December 06, 2017
The lonely Cypress stands on top of a rise just across from where Síle and I take our constitutional.
The field in which it stands is called l'Homme Mort in the local GR map- I had no idea why until today.
I posted the picture on Facebook and retired journalist Seamus Martin- who also has a house out here, told me that locals had told him that Protestants who were killed during the 100 years war were not allowed be buried in the catholic graveyard so were buried alone in a field where their friends would plant a Cypress in their memory.
So it is not just a lonely Cypress but a solitary grave.
Cork Christmas Revisited
December 05, 2017
Cork Christmas Revisited
My brothers and sisters and I in the early fifties
Deirdre George Valerie David Fifi Teddy and Martin
We always went to Lotaville for lunch on Christmas day.
Lotaville was my fathers family home, a stately Victorian Villa in Glanmire, overlooking the river Lee about 3 miles outside Cork city.
It was what they call a “Gentleman’s Residence”, in about two or three acres of gardens, including a disused tennis court and large greenhouses where we were allowed pick the delicious black grapes in September.
The house itself was quite large but without a lot of bedrooms, probably about four or five , but these were huge.
It also had a tower built in on one side, a piece of Victorian/Gothic whimsy which could only be scaled inside by a series of ladders, and which the boys were allowed climb after lunch on Christmas day.
The tower at Lotaville
The inhabitants of the house were an odd lot to my young eyes too.
The head of the house (we would always have described a trip there as going to Granny Dwyers) was my Granny.
She was small and round and, as far as I was concerned, permanently cross.
My elder sister remembers someone quite different, someone warm who spoiled her, but, by the time I got to know her life had squeezed most of the joy from her, and, as the seventh child, the best emotion I could expect from her was tolerance.
My grandfather we called Dubs, he and Granny lived totally different lives within this house. Their marriage was endured not enjoyed, it was a type of early Irish divorce.
As well as having his own bedroom, Dubs had his own drawing room, a large brown masculine room with large windows overlooking the river.
This he shared with various small dogs of whom he was very fond.
He was also fond of his grandchildren and I remember always feeling welcome when I entered his room.
Granny’s Drawing room was at the end of the corridor but also looked over the river. In contrast with Dubs room it was feminine and chintzy with carpet and curtains in pale greens and pinks.
Granny shared this room with two other members of the household. Auntie Gill and Auntie Kat.
Auntie Gill was my father’s only sibling and 18 years his junior.
She was at this stage in her mid twenties, unmarried and, even to my eyes strangely old fashioned. I would also have rated her as cross and could see that she was interested only in the older children.
Auntie Kat on the other hand was kindness itself, it was obvious that like the younger children she was tolerated rather than loved and as such there was an unspoken bond between us.
She was a classic maiden Aunt, my Granny’s unmarried sister and she was shared between Granny’s household and that of her younger sister in a farm in Mitchelstown. It was always obvious to me, from the way she used to talk about the farm and the family there, that that was her favoured billet and she enjoyed her stays in Lotaville as little as Granny and Auntie Gill did.
Auntie Kat smoked “like a chimney”, she always had a Woodbine in the corner of her mouth and her cloud of white hair had permanent brown nicotine stain in that place where the smoke ascended.
The other member of the household, and to me much the most interesting was Lena.
Lena was the cook and her kingdom was in the large, dark basement kitchen.
Lena was an old retainer and as I remember her quite lame, she got about with some difficulty using a stick.
This did not stop her doing all the cooking and ruling over the girls who had been brought in for serving on Christmas day with an iron hand.
She was a kindly lady though and would tolerate us children “under her feet” for short periods.
These visits to the kitchen would have to be organised with some skill as it was strictly forbidden to go “annoying Lena” before lunch on Christmas day.
Despite all embargos I can still remember being put by her up on a chair in the kitchen to better see her making the bread sauce for the turkey.
I still have a memory of the delicious smell of the milk infusing with an onion studded with cloves, as Lena grated stale bread with which to thicken the sauce.
The lunch itself was not my favourite part of the day.
For all Lena’s kindness the food was much better at home.
The younger children were put at a small side table and, under orders to behave well, fed apart from the adults.
I can remember a certain amount of jollity at the large table, I can remember the surprise I felt when granny allowed a paper hat from a cracker to be put on her head.
I presume that Dubs would also have broken out of his part of the house and joined us for lunch, even though I have no memory of him being there.
I would hate anyone to think that Christmas day was not a happy day for me.
It was in fact a day full of magic, the lunch in Granny’s being just a formal and perfectly acceptable hiatus in the middle of a joyous day.
Santa Claus, and his stocking were a great source of joy when my eyes first opened on Christmas morning.
I would have lain for hours in the bed, too excited to sleep and knowing that “He” wouldn’t come until I did.
The morning stocking was always filled with cheap toys and sweets and always had a silver wrapped tangerine at the toe.
Unlike other households Santa didn’t provide the main Christmas presents for us.
This was reserved for the “Christmas Tree”
“The Tree” as we called this time was, without doubt the highlight of Christmas day.
After morning mass, for those who were reckoned too young to be allowed up for midnight mass, we had breakfast in the breakfast room which was next to the billiard room.
The billiard room was the biggest room in the house, large enough for a billiard table but as yet not holding one.
There was no decorating done to this room until after the younger children had gone to bed on Christmas eve.
Then it was transformed.
There was a large amount of ceremony attached to “The Tree”
We all had to line up in age at the door to the billiard room.
This was the one time of the year when the youngest took precedence.
Then once we got into the room itself we had to join hands and dance around the tree singing “Here we go round the mulberry bush”
This does sound just a little twee in 2005 but I promise you that in the fifties there was no embarrassment whatsoever.
The tree was put in the middle of the room, decorated with lights and the shiny glass balls which rested for the rest of the year in the attic in boxes.
But it was what was under the tree was what made the magic of this moment.
Here were piled all our presents.
This was what “The Tree” was all about.
Again tradition dictated that you were not allowed pick or open one of your own presents. Anything with “To Martin” on it, no matter how tempting, had to be passed by and one picked out one for George or Valerie.
Eventually you ended up with a sizeable pile of presents in the corner and then there was the excitement of unwrapping and glorying in your new found wealth.
I never remember being disappointed.
Then it was off to Granny’s for lunch.
When we came back from Granny’s we would find the Billiard room again completely transformed this time for Christmas Dinner.
The tree would be re-erected in the bow window in the corner and the floor covered with trestle tables covered with white linen.
To my childish eyes it seemed that these tables were set for hundreds of people but I now suppose that it couldn’t have been more than forty or so.
These would have been members of my mothers large family, and my mother and fathers equally large circle of friends.
There would be various extra staff recruited for the night so, for us children it was difficult to decide where the most fun was going on, in the billiard room or in the kitchen.
In direct contrast to the staid and old fashioned lunch the dinner was a bit of a bacchanalia.
I can remember that we were allowed smoke, yes us 8 to 10 year olds were allowed to puff away!
I can also remember that much drink was consumed by my various uncles.
I have a distinct memory of someone’s paper hat being ignited and then the flames quenched by another uncle with a soda water siphon.
In the meantime there would have also been much hilarity and drink consumed in the kitchen, I can remember a steady stream of uncles and aunts arriving in with bottles to make sure that the “staff” were able to celebrate as well.
Stephens day was “The Wran” and we would be allowed dress up in rags and sing outside our neighbours houses, passing others up to the same tricks on the way.
“The Wran the Wran
The king of all Birds
St Stephens day
Was caught in the furze
Up with the kettle
And down with the pot
Give us our answer and let us begone”
“Knock at the knocker ring at the bell,
Give us a copper for singing so well”
“God bless the mistress of this house
A golden chain around her neck
And be she sick or be she sore
The lord have mercy all the more”
And we would be given lots of coppers and this money, unlike the money we would have collected for carol singing the week before, was for ourselves and so, once we were finished we would divide the spoils and head off to Mr. Sullivan’s shop on the Lower Road for a gorge of sweets.
As you can see it was easy enough to put up with lunch in Lotaville knowing what other treats Christmas had in store for us.
December 02, 2017
November 26, 2017
I have, I confess been entirely remiss about keeping the blog up to date for the last month.
Daughter D and I have been busy putting together a book- well a slim picture book- of le Presbytere- before and after. I will stick up some shots when it arrives.
Kilmacleague- reposted from November 2005
November 09, 2017
Kilmacleague- reposted from November 2005
This was posted in my blog 12 years ago today and is the story of our house in Kilmacleague County Waterford which we owned between 1978 and 1989 when we moved into our restaurant in Mary Street in Waterford.:
Kilmacleague was the first house we actually owned.
Up to this we had been living, happily, in rented houses in various towns in Ireland , England and even France.
This was supposed to be the moment when we finally put down roots.
Of course it wasn’t what our peers were buying into, suburban and semi detached.
Nor was it a romantic old cottage with stone walls and a cottage garden.
Our house in Kilmacleague was a modern,, bungalow bliss, prefab which had been hurled into the middle of a 1 ½ acre site close to, but out of sight of the sea near Dunmore East in County Waterford.
We moved in on Eileen’s second birthday, October the 30th 1981.
Caitriona was 5, and Deirdre was still 15 months away from being born .
Note water in estuary in background. This meant the tide was in.
Mrs. Ashley, the old woman who sold it to us had moved back to England but had asked us to her going away party before she went- “To meet the neighbours”. A good omen. And the good will lasted .
We were to be extremely happy there.
At that stage I was working in Ballinakill House, a small country house restaurant in Waterford, Sile was in Scoil Lorcain, a primary school also in the town where she still teaches.
Buying a house put us financially at the very brink of disaster.
A larger than normal milk bill was enough to push us close to bankruptcy, and if the calor gas ran out of the cooker at an inopportune time of the month we just shifted cooking the tea out into the garden and continued the operation on a fire of twigs. There was no fear of what the neighbours might think of our conduct, we were surrounded by green fields peopled only by cows and the odd fox.
True we couldn’t see the sea, just a brief glimpse of the estuary when the tide was in, but we could hear it booming gently on the nearby back strand and at night the sky was lit by the regular flashing beams from the lighthouse in Dunmore.
The children loved the country from the beginning.
They were a solitary pair anyway. Not particularly gregarious (unlike daughter number three) they enjoyed their own company and wandering through the fields, making potions from wild flowers, and houses under thorn trees.
The house had its problems, every summer our well ran dry and we had long dry periods of being careful not to flush the loo and borrowing baths from friends.
Not having any money meant that we couldn’t afford booze.
This we remedied by concocting various country wines and beers.
I remember that the Blackberry Wine was successful, I also remember the phenomenal hangovers which the Rose Hip gave us.
We made various attempts to conquer the “garden”.
The truth of the matter was that it needed some heavy machinery to tame it, this would have been way beyond our means. We did plant little bits here and there and on occasions would find traces of the old gardens the Ashleys had planted years ago.If you beat your way through the brambles you could sometimes find raspberry canes and blackcurrant bushes still bearing fruit.
Our neighbours were wonderful, kind helpful and generous.
We were never lonely there, even though it was very isolated.
I suppose the main nostalgia for Kilmacleague is that it was there our girls spent most of their childhood.
It is amazing now to remember the days when all three were bathed together
Or when they went of “Tricking or Treating” to our (few and far between) neighbours.
(Deirdre’s costume was a jumper of Sile’s, Caitriona’s school tights and a “Free a Nipper” on her head. She was convinced that she was indistinguishable from a wolf and anxious that she might be too scary for the neighbours)
Even though we never managed to make much of an impression on the garden its very space was a marvellous luxury.
Loads of room for a swing
Or for the two older ones to learn to ride bikes.
Even the adults managed to enjoy themselves
in a ceidhleidh in the kitchen for my 40th in 1989
With Sile's sisters Maire and Una and brother-in-law Padraic on the feadog.
But in late 1989 the prospect of a Restaurant in town raised its head so we decided to pack up and go. It was just getting to the stage that the girls social life was being hampered by living 7 miles out of the town without any public transport. (Except for the Saturday morning bus) and Sile and I were getting rightly sick of being a taxi service.
Sad to go but a perfect house to have a childhood in.
The ubiquitous Ariel View
We often go back for a sentimental wallow.
Caitriona took this picture of the gate earlier this year
November 9th 2005.