Co. Clare was Dad’s native heath and this is a photograph he took of The Cliffs of Moher many years ago before they became a major tourist destination.
Just looking at the photo makes me think of his passion for wild places and I feel especially grateful that he passed on that love to all us kids by bringing us to out of the way places which could involve hiking for miles.
Blog posts are memorable for all sorts of reasons. For me, anyway there’s always there’s the rationale for writing; ease of writing, circumstances of writing, level of interest shown by readers, comments and where they lead ….. and a whole mixum-gatherum of other things.
I was flicking through my archives for 2013 and was surprised at the one that hit me in the solar plexus. It reminded me of wonderfully articulate man I interviewed as part of the research for my PhD thesis on the experiences of people with physical disabilities in Ireland back in the 1980s. He described a particular day as the day not-yachting and the post that is definitely my most memorable was written on the day not-going to New York.
I was feeling very sorry for myself as I had been soooooooooooooo looking forward to going to the America to do a writing course but it all became impossible for a host of reasons.
I’ve built up a whole menu of things over the years that I do when the ‘poor me’ train starts to gather speed ~ swimming in the sea, walking, gardening, reading poetry, diving into books of wit and humour, taking photographs and, of course, writing.
The weather that day wasn’t great or, at least, I was seeing dark skies; I was alone in the house and was generally mooching around. I can vividly remember pulling out boxes and boxes of my late father’s photographs ( the thought of it alone makes me smile now!) and finding all sorts of gems than transported me by currach out of my little Mount Misery. (There is such a place in Waterford City!).
So here’s the link to the post, A Journey of a Different Kind, that certainly wasn’t the most popular one I wrote this year but which drew some lovely responses for which I shall be forever grateful.
There are some posts that come more from the heart than others and I can tell you that this one is driven by some of the most intense feelings I know.
Today, we have the replay of the All-Ireland Hurling Final with Co. Clare battling it out against Co. Cork. My father was a Clareman, through and through, and used all sorts of expressions like One of our own and God’s own County when talking about Clare people and the county itself. It was like oceans of Clare blood ran through his veins and he certainly passed on that great love to us kids, through sharing memories of growing up in Co. Clare and building up a great collection of photographs of his beloved and stunningly beautiful county over the years.
He never tired of telling me how Clare was pretty much divided, unlike Co. Kilkenny, in terms of hurling and football with hurling very much associated with the East Clare and football with West Clare which was his place.
His younger brother, Michael, won an All-Ireland Football Medal with Co. Cork, of all places, playing alongside Jack Lynch, in 1945. But, it was hurling that captivated Dad, the sheer skill, pace, excitement of the game and, of course, the dream of seeing All-Ireland Glory in his lifetime.
He was there in Croke Park to witness Co. Clare win that amazing All-Ireland in 1995 and like so many of his era, it was undoubtedly his greatest sporting moment. All talk of East and West Clare evaporated when it came to Championship Hurling and its waving flags of blue and saffron.
So, as the game gets underway this afternoon, I’ll be screaming for mighty Clare, managed by that man of passion, Davy Fitz. It’s on days like this that I’m both proud to be Irish but also forever grateful to have had a father who loved sport, shared that love, and taught me the meaning of the term Pride of Place.
Today is the day I should have been heading off to New York for ten days to further my writing career. I’ve had to defer for various reasons and so will have to wait another while before soaking myself in a city that has long appealed to me, really since first seeing Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
I’ve been wanting to start looking through my late father’s massive collection of photographs ~ which span the years from the 1940s to the early 2000s ~ and somehow today seemed like the right day to begin that journey.
Having just looked through a few boxes, I feel as if I’ve been to the four corners of Ireland and also back and forth in both family and social history.
Father was from Co. Clare and always had a love of currachs ~ a special kind of rowing boat. John O’Donohue, the well-known Co.Clare poet referred to a currach in his beautiful poem Beannacht:
When the canvas frays In the currach of thought And a stain of ocean Blackens beneath you, May there come across the waters A path of yellow moonlight To bring you safely home.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to find many photographs of currachs among Father’s photographs and the images strike me as being very far-removed from the New York that would have greeted me today.
The Burren Perfumery, which is located in the heart of the Burren in Co. Clare, is one of those places that touches every sense, lingers in the heart and sends out its call to replenish the soul at most unexpected moments.
This morning, it came wafting back to me as I put ‘soap’ on the emergency shopping list. There’s soap and there’s the whole experience of the Burren Perfumery ~ the flower and herb garden that gives new life to things like old bed frames; the restaurant where you learn the true meaning of ‘homemade’ and ‘al fresco’ again; the shop, which is all bottles, work-in-progress and an intoxicating mixtures of scents and fragrances.
Even before I had finished the ‘s’ of soap, I knew that I just have to get back to the Burren, which is at its most magical in May and that the Perfumery will be waiting to satisfy my cravings.
Stone walls are one of the dominant features of the Irish landscape and there is a wonderful earthiness and creativity about them. I want to bring you a photograph of a stone wall which I took late last year in Co. Clare and a poem by Seamus Heaney’s which is a work of art about building solid relationships.
Masons, when they start upon a building, Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points, Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall Confident that we have built our wall.
Co. Clare, with which I have great affinity as my father was from Kilrush, is widely acclaimed for its traditional music. Sharon Shannon stands out for me as the greatest musician to emerge from Co. Clare in my lifetime. She is an absolute natural and has touched the hearts of audiences right around the globe. I hope you enjoy these next few minutes hearing her play Blackbird.
Seamus Heaney and his poetry have been weaving in and out of my life for over 25 years now. I remember celebrating wildly with my mother in 1995 when news came through that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It seemed so right that he was star poet reading at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2009, just a few short weeks after Mother had died. Kilkenny was the place where my parents first met in the early 1940s and I felt their happy youthful presence all round me as I made my way to St. Canice’s Cathedral for the performance.
Nothing could ever have prepared me for the impact which Seamus Heaney and his poetry had on me that balmy August evening. It was as if he knew that Mother had just died and was trying to comfort me by telling me that I was not alone in my sadness. The emotion with which he read about his own mother penetrated my sorrow and his words were like empathetic arms around me:
From Clearances 3
In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984
When all the others were away at Mass I was all hers as we peeled potatoes. They broke the silence, let fall one by one Like solder weeping off the soldering iron: Cold comforts set between us, things to share Gleaming in a bucket of clean water. And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying And some were responding and some crying I remembered her head bent towards my head, Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives– Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
Last week, I spent a few days in Co. Clare which was my father’s native county. He had been thrilled to hear about my expedition to Kilkenny in August 2009 and he talked of how complicated and time-consuming it had been back in the 1940s to get from Kilkenny to Kilrush, especially when one was the junior in the bank. One of my reasons for visiting Co. Clare last week was to go and see some of the ‘special’ places that Father told me about before his death in September 2010. I was also inspired by Seamus Heaney to take the time to visit Flaggy Shore in the Burren Region, just a few miles from Ballyvaughan.
And some time make the time to drive out west Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore, In September or October, when the wind And the light are working off each other So that the ocean on one side is wild With foam and glitter, and inland among stones The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans, Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white, Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads Tucked or cresting or busy underwater. Useless to think you’ll park and capture it More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there, A hurry through which known and strange things pass As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
(from The Spirit Level)
The swans were just as he described and more than anything I knew that Seamus Heaney would fully understand when I felt, yet again, my heart being caught off guard and blown open.
June 17th is Father’s Day here in Ireland and I have been thinking about the important lessons my father taught me over his long life of ninety-one years. He died in September 2010 but those lessons are well ingrained.
# 1. Laughter is the the best medicine. Dad certainly knew how to laugh and surrounded himself with books of humour and wit.
# 2. The dictionary is one of the most useful books ever written, use it!
# 3. If you get one good photograph on a photographic expedition, you’re doing well
# 4. Regrets are often the hardest things to live with.
# 5. Never sit on wet grass unless you want to get pneumonia.
# 6. Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile. (Irish saying : One beetle recognises another beetle). In other words: ‘ It takes one to know one.’
# 7. If youwatch the ball, you won’t go too far wrong in any ball game.
# 8. Trusting each other within the family will get you through more than you could ever imagine.
# 9. Never forget the importance of a smile.
# 10. You’ll find it hard to discover a more beautiful place in the world than West Clare.