I hope you enjoy reading some of the articles which I have had published and which I am posting here. The Strawberry Man, was first printed in the Munster Express in July 2010.
THE STRAWBERRY MAN
Driving over Priest’s Road on my way to Newtown Cove for an early morning swim in the June sun, I see him setting up his table. Would summer be summer in Tramore without the familiar figure of the Strawberry Man?
I run down the wood at Newtown, passing the little wooden bridges which are bathed in dappled sunlight and watch the sparkling stream babble along beneath. The trees are hanging low, their leaves green and full. Birds are singing and flapping through the dense foliage. At the end of the wood, the Cove opens up in front of me, the cliffs still decorated with sea pinks, and the calm sea sparkling in the dazzling sunshine.
I plunge into the depths and feel such a sense of wellbeing and awe at the incredible beauty that surrounds me: sheltered cove, sun-kissed rocks, clear blue water reflecting the clear blue sky, the familiar arm of Brownstown stretching out into the open sea. The perfect start to any day! Where else in the world could I ever want to be than my Tramore?
Coming back towards the church end of Priest’s Road, I see that the Strawberry Man’s table is ready. The colourful tablecloth blows gently in the breeze and the wide green parasol signals that he is open for business. It’s now thirty years since he started coming to Tramore from his native Wexford and almost twenty-five years since he has been selling his produce in that spot at the edge of the car park which seems like his natural summer habitat.
Bluebells in Newtown Wood, sea pinks on the cliffs at the Cove and the coming of the Strawberry Man tell me that summer has come to Tramore. All this happens around the June Bank Holiday and while the flowers fade the Strawberry Man stays until Summer’s end. The season starts with punnets of freshly picked strawberries, new potatoes, rhubarb and cabbage but each in their own time, he brings raspberries, loganberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants.
What he also brings is cheerfulness, kind eyes and an uncanny ability to read the mood of his customers. He knows when the time is right for a few friendly words, a bit of banter, or perhaps a sympathetic smile. He stands tall, with greying hair now, and is softly spoken with a touch of that Wexford accent that is so distinctive and more like an American twang than any Irish accent I’ve ever come across.
Just as we have watched his children grow into adults, he has dealt with different generations of Tramore families over the years. As I bought my strawberries today, and was enveloped by that delicious aroma of newly picked fruit, I found myself thinking of my late mother. I was catapulted back to summer evenings when she would be making jam with the fruit she would buy from him. Nothing will ever match the delicious smell that pervaded the whole house when the raspberry jam was bubbling in the big pot on the cooker, while all the empty jam jars stood washed and ready on the kitchen table. August was the time for the blackcurrant jam and that involved topping and tailing pounds and pounds of the tiny berries. Mother liked to do this outside so we would sit on old deck chairs chatting, each of us filling bowls with prepared fruit and getting our hands stained and sun tanned at the same time.
As I make way for his next customer, and sample a perfectly ripened strawberry, I hear the fresh sound of friendly chat about plans for a picnic on the beach and how much the strawberries will be appreciated. I wonder to myself if the Strawberry Man knows how much he is appreciated, as well as his produce. Has he any idea of the extent to which he evokes Summer and how much we miss him when the season is done?
CONNECTING WITH OLD TOWN
Jean Tubridy, PhD
My visit to Alexandria in early November was undoubtedly my highlight of 2010. Coming from Tramore, a small Irish seaside resort in Co. Waterford, I expected to find myself racing along in a fast lane of anonymity. Instead, I discovered a magical place which touched my soul with its beauty, history and warm, warm welcome.
My reason for being in Alexandria was to deliver a lecture, in my role as a sociologist on, ‘Lives Well Spent: Coping with Losing Elderly Parents’, at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, on Remembrance Day. Morrison House was organised as what I had thought of as my ‘base’. However, from the moment I set foot in this ‘Alexandria Boutique Hotel with a Story,’ as it is described on its website, I realised that this was a hotel with character and a very magnetic one at that.
Accommodation and food at Morrison House were superb but what made it so memorable was the friendly, soothing ambience. The smiles of the staff were genuine; they were interested and interesting. One young man, for example, who was working at reception and who was extremely efficient, exuded a love of learning. He shared his dreams of becoming a pharmacist and I know that one day he will achieve this ambition and serve his customers with the confidence and care that he directed towards the guests at Morrison House.
The attention to detail in the Hotel almost had me thinking that they must have done prior research specifically on me. The bowl of Granny Smith apples, so fresh and beautifully arranged, just waiting as I got out of the lift, fitted in perfectly with the theme of my lecture and the fact that we should make the most of every season in our lives. And yes, the little weather cards with excerpts from Dr Zhivago, my favourite film of all time, promising blue skies and sunshine everyday …..
Wandering around Old Town brought past and present together in a very memorable way. The Torpedo Factory Art Centre, with all its artist’s studios, overlooking the Waterfront was a revelation. How wonderful to find a place which had been so associated with war and the devastation therein, now buzzing with colourful creative art of all descriptions. The trees across the Potomac River, leading up to the Mount Vernon Estate, were truly resplendent in autumn shades.
Coming from Ireland, where we are very familiar with ‘public houses’, or the more British concept of ‘inns’, it was fascinating to learn about the history of early American ‘taverns’ at Gadsby’s Tavern. At last, I found out about the background to the saying, ‘sleep tight, don’t let the bugs bite,’ with the tightening up of the ropes on the beds where the ‘traveler’s’ stayed. The contrast between the absolute basic accommodation here and the luxury at Morrison House was quite overwhelming. What a difference between ‘the necessary’ and the ‘en suite bathroom’!
Visiting both the 1752 ‘mansion’ of Scottish merchant and City founder, John Carlyle and The Irish Walk shop on King Street, made me acutely aware of my Irish/Scottish ancestry and the extent to which Alexandria itself has deep, deep connections to this little corner of Europe.
I was stunned over the week by the number of people who commented on my Irish accent and spoke of their dreams to come to Ireland. One woman, in a shop where I was buying ear rings, said she had a picture of Ireland as being a romantic place where she could live in a cottage overlooking the sea and with a view of heather-covered mountains. Ireland certainly does provide such vistas and smiling eyes, but I’m not sure that Alexandria realises the extent of its own uniqueness and appeal. As I look out over the magnificent winter waves in Tramore Bay, part of me is longing for spring when I hope to see Alexandria bursting with fresh green shoots and enjoying the promise of long, bright days.
PUTTING TRAMORE ON THE MAP
It seems like America is already gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day! A friend sent me a picture of a placemat of a map of Ireland and its attractions from the Greek/Italian, Primo Family Restaurant, in Alexandria, Virginia. Needless to say, I went in search of Co.Waterford and Tramore on the colourful map. Much to my disgruntlement, I found just a little dot mentioning Waterford, while various other places like The Lakes of Killarney, Newgrange and the Yeats Country were highlighted. The small print advised ‘Keep on the lookout for Leprechauns.
Yesterday morning, I got an urge to go for a walk on Kilfarrissey beach, one of my favourite haunts since childhood. Driving out there, the Comeragh’s were looking at their best, leaning in towards Tramore, or so it seemed. ‘Yes, Co. Waterford has it all,’ I said to myself, as I thought of a glorious few days spent hiking up in the magnificent Nire Valley last week, staying in Hanora’s Cottage, which I have watched blossom over the years from being a small craft shop and tearoom to become an absolute example of Irish hospitality, gourmet food and value par excellence.
Kilfarrissey was basking in sunlight. Its imposing cliffs were glinting and the waves were tumbling in, an absolute picture of Waterford’s blue and white. A trawler was busy moving along towards Garrarus, with a halo of seagulls hanging overhead.
Up on the cliff, a lone horseman was cantering along and the gentle thud of echoing hooves could be heard down on the beach. It was one of those perfect scenes and I couldn’t but think of how it epitomised so much of what defines Ireland. I wondered what Hollywood Movie Makers would give to capture what I was lucky enough to be experiencing.
I also thought that there could hardly be a better place for geography teachers to bring pupils to teach them about the features of the sea. Kilfarrissey has so much, sea stacks, sea arches, towering cliffs and, of course, magnificent views of the rugged Waterford Coastline.
Making my way back to Tramore, the leprechauns at Coolnacoppogue (Cul na gCopog translated as Ridge-Back of the Dock Leaves from Irish) were sitting out in the sun, as they have been for twenty-five years now. Theirs is a story of creativity and romance, as the late Mr. Power’s daughter told me so eloquently.
Soon after he retired, Mr Power, who was gifted with his hands, happened to come across a mould for making leprechauns. He thoroughly enjoyed his new pastime and he and his wife, Joan, built up a huge collection. He made them, while she painted them. No two ever came out of the mould the same and Joan painted each meticulously so a huge family of unique looking leprechauns emerged to live in the garden looking out on the Fenor-Tramore Road. Mr Power loved nothing better than to chat to the many, mainly American, tourists who stopped to take photographs of this amazing sight and regale them with stories and folklore about leprechauns in Ireland. Some time after Mr Power died eleven years ago, his wife, Joan, found great solace in carrying on with the work of both making and painting the collection, which is still such a feature of the area.
Back in Tramore, and looking out over the beach, I wondered if some of Mr Power’s magical leprechauns were dancing on the Irish place mats in Primo’s Family Restaurant, as breakfast was being served in Virginia, which is five hours behind us. I also wondered if sunlight was shining on the south-eastern part of the map, and beaming down on Tramore and its stunning environs.
‘Putting Tramore on the Map’ was first published in the MunsterExpress (16/2/2011) and reprinted under the title ‘Irish Leprechauns in Alexandria!’ in the Alexandria News (18/2/2011)
THE IRISH WALK
The last thing I expected to see on King Street, Alexandria, Virginia, was a sign saying ‘The Irish Walk’. I’d only been commenting to anyone who would listen to me that Americans seem to have some sort of allergy to walking, even though ‘working out’ is high on their agenda.
Well, The Irish Walk turned out to be a shop specialising in Irish produce and suddenly I found myself in the middle of a week-long November adventure in the Washington area feeling really proud of Ireland, and especially the wonders of Tramore and its environs.
Patty O’Theobald, owner of The Irish Walk, explained that she is the third owner of the shop which has been in existence in Alexandria for 37 years. She is from Wisconsin but has Irish ancestors from Co. Westmeath. The Irish Walk is the only ‘Irish’ shop within a 40 mile radius. I would have expected to find one right beside the White House, given the emphasis on Irish-American relations, but Alexandria felt just right, especially as the city was founded by Irish and Scottish people.
My native Waterford eyes were immediately attracted to a map of the South-East of Ireland, with Tramore Bay, waving up at me. Patty had been to Waterford City, had loved the tour of Waterford Crystal but said how saddened she and her customers are that the new stocks of Waterford Crystal, which now sparkle in her display cabinets, are no longer made in Ireland. The customer base which she serves includes 3.5 million people from Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, who claim some sort of Irish heritage.
In spite of being in Ireland many times, and the RDS Showcase Ireland Show is a ‘must’ every January, Patty hasn’t yet come to Tramore. I could only think how at home she would feel on the Waterford-Tramore Road with its tapestry of autumnal trees blending so well with the marvellous display of orange and amber tones which spans out from nearby Mount Vernon, the estate of America’s First President, George Washington.
Delving among the books in The Irish Walk, there was one which explained the origins of the name ‘Tramore.’ I was hoping I might see a photograph of the beach but the mere mention of the Atlantic waves, the sand hills, hidden coves, cliff walks, and ancient dolmens had Patty whipping out a journal in which she takes notes about anything of interest in Ireland that she can recommend to her customers.
Alexandria is built on the scenic West Bank of the Potomac River but, although it presents a beautiful vista, it just doesn’t have the invigorating sea air, and magical sound of the sea which Tramore provides and which so many Americans crave. According to Patty, those who have strong connections with Ireland also crave such basics as Flahavan’s Oatlets and Irish teas, such as Barry’s, Bewley’s and Lyons.
Soaking in the range of produce, one glaring omission was Gallwey’s Chocolates, which have such a strong association with Tramore and which are now becoming more and more well known across the world. The Gallwey name also found its way into the well-thumbed journal that lives under the counter in The Irish Walk!
Patty O’Theobald, with her blonde hair and smiling face, is like a bridge between Ireland and America. She has a passion for Ireland and has great insight into American views on this country. She says that Americans are highly aware of our recession and want to visit here and boost the economy. However, in spite of what we might think, they have moved well beyond perceptions of this country as being the land of leprechauns, shillelaghs and The Quiet Man.
As I left The Irish Walk, noting a small collection of hurleys (minus the familiar stamp of Tramore-maker, Peter ‘Flash’ Flanagan), I had visions of meeting Americans down the Prom next summer. They would just happen to say that they were from Alexandria, Virginia and that they had been told that there was a place called Tramore, eight miles from Waterford, which is another little piece of heaven.
‘The Irish Walk’, which was first published in the Munster Express (10/12/2010) was reprinted in Alexandria’s ‘Old Town Crier’ (March, 2011).
LISMORE FESTIVAL OF TRAVEL WRITING
Back in sunny Tramore, on the East side of Co. Waterford, my mind is still buzzing after a wonderful medley of experiences at the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing, which is synonymous with Lismore, that beautiful, intriguing, historic town in West Waterford. This was the 9th Immrama Festival but it was my debut attendance and I’m already thinking about next year!
Before I became immersed on Saturday morning, ‘travel writing,’ if I thought about the term at all, conjured up images of magazine reviews of exotic holidays and handy guides to the cities of the world. The last two days in Lismore, just 50 minutes drive away, have opened up so many avenues, perspectives and possibilities that I can’t but think of the mesmerising tapestry of colour in Lismore: its buildings, people, flowers, trees and the deep reflections of the River Blackwater.
Saturday morning’s Blogfest, ‘a Blogger’s Cinic,’ woke me up to the mind-boggling impact of social media on travel, how people can see the world without leaving their screens using a vast range of media, as outlined with a glorious combination of expertise and humour by Darragh Doyle of http://www.boards.ie; how world-renowned travel writers, like Rolf Potts, or indeed any of us, can post up to the second multi-media stories and reports of travel experiences from far- or near-flung places; how ‘couch-surfing,’ described by Aine Goggins of TG4, is a fast-developing way of seeing the world – bringing together social media and travel.
Wandering through Lismore, my eye was caught by an exhibition of paintings by Anne Harnett. Harnett’s work represented a wonderful form of ‘travel writing’ in that she has travelled widely to paint and has brought together a real sense of place through her incredible talent as an artist.
Conor O’Cleary, former foreign correspondent, with the Irish Times, showed another face of ‘travel writing’ through a captivating presentation in which he cleverly used ‘hotels’ as the hook on which he hung his amazing set of riveting stories. He spoke of the transformations that technology have brought to the work of ‘foreign correspondents’ and how the familiar voice of ‘our own’ correspondent may well become a thing of the past. Hearing his voice again, with his distinctive northern accent, brought me back to so many of the major reports that I heard from Conor O’Clery over the years, especially his vivid descriptions of the events of 9/11.
Saturday evening saw Lismore bathed in midsummer light that seemed to highlight its colourfulness and by now I had a sense that I could be almost anywhere in the world. This was heightened even more by a session which brought together presentations from Rolf Potts, the Kansas-man, best-known for promoting the ethic of independent travel and British historian and travel writer, Alex von Tunzelmann. So, so much to absorb but what stood out for me was Pott’s depiction of travel as a journey in terms of getting to know oneself as much as the places one visits and Von Tunzelmann’s reference to history as a journey back in time.
Yesterday, could it be only yesterday – I spent the day at a Writer’s Workshop facilitated by writer and mentor, Grace Wells, entitled A Spirit of Place. First a guided walk around Lismore, with the most knowledgeable Alice, which featured Lady Louisa’s Walk and the Cathedral, which dates back to 1630. Soaking up Lismore, using all one’s senses, was surreal and it seemed fitting that we moved from being out in the misty rain to feeling the sun bursting through.
Our written exercises in the afternoon, showed how differently each one of us had perceived the town; how much we bring our own baggage, even if we think we are travelling light. But more than anything, it proved how trying to define the ‘the spirit of place’ will keep travel writers, and indeed writers of all genres, eternally challenged.
Posted: June 13, 2011
WATERFORD WAITING FOR THE TALL SHIPS FESTIVAL 2011
The Tall Ships Festival 2011, the biggest event in Ireland this summer, will be in full swing in Waterford in just two weeks time. It runs from June 30th to July 3rd. There is a growing sense of anticipation about the event and this is particularly evident in around the City. Shops and hotels have taken the nautical theme to heart and nowhere is it more evident than in the artwork which bedecks the windows of the historic Granville Hotel on the Quay.
Walking down the aptly named Summerhill towards Rice Bridge, the other day, I couldn’t but smile at a big ad by Waterford Local Radio (WLR) which plays with the word ‘buoy’ in recognition of the Tall Ships and the everyday use of the greeting ‘Well boy!’ around the city and county.
As I wait for the Tall Ships, I have become more and more aware of the extent to which boats of all descriptions play a huge role in our lives in Waterford. Out here in Tramore, the peaceful little Pier is the summer home of a range of both ‘working’ and ‘pleasure’ boats.
Down at sandy Tramore Beach, body surfing, kite surfing and wind surfing are part of the very essence of the whole area at the end of the long Promenade. This is the ‘boating’ in the Bay which is overlooked by the historic Metal Man and Brownstown Head.
The yellow pedal boats, which come to life on ‘Swan Lake’ at high season in Tramore, have been a big hit with locals and tourists for many, many years now.
Picturesque Dunmore East has one of the busiest harbours in the South-East of Ireland and the diversity of boats that come and go is quite remarkable. Last thursday, two weeks to the day before the Tall Ships arrive, I spent a few hours just boat-watching around the various parts of the harbour. Fishing trawlers, the Lifeboat, Pilot-boat, Irish Coast Guard vessel, yachts, pleasure boats, dinghys, a currach and a huge cargo ship were amongst the vessels on view in what was a most colourful vista:
In two weeks time, one of the viewing points for seeing the Tall Ships, will be from the road near Passage East, the quaint little village which is the home of the main car ferry in Co. Waterford. The F.B.D. Tintern, which is painted in the blue and white of Waterford, is a major link for both locals and tourists to and from Co. Wexford. The other car ferry that operates is the one that connects beautiful Waterford Castle to the mainland, just a short distance across the river Suir at Ballinakill.
Kayaking is a major activity in Co. Waterford. One of the most exciting ways to see the Copper Coast, for example, is from a kayak. Mick O’Meara and his team at www.seapaddling.com are leading experts in this area.
Yet another home for boats in Co. Waterford are many lakes, like lovely Carrickavantry , where there is a wonderful peacefulness and a whole community of people who are passionate about their fishing. Simple boats that bring hour after hour of pleasure and relaxation:
The Tall Ships, with their long histories, will evoke unique memories and experiences for the hundreds of thousands of people who are touched in some way by them. As I look forward to their arrival, I find myself thinking of the many, many stories that have been, and will be, shared about boats – both real and imaginary – in my Co. Waterford.
Posted on June 18, 2011
TRAMORE TENNIS CLUB
Tramore Tennis Club is one of those very special places which has a magic and magnetism all of its own. It must be among the most beautifully located tennis clubs in the world, perched as it is overlooking the full expanse of Tramore Bay with ever-changing views of the beach, the Pier, Brownstown Head, the Metal Man and the far off horizon. How appropriate that the easiest approach to the Club, which has been in existence for well over 100 years, is down byLove Lane.
My early memories of the Club stretch back to 1960, when I was just three. We lived in Atlantic View then. Mother would bring us three kids through the gap in the hedge at the end of the garden and across the road to the grass courts that were always beautifully cut and flattened with a hand-roller.
Those were the days when wooden racquets wintered in square presses tightly screwed on to their narrow heads to prevent dreaded warping. They were also the days when tennis balls were white and highly valued commodities. The beautifully built wall that still separates the courts from Gallwey’s garden saw many of our precious tennis balls sailing into oblivion as we tried valiantly to master the art of keeping our shots within the white-washed lines.
I had to get a special dispensation to play in my first Junior Open Week when I was eight. That was because, in contrast to now, the age categories were Under 15 and Under 18. I am eternally grateful to my generous opponent who obviously saw how much this debut meant to me as I sported a dashing little white tennis dress, made by my grandmother, and which still lives in my wardrobe. She was kind enough to take it easy and even gift me a couple of games to take the bare look off what should have been a 6-0, 6-0 annihilation.
The part I remember best was sitting down after the game, feeling the sea breeze on my sun baked face, drinking the bottle of lemonade that my opponent had bought me. Buying a drink for one’s defeated opponent and having a little chat after the game was part of the whole etiquette of tennis back then. The choice of drink may have been limited to Club Orange, Club Lemon or lemonade but those post-match chats were fundamental to getting to know the individuals behind the un-coached tennis styles of those days and when the bottles were empty the issue of win or lose had somehow been de-fizzed and supplanted by building friendships and memories.
Open Weeks in Tramore, Junior or Senior, have always drawn players from far and wide. The lure of the sea, the holiday spirit and excellent organisation and tennis have attracted wonderful characters from abroad. And, so many of the native sons and daughters of the Club return, year after year, either to touch base themselves or give their own children the privilege of savouring that special combination of holiday freedom, the soothing sight and sound of the sea which is a natural antidote to frustration over double faults and wayward shots over Gallwey’s wall or out onto the Doneraile
Tramore Tennis Club has changed with the times; the grass courts have been replaced by all-weather ones; each generation has produced new and exciting young stars who have shown the rest of Ireland what wealth of tennis talent such a small Club can produce; floodlights mean that matches no longer have to be postponed or completed with the aid of car headlights and cigarette lighters; discos have replaced the old tennis ‘hops’; and eight year olds play against eight year olds.
But, the essence of the Club still remains: tucked beneath the ancient steeple of the beautiful Church of Ireland with its ever-accurate weather cock; lit by the reflections of the sea and built on the solid foundations of childhood dreams. Who needs memory lane when Love Lane is watching over the romance that defines the very heart and soul of Tramore Tennis Club?
Posted on July 9th, 2011
BALLYSCANLON LAKE IS CALLING
It was the glimpse of a rainbow that seemed to be arcing from behind the Metal Man to the Back Strand that brought me out to the Cliff Road to the little parking spot overlooking Tramore Pier. High evening tide, and a blaze of colourful boats looking up at me from the shelter of the Pier which was absorbing a sudden July downpour.
I could so easily have turned for home having watched the rainbow dissolve, but there was something about the moody light that lured me towards Newtown. Memories of all those evenings that Dad and I had driven out to ‘feast our eyes upon the beauty of the sea,’ stopping en route at the Spar shop by the Cove which surely sells the biggest and best 99s in the South-East!
Sunshine after rain, and three men were happily bathing at the Guillemene, laughing and joking as they relaxed in the buoyant, sun-kissed water. Fishermen were gathering, talking in low tones, reeling in and casting off. Not a tangled line in sight; exuding experience and balance on the rugged rocks.
Just two people had ventured down at the Cove: a father and his small daughter, who were watching the waves crashing over the slip. I eyed Dad’s old camera bag in the back seat of the car which has now become mine. How many hours had he waited for the perfect wave in Newtown Cove before he captured that beauty that hangs in houses all round the world, giving people the chance to journey back to memories of hot youthful summer evenings in this enchanted part of Tramore.
Driving up Lover’s Walk, overhung with its summer canopy of leaves, I could see that the sun was getting ready to put on one of its showy sunsets. Back to days when Dad brought us on mystery tours, I just let the light lead me along. Passed the Metal Man on his gleaming white pillar; thoughts of turning down to Garrarus and getting to see the rambling pink roses and honeysuckle that are bedecking that little ‘road to the sea.’
But no, BallyscanlonLake is calling! Mother McHugh’s in Fenor is buzzing; a hurling team is fully engrossed in a training session in the Fenor GAA field. Nearing Ballyscanlon, there is a blaze of purple heather mingling with the lush ferns and foxgloves on the roadside.
Ballyscanlon, where we had so many picnics as children, lies waiting for me, itself nestling under the Comeraghs which are leaning inwards as if wanting to be reflected in the tranquil waters. I open Dad’s camera bag, feeling his presence all around me and hearing his oft-spoken words: ‘Isn’t this heavenly!’
Making my way to the lake, the light lit upon nature at her best: a spider’s web woven in a gorse bush with raindrops dangling from the fine threads; buttercups sparkling as the sun met their eyes; narrow paths bordered by glinting, fresh green, dripping ferns.
Ballyscanlon Lake was so still; no lapping on the shore. It could have been anywhere: echoes of ‘fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high’ but this was our Ballyscanlon, just a few short miles from Waterford and Tramore.
In the distance, a dog barking, and high up in the sky behind me a crescent moon looking across at the sunset in awe, and waiting to take up duty of lighting the lake.
Making my way back to the car, I wondered for the first time ever if Dad had known where his mystery tours would take us. His always ended with a wafer ice-cream, cut from a block with a knife dipped in hot water. Too late for an ice-cream shop but I thought he’d approve of Mother McHugh’s or the Bog Hotel, as it was known in his early days in Tramore.
What a gem! Traditional, welcoming, warm, spotless, decorated with relics from the past, like an old lantern and ancient books, Mother McHugh’s has a history stretching back to the 1800s. The pub is called after a ‘lovely lady,’ the lateMrs McHugh. This is the 50th year it has been in the family and it is now owned by her grandson, Sean O’Mahony. ‘Is it the same building?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, a lot of it is, just look at those stone walls. A young wit and self-proclaimed ‘local’ quipped over his pint: ‘And there’s some of the same customers as well.’
There was great laughter at this and I, for one, knew that Dad’s laugh was part of the joviality on this special evening which warmed my Waterford heart in so many different ways.
First Published ( without photographs) in the Munster Express, 5/7/2011
A JEWEL OF IRELAND
THE DONERAILE WALK, TRAMORE
October is the obvious month for me to write about one of the jewels of Ireland, Tramore’s Doneraile Walk. My birthday falls in October and it transpires that Mother used to go for walks on The Doneraile, to take advantage of the wonderful sea view, the tranquillity and, not least, the flat terrain in the weeks coming up to my birth in 1957.
I reckon those prenatal walks are at least part of the reason why The Doneraile has such personal appeal for me.
Entering The Doneraile from Church Road, I always get a sense of moving back in time. Sometimes, I’m back with Lord Doneraile in the 18th century, thinking about laying out the private walk leading to Lady Doneraile’s Cove, or the Foyle, sheltered under the cliff and reached by a steep row of winding steps.
I have moments when I’m there after The Doneraile was opened to the public in 1867 and mingling among the crowds in my finery on Regatta Days, watching the boats in the Bay, hearing the bands play and transfixed by the firework displays, as darkness comes.
My childhood days still remain very precious. The Doneraile was so close to Atlantic View, where we lived, and served as a place where we were introduced to the beauty and openness of the sea, the excitement of flying kites and running free. It was also a place where kiddies’ harnesses and piggy backs were the order of the day, until we were deemed old enough not to venture too near the edge of the cliff, especially up by what was then the Garda Barracks, in the old Coastguard Station.
When I came back to live in Tramore in 1985, the Doneraile was as alluring as ever with its changing views of the Bay. However, it also brought me into contact with an unforgettable man, John Farrell, who lived near the Esquire. John loved the Doneraile more than anyone I have ever known and I would also say that he brought more to it than any other person in the modern era.
He was a man who truly cherished the natural beauty of TramoreBayand he saw the Doneraile as the ultimate place to come and savour the views and take in the sea air. He once described the seat at the top of Gallwey’s Hill as ‘the dining room’ in terms of being at home with the sea, but the first wooden seat on the Doneraile was his comfy fireside chair and he wanted nothing more in life than to spend time there with his beloved wife and the ‘regulars’ who came to share his enjoyment.
One of the highlights of going for a walk on the Doneraile from 1985 to the late 1990’s, was seeing the happy twinkle in John’s eyes as he brought laughter with his quick wit and friendly banter. He could read minds and moods as well as he could read the weather and the sea and instinctively knew when kind words or even shared silence, just absorbing the comfort of the ocean, were what were right for the occasion.
My walk on The Doneraile today was as fresh and uplifting as ever. Fuchsia was in full bloom, dangling over the high wall past the little stone entrance.
Sitting down on John’s wooden seat, I was treated to a view of a calm blue sea, golden sand, wild dunes, Brownstown Head in silhouette, and a small red fishing boat making its way out towards the middle of the Bay. Walking on, the Pier, Newtown and the Metal Man beckoned and the familiar sound of tennis balls echoing from the courts above the Doneraile was music to my sporting ears.
I paused at the poignant monument to those who perished on January 30th, 1816, when the Sea Horse was wrecked in Tramore Bay. Up the small incline, and there it was, shining in the sun – the old black collection box for the Coastguard that is like an anchor back to my childhood.
As I was making my way home, a middle-aged couple were sitting on a seat, having a picnic. They were visitors from the Midlands, who discovered the Doneraile five years ago. ‘It’s so peaceful. I could sit here all day,’ the man said. ‘No where else quite like it, is there.’ As I agreed, I knew that Lord Doneraile and John Farrell weren’t too far away!
First Published in The Munster Express, October, 2010
TRAMORE PIER, CO WATERFORD
Tramore Pier has been a source of fascination to me since I was a small child. I went missing one day when I was four and supposed to be tidying up my bedroom. We lived in Atlantic View then and my frantic mother’s first instinct was to rush down Cove Lane to The Pier knowing that I loved being there watching the boats and sitting on the little rock right out at the point where people fish. No, I hadn’t gone to the Pier that day, just crawled into the big cardboard box that housed my teddy bears and fallen asleep.
If the Prom is the public face of Tramore, I would say that the Pier is its local one, though nothing is quite as black and white as that. The beauty of the two is that they watch each other and are joined by the ever changing colours and moods of Tramore Bayand by the magnificent Doneraile Walk. The steep steps from the Doneraile down to Cove Lane signal that there is enchantment ahead. The beautiful wrought iron gate that seems now to lead to nowhere, and which has a long history, and the well, dated 1859, beneath the nest-filled trees leading to the Pier are part of its mystique.
Just as my eyes are being lured by the shapely, sheltering walls of the Pier, the Lifeboat Station, with its porthole window, always seems to call me to one side to whisper its reminder of the wildness of the sea and the many sides of human nature including vulnerability, bravery, altruism and the amazing power of solidarity and teamwork.
What is so enticing about the Pier is the extent to which it changes with the seasons and even the tides. The stark contrast between calm summer evenings and winter nights when the waves are lashing over the Pier is quite remarkable. But perhaps, even more amazing is the difference in summer between the boats lying on a bed of seaweed, as if asleep, when the tide is out, and then buoyantly bobbing at full tide straining at their ropes to take off through the narrow gap of the safe harbour into the open sea.
This summer I came on a side of the Pier that had somehow always alluded me, the human side! I was down taking a few photographs and wondering about the background to the names of all the colourful boats – names like Unavoidable, Survivor, Wet and Wild – when I fell into chat with a couple of men who were soaking up the sun and obviously feeling very much at home. They looked so relaxed and happy, leaning against the wall, shirts off and bronzed, that I asked if they’d mind if I took a photo of them. In the space of a few minutes I was taking photos of a laughing group of four, full of banter about the photogenic nature of their muscled arms and well-fed bellies.
Their invitation to have a coffee with them finally unlocked the mystery of the carefully painted old-fashioned sheds, sporting the names Pirate Tom’s and The Dolphin’s Rest, that had intrigued me for years. That Sunday morning, I found myself sitting on an old deck chair outside the open Dolphin’s Rest, drinking a cup of milky coffee and eating ginger nut biscuits, hearing the story of how the Pier has long been a meeting place for men who share a love of the sea, fishing and boats. As one man put it, the sea is a ‘real leveller, we never know when we’ll need each other. When you’re out there, everyone is equal and we all look out for each other.’
` While a shared love of the sea has drawn these men together, the bonds have extended way beyond that into a web of friendship and mutual support that we’re so often told is not part of men’s culture. Yes, they laugh and joke, but these men know that there is a special tie between them, one that also binds different generations, and that they are part of a circle who are there for each other through both rough and calm times on and off the sea.
There are few places in my world that can bring the wonderful sense of peace and calm that The Pier in Tramore provides. Watching the Pier itself at rest in the evening light brings warmth to the soul.
Posted 18-10-2011. Original Version (without photographs) first published in the Munster Express, 2010.
NEWTOWN WOOD: REMEMBRANCE
Newtown Wood has to be the place which celebrates early winter more than anywhere else in Tramore. Just as the nights are closing in and all the talk is of gloom and darkness, Newtown Wood has its own natural answers.
The trees are shedding their collective canopy of golden leaves to give the sun a chance to shine into the very heart of this precious little woodland, with its long history of beauty, romance and captivated memories.
It’s almost two hundred years ago since the O’Neill-Power family of Newtown House planted the now majestic trees which tower over the gushing stream that winds its way down to meet the sea at the welcoming Cove. For the O’Neill-Power’s, Newtown Glen wood, as it was called, was designed as an avenue from the Metal Man landmark to Newtown Cove. Clearly, the species of trees were carefully selected to give a blend of colour, height and texture that would calm the soul and set the senses alight: birch, silver birch, oak, beech, ash, elder, sycamore, and holly.
Newtown Wood has its own memory bridges. The two wooden bridges, with their simple lattice-work and mossy arms open up a land of enchantment, which has brought hour upon hour of pleasure to children down the years. The delight in a child’s eyes finding small sticks, tossing them into the stream and then rushing to see them journeying downstream under the magical bridges.
Or what about the dens and hideaways built way up off the ‘high path’ when the wood was deserted. We thought we were the only ones, but who is to know how many childhood treasures, in little tin boxes, lie buried deep in the ferny undergrowth of a wood, which has been a secret land of imagination for so many generations of Tramore’s children.
I suspect we were the only children who were treated in Newtown to what Dad called ‘Leaf Chases’. This was an idea drawn from his own childhood days in the wood which was part of the Vandeleur Estate in Kilrush, Co. Clare. He would gather armfuls of dry leaves of every orange and golden hue and leave a trail for us to follow. Invariably, the chase would lead to the Cove where he would give us a lesson in the art of skimming stones. I could never understand how his stones always seemed to skim way out into the Bay as if determined to reach Brownstown!
Old postcards of Tramore highlight the romantic side of Newtown, describing the road above the wood as ‘Lover’s Walk’ and show couples, dressed in 19th century style, strolling arm in arm along the road which has the same flowing contours now as it did then. One can only wonder how many lovers have embraced and kissed over all these years as they wandered down from Lover’s Walk into the privacy of the romantic Glen. Where better to share a kiss to remember forever than on a wooden bridge obviously carved with heartfelt love?
In all the years I’ve been going there, nothing had prepared me for the Newtown Wood I happened on the other night. Setting out in darkness, I suddenly found myself in a wood fully lit by the moon. This was like a nocturnal Newgrange. The moonbeams shone right up the whole path, highlighting the shapely forms of the undressed trees. A light breeze carried the sound of the waves massaging the stones on the shore mingled with the rustling of the dry leaves on the woodland floor and the ever so gentle swaying of the trees above me, which were casting off some of their remaining leaves. These floated like fine snowflakes, harbingers of winter, and landed softly to thicken the carpet beneath my feet. The little bridges stood out of the shadows, watching the glinting stream gliding by, and were solidly poised between paths of past memories and future hopes in this little Woodland of Eden.
Original Version first published (without photographs in The Munster Express, November, 2010)