Monday 8 September 2014

Glenmore, a few miles outside Cobh

This is where I began my Irish sojourn forty years ago today-ish in the large recessive house just behind the beach, which, as a look through the front door told me when no one answered the bell, entirely resembles my memory of it. My instincts in choosing it, or rather a wing of it, were infallible. On the brink of starting my own, I needed to know a house, someone else's house, that had settled into itself and would stay there: a muted runner down the hall, brass signs on the doors announcing Drawing Room, Dining Room, a table lamp lit by the phone.

Was the oil refinery there in 1974, perhaps smaller, is that what I saw when I went down to the beach – a generous word for a short stretch of rock, grit and seaweed – overwrought with the move I'd made? For the first few weeks, lying on the beach, sitting on the grass that led down there, I was sure I'd left something behind, something crucial. Brave quiet days, Quaker, like the family who lived there, Bill, Daisy and their children, plus Aunt May who collected carragheen moss on the beach, and Aunt Lilian who regularly forgot her dinner on the stove. There was a foghorn, now silenced, I think.

I packed a sandwich, a bottle of redcurrant cordial, and I'd need a book, perhaps. Not the French Romantic poets whom forty years ago I was unwillingly rereading in order to teach them (not my choice). What else did I read? Four Quartets? Too portentous. 'Garlic and sapphires in the mud.' 'We are here to pray where prayer has been valid.' Passionate but too discordant for a harbour beach in September in 2014, even during an Indian summer. Between the acts, my copy dated forty years ago.  That will be atmospheric reading candy. I must have bought it before I came here, in a rush of defensive purchasing including a dark green sou'wester and Tommy, A rock opera.Virginia Woolf could have stayed here. No oil refineries then. No uncertain smells. No discarded beer cans or poisoned small fry among the seaweed. She would have retreated to the beach and amassed yellow shells and blue glass, as I did. She might not have picked watercress from the stream that flows into the beach, into the sea, a little way east of here.

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