About Me

My photo
Typical Piscean, dreamer, story teller in the tradition of my country, I love to write. I'm not sure that I'm any good at it, but getting the words down has its reward.

10 April 2014

The Little Dresser

There she sits in polished splendour, reclining against the wall of the dining room.  A plain, brown, wooden dresser. Diminutive in size but very dainty.  She came to live with us last Friday and, after a good polishing with Nugents Brown Shoe polish with carnauba, she is gleaming like the best quality antique. The LBD is 142 years old, we know this for a fact.

OH's Godmother, Catherine, died at the age of 93 in 1968, and because she was my Mother in Law's aunt, we know her parents were married three years before she was born, their second of three children.  Catherine arrived eleven months after her brother Peter was born, and two years before John, and their sister Margaret followed not long after that.

We know that Catherine's parents married in 1872 and that Michael made all the furniture for his and his new bride's home, including the LBD.  In its day Catherine's mother kept a willow pattern bowl of eggs on the dresser, a jug of milk, and various ornaments.  Plates, cups and saucers dwelt behind its doors.  Her best pearl handled knives and forks resided in one side of the drawer, in the other side her everyday cutlery.  Her proudest possession, the knives had been a wedding present from the brother and sister she had been housekeeper to. 

The little brown dresser as she looks today in our house

We know her employer was a local doctor and his frail sister lived with him, but, from family tales, apart from sending to London for the latest fashions, and drinking port wine, his sister did little else and so they employed a housekeeper.

Margaret was 38 when she married 42 year old Michael. No doubt she had been told that she was past her last prayers and that she was lucky to be employed as a housekeeper.  Bachelor Michael met her when his father died, whose smallholding he inherited.  Love struck and in 1874, 1975 and 1877 Peter, Catherine and John were born.

Peter married a lady from Longford named Bridget, and they became Catherine's neighbours.  John married and moved into town.  Catherine inherited the small holding, never married and enjoyed life to the full.  She divided her time between entertaining her brother John's children and trying to work out why Peter's daughter Margaret was so spoiled.  There was a lifetime of antipathy between them.

In the course of time, Margaret married a man from "up-the-country", they met at a Hallow e'en bonfire.  They had two children, a boy and five years later, a girl, the image of her mother.  "The Boy", as Catherine called him, was the apple of Catherine's eye.  He took after her father, she proudly told everyone. He spent hours with her on long winter evenings, drawing pictures in the ashes he would pull out onto the hearthstone of the big inglenook fireplace. Before he went home at night, Catherine handed him a brush and a cup of milk.  One to tidy the hearth, the other to give him strength to walk the quarter mile to his home.

He left home at 17 to work in Dublin, Catherine's caution ringing in his ears "eat well and buy a good black suit".  He also bought a motor bike on which he would take Catherine, then aged 90, for a gentle spin on quiet country roads.  She frequently bitterly complained that he "drove too slow".

Upon her death, her dresser was given to "The Boy" and his mother made room for it in her kitchen.  Over the next 46 years it made a home for a multi-coloured plastic hen, two pictures of Our Lady of Knock, various hooks were screwed into its side to hold keys.  In behind its doors bottles of Johnny Walker, Paddy, Guinness and Layers Pellets were housed.  It bore all stoically.

"The Boy"s mother passed away a few years ago.  His sister inherited the house and fulfilled her long held dream to do a makeover on it.  Because the little brown dresser didn't come from Ikea, she moved it to an outhouse in January.

Last Friday the little brown dresser made the longest journey of its 142 year old life to Dublin; to the house we live in, built by my Grandfather who was, like Catherine, born in 1875.

The little brown dresser sits snugly against the dining room wall, the plastic chicken is but a memory.  Once again she glows, willow pattern stands proudly on her enhancing her rich patina.

I like to think that Catherine's love shines through, after all she and her mother polished the LBD with beeswax every Saturday morning for many years.

Last night I watched "The Boy", now aged 66, lay a hand briefly on the dresser as he made his way to our kitchen.  I know that a prayer went up for Catherine, along with that contented smile.

08 April 2014

60 in Kerry Part 2

The morning of my birthday, Thursday was a day drenched in sunshine, albeit there was a tax of a thin bitter wind coming in from the east.  I was up bright and early sitting in the kitchen with a large cup of tea.  I love on Spring mornings to get up earlier than the family and relax with a cuppa and look out over the garden at home.  Here I watched the cows from the farm next door meander out from the milking parlour and wend their leisurely way down the lane to the fields.

I'm a dairy farmer's grand-daughter, and the bovine lure is strong.  I have little tolerance for sheep, especially the dimwitted one's who live on the Connor Pass on the road to Dingle.  As a child YD termed them "Woolly Jumpers" and not without some accuracy.  They, full fleeced and grazing the long acre, jump out from behind rocks onto the road in front of oncoming motorists.  In my childhood the Connor Pass was treacherously narrow and the low walls in permanent state of decline.  As OH complained on this trip, Kerry County Council has had a burst of health and safety concerns, and the road is now wider.  All the thrill of imagining oneself as James Bond on high mountain curves has gone.  Reginald Molehusband lives!

One by one the family emerged from their warm cocoons under duvets in Egyptian cotton covers; presents were given with hugs.  I am spoiled.  That's the long and the short of it.  They know me so well.  I love vintage and was not disappointed. 

 OH cooked the full Irish, and it was hilarious to hear him fuss around a strange kitchen.

After a leisurely breakfast, and a lot of laughter we prepared to head out to Slea Head.  I had promised myself a very long time ago that no matter what my station in life on my 60th birthday, I would be at Slea Head on my 60th.  Just as we were about to depart, Myra [Myra Daly] the owner of Courtyard Cottages, arrived down with a birthday present for me.  A lovely candle to light my celebration.  Myra and her husband Derry are a lovely couple who make you feel very welcome and at home.

Never mind 40 shades of green, Kerry shows us 40 shades of weather

Bob the Ruffled Herring Gull

We arrived, via the Connor Pass and a "woolly jumper" who narrowly missed us just below the waterfall.  Not only did we arrive, but a strong wind and heavy shower chased us too.  Still, it couldn't dampen my spirits and it was wonderful to watch the dramatic changes in the weather as the rain came in from the Atlantic, passed over and left everything looking wonderfully well washed.  Bob the seagull's feathers were a bit ruffled by it all, but a handful of crumbs soon soothed his ire.  It takes a seagull to perch on a low wall, three stories above the water, in a rain lashed gale and still look implacable.

We sat in the car overlooking Slea Head and Dún Chaoín as it was too windy to get out.  We had brought a light picnic with us.

The headland where the set for "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed.  It still annoys me that the set was not kept by the local people.  David Lean had offered it to them and it would have been a very valuable asset from a tourism perspective.  There is little, today, to mark where this beautiful film was shot, but Robert Mitchum is still remembered with affection by elderly local people.  

After our picnic we drove on towards The Marioch, Ventry and Feohannagh.  We stopped off in Ballyferriter to pay a quick  facility visit.  In Murphy's pub we were treated graciously although we were not stopping for a pint or a sandwich.  We shall be visiting Murphys in Ballyferriter when we return in September, and for lunch this time. Because I thought there mightn't be many places open in this area, as the season didn't open for another week, I had suggested a picnic. The smell of the food in Murphy's was tantalising and the huge blazing fire tempting but we had miles to go yet. 

We snuggled up in front of a roaring fire
and chatted over a glass or ? of Merlot

We returned home to Blennerville and The Courtyard to find it a hive of activity.  The gentleman who lived in the bungalow across from the CC had passed away suddenly.  Originally from the North of Ireland, he had settled in Tralee.  Myra had offered the use of the parking area to his family.  There was a huge funeral on Saturday as we were leaving, he was a popular man in the town and involved in many local sports activities.  

[the friendliest collie in Kerry]

Dinner in The Earl of Desmond Hotel, Ballyseedy that night was wonderful and I voted this the best birthday in a long time.

We left on Saturday morning for Cork to visit my last remaining aunt.  Even then Kerry threw more weather into the pot.  High on the mountains there was snow.  We had visited Brandon Point on Friday and had watched the squalls ride in from the west, across the mountains, drifting snow like icing sugar across their tops.  Baurt Regaum, Guivnageela, and the rest of the Slieve Mish were stunning in their beauty.  By Saturday morning as we headed up through the Killarney mountains on route to Cork the snow had fallen more heavily and was further down the slopes.  As YD remarked "It's like Switzerland at home".

We stayed in
The Courtyard Cottages, Greenway, Blennerville, Tralee, Co. Kerry 
Telephone: 353 667 124494
[prop. Derry & Myra Daly]

We shopped in
Loramar Gift Shop, Lower Rock Street, Tralee 
Kelliher's Hardware, Lower Rock Street, Tralee               
Dan Fitzgerald's, 4/6 The Mall, Tralee.

03 April 2014

The 60 in Kerry Project or Four seasons, Oilcloth and a Wonderful time!


“Mother of divine…, wudja  looka dat, oh Blessed Mother…!” The nasal inner Dublin accent rose in horror and heads turned in MacDonald’s as the seventy something grandmother and what was obviously her seed, breed and creed of a family sat looking around them.

 OH, YD and I were in Tralee at last.  I had always promised myself from an early age that I would celebrate my 60th birthday in my Father’s home town; and here we were, late in arriving but there and grabbing a Makky D because, this being Ireland, and St. Patrick’s week end, the restaurants in the town had seen fit to close at 7.30 or earlier on Saturday night  Anywhere else would have the place hopping with places to eat, but no, my beloved Tralee was seeing to it that OH and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary with…burger and chips.  Well, mostly chips for me, because of the gluten free aspect of my life.

We had just sat down in MacD’s – the old reliable and only open eatery that night, when our peace was shattered by the sudden discovery by Ma Potts that people in Kerry do not wear the Dublin football colours as a matter of course, they tend to favour green and gold if wearing sporting apparel.  The heart of the rowl, no doubt in her own inner city area of Dublin, this lady was obviously in for a shock.  It says a lot for the Kerry tolerance that she didn’t raise a row with her comments.  I think they took pity on her poor son who was valiantly trying to shut her up with “shur-up Ma, yer not in Dubblin now, Ma, will yiz fekin give over”.

“Are yew fekin speekin to me yer mudder?” the matriarch querously asked in stentorian tones.  “Yer poo-er mudder who raised yiz wivouh a fekin penny to her na-um, and she widowed dese forty yeerz!” she continued.  “Yeh fekin ungrateful whelp ya, yiz were glad o me penshun when yiz cudden afford yer fancy forrun holidee.”  She puffed herself up portraying a study in aggrieved, hard done by, widowhood.  It wasn’t getting her very far with the family bcause “our Arlene”, all six years of her and Holy Communion dress with tomato ketchup stains down it, was not behind the door in passing comment. “Didden I tell ye Da she’d make a holy show uv uz?”   Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and then down her dress, Arlene was as aggrieved with her Granny as her Granny was with Darren the couch potato son. 

Eventually Ma was brought under control by Darren and Wendy his wife.  In the course of twenty minutes we got the whole family history, financial status, and the fact that Darren and Wendy were used to travelling to Spain for “conkinental” holidays but Darren being unemployed – as indeed was Wendy – apparently Ma’s offer to fund St Patrick’s week end in Tralee had been eagerly grabbed.  Ma, however, was not one to hide her opinions behind her hand, and the “fekin mountains” which were too high, the “weird accent” of the locals and the fact that she had decided that the receptionist in the hotel was looking down on her because she had called her Madam had led to Ma taking full verbal flight.  Verbally.  With verbosity and neither Darren nor the entire Cup winning Kerry team would, she asserted, make her shut up any time soon.

We left them to their own devices and headed on for The Courtyard Cottages in Blennerville where we had booked our cottage for the week.  We had stayed in Derry and Myra Daly’s lovely holiday homes before and it was like a home coming.

Up bright and early on Sunday morning, OH and I headed in to Tralee to Mass at The Dominican priory.  While OH, I have no doubt, said his prayers, my mind wandered back to the days when, as a child, my Father’s mother would lead us all up the main aisle, nodding a greeting here and there, as, with tremendous piety, she genuflected and took her seat in the pew.  Many a puck she gave me between the shoulder blades for not genuflecting properly and when my first cousins would be staying with her at the same time, the giggling was, as they would say in Kerry, mighty!

Time and tide may have brought Tralee into the twenty first century with it’s out of town shopping malls, T K Maxx, Home Focus, Tesco, Woodies, and all the other “anchor tenants” of these places notwithstanding, there are some things that never change.  Maybe it is part of the national character that, regardless of whether a person is dressed in a genuine 60’s suit that he bought circa 1960, or a 2014 version of a 1960’s vintage suit, people who didn’t grow up with Home and Away and Friends, have their own ethnic authenticity.

There, at Mass, were people who were instantly recognisable because their forebears attended the same mass in the same priory in my childhood.  The local solicitor, probably a bachelor living at home with the mammy.  The modern version of him didn’t use brasso to dye his hair, but dye he did. A dark burnt orange horseshoe ring around his head.  Dandruff a thing of the past now that Head and Shoulders had found its way into Irish bathrooms.  Shoes gleaming and a crease in his trousers that only a loving mammy could achieve.  The seventy year old lady, aubergine chenille scarf, purple wool coat, lilac trousers and black gloves, elegant as her own mother probably was, but the 21st century addition was a pair of white Adidas runners.  Her silver hair beautifully cut and peeking out from under a lavender felt cloche hat.  The day was bitterly cold, but she was snugly caressed by warm clothes and sturdy footwear against all elements.

The one thing I was determined upon for this break was relaxation.  No running around to visit the cast of thousands of relatives [or so it seems when you want to head for Dingle].  No up at ungodly hours in the morning to get to here there and everywhere.  I had a specific agenda.  Whatever the weather I would be out at Slea Head on my birthday.

 I was not going near Killarney, I can’t stand the place.  I wanted to sit and watch the clouds play over the Slieve Mish Mountains from Brandon Point, and OH and YD were willing participants in my Grande Plan.  ED would be joining us later in the week, and as she would live out at Slea Head, given half a chance, no issues there either.

By way of relaxation on Sunday we headed for Ballyseedy and the garden centre there.  The fact that it has a large Meadows and Byrne shop too was possibly an attraction.  It is twice the size of my local Meadows and Byrne, so the possibilities were interesting.  In the event, we were waiting for parking for half an hour, OH’s not endless patience was beginning to fizzle out when we finally got a spot to abandon the car.  An hour later and a lovely pale grey with cherry blossom patterned oilcloth wended its way back to the car.  We rounded off the evening with some lemon and garlic chicken, a glass or two of a very nice white wine and a blazing fire.  Sitting and chatting while a gale howled around the mountain tops.

On Monday we decided to forgo the St Patrick’s Day parade.  I’m not hugely impressed with him anyhow.  St Declan and St Otteran to mention but two had already brought Christianity to Ireland before Patrick came to herd sheep.  It was well established here before him, but he had the better PR firm looking out for him.  We sauntered up to Ballyheigue and watched the surfers making the best of high rolling waves.  After lunch, the lure of Slea Head was too strong, and we headed out via Annascaul to Dingle.  We didn’t stop in the South Pole Inn, it was raining and cold out so we stayed snug in the car.  Tom Crean who accompanied Shakelton to the South Pole is well remembered here.

On Tuesday YD had to travel to Dublin overnight on business, but we were looking forward to her return the following night with ED in tow.  OH and I meandered around the town doing a little shopping and after a very filling steak for me and bacon and cabbage lunch for him in Gally’s Restaurant, we drove out to Castlegregory and sat and watched with wonder the splendour of the Atlantic rollers coming in towards us.  Teal and white, with wine coloured sand from the local sandstone, and a grey sky.  If we had demanded dramatic effects, we couldn’t have been better served.  It was awesome.  That evening we treated ourselves to a meal in Keane’s pub in Curraheen.

I broke my own rule on Wednesday and we called in for a chat and a cup of strong tea to an elderly relation of my Fathers.  The craic, as the saying goes, was mighty.  Maura in her 90th year, was amazed to discover that “the little one”, as she used to call me when she visited my Grandmother, was now 60.  I hope I look as good as her if I see 90.  She’s sharp as a pin and if arthritis has taken its toll, she wears it with dignity.  OH loves these sort of visits.  Although he is a country man himself by birth, he hails from a different part of the country.  Kerry is not called the Kingdom for nothing.  The people are different, the land is magnificent, home to the highest mountains in Ireland. Carraunthouill is the highest mountain in Ireland.  Even 800 years of occupation could not dim the Kerry spirit.  I am immensely proud of my Kerry ancestry.  It is this ancestry which moves me to write my short stories.  As my Grandfather used to tell his children Glor na Gael [the glory of the Irish] is strong in the people of the Kingdom of Kerry.  I am a mixed bag on my maternal side with Dublin, Sligo and Wicklow blood in my veins, but it is Kerry that stirs my soul.