Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Gate in Garryglass

I haven't had a chance to post lately, due to deadlines and events and life in general, but now I've booked flights for next month and I'm getting excited. I wanted to report on one small piece of the renovations (I'll spare you the pictures of the new drainage system!), and why I want to save the front gate.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook have read about my very energetic Irish caretaker Diarmuid (the Irish for Dermot), and his ambitious plans for the cottage, including building a sunroom in the front and gifting me with a “feature,” which is apparently a boulder the size of a small car, and that he’s eager to get rid of. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve never been the proud owner of a giant rock, much less an Irish one, so why not? (As long as he’s the one who’s moving it!)

Recently I wrote a post on FB and asked whether I should keep the front gate and gateposts or simply eliminate the whole package and fill in the gap (to make room for Diarmuid’s sunroom, apparently). The overwhelming response from readers was to keep the gate (over 100 responses, and fewer than five voted against the gate), for a variety of reasons. That’s what I wanted to do from the start, until Diarmuid came up with his own idea, and I’m glad so many people agree with me.

But the discussion made me think about why Irish houses have gates at all, because they often don’t do anything except sit there. I came up with multiple answers. One is: West Cork is a dairy region, and there are a lot of cows, which periodically must be moved from one pasture to the next. Sometimes a cow will stray from the herd and end up where it shouldn’t, like in your back yard. 

A cow paid me a visit
Another: if a house lies on a busy road (Irish urban houses tend to be built close to the road), a wall with a gate provides some sense of privacy and protection, and defines the boundaries of the property.

Right on the main road
But often the gate doesn’t serve any practical purpose. So maybe there’s a more subtle question: does a front wall and gate convey a sense of status? Dignity? Importance? Often when driving around near a town, in what might be called a suburb, I will pass a relatively new house (maybe less than fifty years old) with a gate in front, at the edge of the road. Notice that I say “gate” and not wall with gate, because many of these gates are free-standing and don’t keep anything out. At best they signal “Enter Here.”

I’d offer you a picture of the former Connolly home in Knockskagh, built in 1907, but it was abandoned in 1956 and no one’s lived in it since, so it’s kind of falling down. 

The Connolly home in Knockskagh, built in 1907
But I can show you the house next door, from more or less the same era, where my great-aunt lived with her husband, and its gate is holding up much better. As you can see, there’s a nice sturdy pair of gateposts and a wall across the front that doesn’t serve much of a purpose, and few people pass by to admire it (only cows and a few sheep).

So what is this fascination with gates in Ireland all about? I think it’s symbolic. There is a kind of psychological transition when you pass through the gate posts, even if they wouldn’t keep out a rabbit. It’s interesting that this same response seems to come from Americans (or at least, American FB readers who follow me) as well as local people.

So I’ll be keeping my gate, which may involve some wrangling with Diarmuid, since he’ll be the one who will be pouring the concrete for the new steps. And I may have to hunt down an ironworker (or aluminum worker?) to make me a new gate, or maybe find a salvage yard. But that’s part of the fun of the place--and I get into some of the most interesting conversations that way!

Bonus picture: my back neighbor's
new ducklings, born last month