when lo and behold a link to footage of the rail line from Dungarvan to Waterford came into view ~ rather like you’d see a train arriving at a station.
The footage means the world to me because I spend half my life gazing at old railway bridges here in Co. Waterford and wondering what it was like when the train was running in its heyday. Well, I got this glorious glimpse into the past:
I was inspired by this, and the gorgeous crisp day, to make my way to Kilmacthomas which is one of the towns that was on the line which opened in 1878 and was finally closed, closed in 1990.
This eight-arch viaduct was designed by James Otway (1943-1906) and built by Smith Finlayson and Co. of Glasgow.
While I pine for the sound, smell and wonder of the train, it is brilliant that the old line is in the process of being re-opened as the Deise Greenway and many miles of it are already open. Here’s the view of the Greenway from the Kilmacthomas Viaduct back towards Dungarvan as I witnessed it yesterday evening:
The footage of the old railway from 1966 brought one of my favourite bridges in Waterford City alive ~ old Red Iron ~ and that warmed my heart more than I can describe:
Yesterday was one of those days that overwhelmed me. It was overwhelming in a positive sense but I suppose any kind of ‘overwhelm’ takes a bit of processing.
There were all sorts of juxtapositions involved that were to do with time. The whole thing developed out of a visit to the ruins of a church and an old grave site close to Dunhill Castle here in Co. Waterford a while back. I wanted to learn more about the people who were buried there but couldn’t read the inscriptions on the tombstones.
It felt a bit weird to be going to the Internet to find out how I might get the inscriptions to reveal themselves to me. Maybe I should just leave them alone and let the ravages of time take their natural course. But, there on YouTube, I watched a short clip in which a man showed how rubbing plain, ordinary flour on the tombstones worked like magic in enabling one to read the engravings.
It was a bit on the foggy side by the sea in Tramore yesterday so I thought I would head up to the grave yard with my bag of flour and slink into the mists of time.
The only flour that I had was self-raising flour and as I approached the graves I chuckled irreverently about the possible effects of using this as opposed to plain flour. Secretly, I was pleased that I seemed to have risen above the fog on the elevated site.
I only had enough flour to work on one tombstone. It’s the one in the foreground and as you can see I’d already done the deed by the time I took this shot. The flour does work like magic. I was able to read the full inscription apart from one date on the last line:
Erected by Matthias Phelan
in memory of his Father
David Phelan who Departed
this Life August 16 1781
Aged 63 Years. Also his
Mother Monica Phelan who
Departed this Life February
… 1795 Aged 72
As the words revealed themselves to me, I found myself thinking about all the times I spent as a child with my father in his chemical smelling photographic dark room watching images appear and emerge as clear black and white pictures.
And what of the Phelans? David was born in 1718 and his wife in 1723. What kind of lives must they have led? The fact of having such an ornate tombstone led me to believe that they probably had more money than most. At a time of large families, was Matthias an only child and how did he cope with with deaths of his parents ~ 14 years apart. Losing parents has been going on forever and will continue as long as the world goes on. Matthias’ parents were elderly by the standards of the 1700s.
Even though I had no intention of climbing up the rocky path to the ruin of Dunhill Castle, I found myself being drawn there by the force of history.
For the first time in my life, I climbed up to the top and was peering out through the U that looks towards the church and what I now knew was the Phelan grave. Turning on the small grassy space up there towards the Anne Valley, I was stunned at the reflection that looked back at me:
The castle appeared whole again, perhaps as it looked way back in the 15th Century. The holes that are so glaringly obvious when one is standing on the ruin were rebuilt for those fleeting moments that I stood watching as the sun went down.
What revealed itself to me more than anything yesterday is the extent to which life is made up of moments. David, Monica and Matthias Phelan had their moments in the sun and the setting sun; I am in the process of having mine. These are moments to savour, to use wisely, to share with love. They are fleeting and fragile but they have layers of colour that we can have a part in defining.
The word figary is part of Irish slang and basically means ‘a whim or a frolic.’ To even put it like that is to formalise it a bit too much.
Anyway, I had started this post by saying that: Yesterday, I took a figary and just had to see a a bridge in Ballyduff in West Waterford.’ I then realised that only people who are Irish would have a clue what I was talking about when it came to the figary bit and also that only Co. Waterford people would fully understand the notion of West Waterford.
Co. Waterford is very much divided in our minds between the East and the West. I guess that one of the reasons for this lies in the fact that East Waterford (where Waterford City and Tramore are) are close to the River Suir, whereas West Waterford is associated with the River Blackwater. West Waterford takes in towns like Dungarvan, Cappoquin and Lismore. It also takes in the little village of Ballyduff which has a bridge that’s a delight to the eye, especially of someone like me who is fanatical about bridges.
It’s about 55 miles from Tramore to Ballyduff and one could stop practically every quarter of a mile to explore fascinating places and objects. But Ballyduff’s bridge was firmly fixed in my mind and I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I got to walk along it, feel its texture, admire its views.
This is how it looked:
This iron bridge, over the River Blackwater, was built in 1887. It was designed by W.E. L’Estrange Duffin (1843-1925), who was Waterford County Engineer.
The bridge is very well maintained and here is the view up river towards Lismore:
Ballyduff village itself remains to be explored another day but I couldn’t but be fascinated by an impressive three-storey building which was built on a height in the mist on the left just across the bridge.
It transpires that the building was originally a Royal Irish Constabulary barracks which was built in 1869 and later used as the Garda Station in Ballyduff. Rural Garda Stations have been subject to closures over the last few decades and this Garda Station in Ballyduff was closed in 2013.
It’s sad to see rural Garda Stations like this one closing and I can’t but think of how all the comings and goings over the bridge between 1869 and 2013 were closely observed by various duty officers.
Ah yes, so much to explore in historic Co. Waterford!
There was a big gathering in Dublin today to honour the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, who is now 80 years of age. Watching him on the RTE news, alongside the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, I was reminded of one of the very first posts I wrote here on my blog. That was back in 2011 and it was highlighting how Brendan Kennelly was a social bridge in my life.
I know that very, very few people read that post which was written from the heart about a man who had a huge impact on me, especially in my first year in Trinity College where he was Professor of English while I was a struggling Sociology student.
This is what I wrote back then:
Knowing that Brendan Kennelly celebrated his 75th birthday this week, I am prompted to recall my reaction to his collection ReservoirVoices (2009). Seeing the book on the shelf in the Book Centre in Waterford gave me a sense of comfort and it was almost like he was responding to a poem I had written about him a few months earlier. The poem, The Smile, related to my first term in Trinity College in 1975, when I was just seventeen and incredibly homesick. I had the good fortune to be able to attend a lunch time poetry reading of Brendan Kennelly’s early on that term and it was one of those bridges in my life that I have never forgotten. It was to lift my spirits and give me the hope I needed to press on and gradually come to thoroughly enjoy my College days.
That first day on Trinity’s cobbles
confirmed the hard-hitting prognosis
that my dreams of professional tennis
were shattered like my throbbing wrist.
Economic and Social Studies, what a prospect!
Brendan Kennelly dissolved my pain
for a fleeting hour, in a packed, steamy
room in Front Square. His voice,
his smile, his dimples inviting
me into his past, his solitude, his heart.
Economics was waiting to trip me up.
Tried to drill it in ‘til dawn
with mugs of black Bewley’s Java.
Saw familiar words on the dreaded paper;
momentary hope, head too heavy, faltered.
I scrambled through the September repeats;
got into my running with Sociology
and tennis. How many times did I
dash past Brendan Kennelly on the cobbles?
He’d smile; but why did I never slow down?
I must confess that I always hoped that I would inspire Brendan Kennelly to write a poem as I ran past him in my short tennis skirt towards the courts in Botany Bay. And if I am really honest, I hoped that I could be his muse like John Betjeman’s, Joan Hunter Dunn, and that he would immortalise me forever in lines like:
Love-thirty-love forty, oh weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy
With carefullest, carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak with your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.
I still regret that I didn’t seize a golden moment to speak to Brendan Kennelly which was presented to me in Ballybunion one hot Summer’s day in the mid-1980s. I was swimming in the sea at the main beach in the town when suddenly I caught sight of a familiar figure jogging along by the water’s edge. Yes, it was the man himself, in his native Co. Kerry, and there I was paralysed in the water just watching him run with the carelessness of Joan Hunter Dunn. I waited ‘til his back was turned and then sprinted up the beach to retrieve my clothes and disappear into the crowds.
No one was more delighted than I, when Toyota brought Brendan’s Kennelly’s voice back into my life with its massive advertising campaign and then, just a few years back, I heard a haunting programme in which he was speaking of his love of walking around Dublin just before dawn. Suddenly, I was catapulted back to the Dublin of my late teens and early twenties. Yes, I had walked those deserted streets on my way home to my bedsit in Ranelagh. I had known the peace he spoke of – a city with no traffic and the sound of birdsong at dawn. I also knew the comfort and coffee aroma of Bewley’s in Westmoreland Street, at breakfast time, with Brendan Kennelly sitting within my sights and reading with such concentration that I couldn’t possibly disturb him.
Plunging into Reservoir Voices, I was stunned to find that it was inspired by an Autumn sojourn in America where he experienced a period of intense loneliness which he tried to cope with by contemplating a reservoir near Boston College. The very idea of Brendan Kennelly ‘sitting alone … feeling abject emptiness’ stretched my emotions to their absolute limits. How could this be possible? Here was the man who had dissolved my angst in a mere hour and who I had assumed to be beyond the hand of darkness and dislocation readily admitting to his experience of it over a period of weeks. He makes the point that sometimes dark loneliness can lead to light. If I had happened to come upon him sitting alone at that reservoir, I hope I would have had the nerve to tell him how his presence was once that crucial light in my young life.
Every single stile is crooked to me, even this one on the Coastal Walk in Dunmore East, because of the nursery rhyme we all grew up with here:
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
It never dawned on me until today that nursery rhymes have origins other than those big coloured books that are part of baby and toddlerhood.
When I went looking for the exact words of the rhyme, I discovered that there are layers and layers of ‘adult’ history and stories behind it.
I mean who would have thought that the ‘crooked stile’ in the nursery rhyme may relate back to political affairs between England and Scotland in the 17th Century and be a metaphor for the border between these two parts of the United Kingdom?
So now I’m wondering if nursery rhymes vary greatly across the globe and, of course, I’m also intrigued to know which nursery rhymes play over and over in your mind and down your generations.