Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rainbows

What do you think of when somebody says “Ireland”? St. Patrick, leprechauns and rainbows, right? I think St. Patrick matters more to people in this country than in Ireland, and I don’t think I’ve met a leprechaun yet (although there was this one guy…), but the rainbows are definitely real.

I forgot to mention “green” on that list. Ireland is definitely green, at any time of the year. Why? It rains a lot. Not long stretches of gloomy days, but more like passing showers that don’t last long. If you call up the local weather on your cell phone, it changes about hourly: rain/sun/rain, and so on. And that’s what produces the rainbows. You need sun shining on the rain at the right angle to create them.

I didn’t see a rainbow until I was sixteen. I was walking home from school and got caught in a downpour, but near the end of the walk I looked up and there it was. I didn’t mind that I was soaking wet.

When I first visited Ireland with my husband and daughter, there were rainbows. I wasn’t keeping count, but it was fewer than ten, although that still seemed like a lot to me. And they’d show up when you were least expecting them, like when you were walking down a street it a town and you happened to look up, and there it was.



Then came the Irish trip my husband and I took in 2011. We rented a cottage on a hill in Ballyriree in West Cork (which of course turned out to have belonged to some branch of the Connolly family—that happens to me a lot over there). The kitchen had large windows on two sides. The front of the house faced east, and I could sit at the kitchen table at the back and watch the rainbows appear in the west. Every morning, like clockwork, at 8:30. Look, it’s rainbow time! They’d come and go, as the morning showers moved through. Sometimes they were doubles. Sometimes there was more than one at a time. It was a wonderful free show, and it went on for most of the two weeks we spent there.





But that wasn’t all: the rainbows started chasing us. We visited the townland where my father’s family had lived: yup, rainbows. We’d be driving from somewhere to somewhere else: more rainbows. It became kind of a running joke. Hey, where's the rainbow?

We stayed at that cottage, and one next to it, in following years, but never saw as many rainbows again.

Then came the day when my husband and I first saw what was to be “my” cottage. I was driving, following the estate agent (realtor) along the typical narrow winding roads. In Drinagh we turned off the main road onto one that went up and down and turned corners and went over a bridge and so on, and when we came to a straight stretch I looked up and there right ahead of me was the brightest rainbow I had ever seen. Of course it ended right over the cottage. I figured it was an omen.

Couldn’t exactly stop for a picture, but there will be more rainbows. The dining/everything room at the cottage faces more or less west, so on a showery morning, I can sit at my dining table and watch for rainbows out the big glass doors.




Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Cottage

I first visited Ireland in 1998, spending less than a week there, wedged in between quick tours of England and Wales with my family. We found the places where my father’s parents were born, armed with no more than the names of the county and the townland, which is the smallest division of land in the country. We didn’t know anybody.

That trip changed my life. When we arrived in Leap, a village in West Cork, the first thing we saw was a pub called Connolly’s. We had no reservations for the night, but we scrounged up a room at a bed and breakfast—and the landlady introduced me to her mother-in-law, who had known my Connolly family years earlier. We ended up staying a day longer than we had planned.



After that first trip I kept going back—with my daughter one year, with a friend another year, and quite a few times since. I found a cousin there (again, thanks to that landlady), and she took me to see the last house my Connolly family had lived in, abandoned since the 1950s.

When I began to write, one of the first books I ever finished was set in Leap and a small pub there. That was in 2001. It took a while to find a publisher for that, and it went through quite a few changes, but eventually it blossomed into a series—the sixth book will come out in 2018.

And last year I bought a cottage in Ireland, in a townland called Garryglass (which is Irish for “green garden”), in the village of Drinagh, which has a population of about 500 people—and two pubs. From the back of my property I can see the steeple of the church where my great-grandparents were married, a mile away. On the other side, across a narrow lane, I can see nothing but rolling hills and cows. And it feels like home already.



At the moment I don’t plan to retire there, although I could: it’s a small simple house, all on one story. The taxes are low, and the electric bills are too. I have my own well there. And I have plenty of relatives in the neighborhood! It’s not particularly old—probably built around 1950—but everything works (and things like wiring and windows have already been upgraded). It’s located near a town that I love, Skibbereen, which has shops and an arts center, and good food, and a farmers market that’s been held weekly for centuries. The area is rich in local history, both ancient and modern (Michael Collins was born only a few miles away from the cottage). But it’s also modern, with reliable wifi and satellite television. The best of all possible worlds.

It’s lovely to fantasize about living there, even if it never happens. So far I’ve spent only two weeks at the cottage, in November 2016, but I hope to get there three or four times a year. I want to see Ireland in all seasons. I want to get to know my neighbors, including the cows. And it’s a wonderful place to slow down and unwind—and, I hope, write.