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.