Sunday, February 05, 2012


Rathcoffey House by DavidSoanes
Rathcoffey House, a photo by DavidSoanes on Flickr.

As I made coffee on Sunday morning I was vaguely aware of an itch on the index finger of my right hand. As my head cleared and I became more fully awake, the why of it came to me......the nettles!

Saturday had been a beautiful day and I wandered around in the garden, pulling weeds here and there. By the front door I bent  to pull one weed, then drew my hand back in alarm, thinking it looked an awful lot like the nettles back home when we were young, just more compact.

Couldn't be, I thought. Too small, and besides, I've never seen nettles growing in Florida before. So I pulled it up and instantly felt the sting! I was right! It was a nettle. Wish I'd gone with my hunch!

Just like that, I was back at home, walking along the river bank with The Blister. She had humoured me by bringing me out the country to a part of the River Shannon our parents used to take us to for Sunday walks. I had never been back as an adult and  was delighted to see that it was as lovely a place in real time as it was  in my memory. We walked  for a while under the trees along the riverbank path, but off in the distance my eyes were drawn to the ruin of an old manor house standing alone on a slight rise, boarded up windows staring out disconsolately at the heedless world, in which it no longer played the vital role it must once.have had. 

Ignoring the dilapidated No Trespassing sign, we climbed over a barbed wire fence, veering away from the river and across the field towards the house.

"You're going to get us both in trouble," the Blister said as I peered through a gap in one of the boards. I'm not sure what I was hoping to see.  Ghostly "genthry" sitting around the table? Coweb-encrusted antiques standing around, waiting for their long-dead owners to return? There certainly was no shortage of cobwebs, but only vague shapes were discernible in the gloom, and my imagination could have persuaded me they were anything I wanted them to be. 

Disappointed that we couldn't get a better look inside, we circled the square mass of the house. There was no way in, and my interest in finding one was making the Blister very uneasy. My family tell me I romanticize Ireland. They tell me the Ireland I remember is gone. But it's there in my head. It's there in old manor houses like this one. And every time they knock one down and pave it over, and build another housing development, they rip a page out of the area's history, bury the lives and stories of generations who lived there under the concrete. This kind of thinking makes the Blister slightly impatient with me. Soppy Yankified thinking. But I used to think like this when I still lived there. How many times, on drives around the country, did I go into a sulk because my mother wouldn't stop to let me traipse across the fields to have a closer look at some old ruined castle or falling down stately home? Piles of rocks, she called them. I'm glad that some, at least, of these "relics of auld dacency" have been restored to new life as Manor House Hotels.........

We continued walking away from the river. We passed the walls of the kitchen gardens, surprisingly intact. I know, just from living with The Bean, from whom I absorb such information through my pores, even when my ears are not listening, that the walls surrounding such gardens probably provided little micro-climates where vegetables, fruits and herbs that would not normally grow in Ireland could be pampered and coaxed along, protected from the elements, so that The Five Percent could enjoy fresh and delicious produce, while the rest of the populace existed on spuds.

We found ourselves walking down an overgrown driveway. We walked and walked, deep in conversation, laughing for sure, because she always makes me laugh and see things from a quirky angle..............And suddenly, looming up before us was the gate to the estate. And on the other side of the gate a narrow country road, overhung with trees. We could find our way back to the car on the riverbank by walking along this road.....surely?

But first we had to get to the other side of the gate. Easier said than done.

First of all, the gate was an old iron, Gothic-looking affair, at least six feet tall, with pointed metal spikes all along the top. Neither of us felt inclined to climb over it and risk impaling ourselves on those spikes! Secondly, a very high, mossy stone wall stretched away on either side of the intimidating gate. Thirdly and not least in importance, the gate was padlocked, and the lock looked pretty rusty. But, most intimidating of all was the lush crop of eye-high nettles growing thickly in front of, and barring access to, the gate!

We were overcome with mirth at the improbability of our situation. But the Blister is a woman of action. She looked around for a stick with which to beat down the nettles, which brought on more gales of laughter, possibly tinged at this stage with just a hint of hysteria. There were no decent sticks on offer. The twigs that were, were  totally ineffectual, like jousting with noodles....

While we were alternately beating nettles and gasping with laughter, thinking only cows in neighbouring fields could hear us, we heard, between our gasps, the unmistakable murmur of human conversation. Hushing our noise, we stood on tiptoe and saw two heads bobbing along on the other side of the wall. We would be in full view when they reached the gate. It was pointless to duck or try to hide. So there we were, two middle aged women, trapped behind a wall of nettles, behind an iron gate, looking sheepish, when a man and his wife hove into view. . We couldn't just stand there, tapping our toes until they passed, before resuming our assault on the nettles.. We owed some kind of explanation, no matter how lame, to these two startled locals, out for their evening stroll. Reassured that we were somewhat normal and not a pair of looney bin escapees, they tried to be helpful, though obviously amused by our predicament. The man was carrying an umbrella, a prudent move on any walk in Ireland as one never can tell when the heavens will open. Against our protestations, he urged us to take the umbrella to assist in the battle. We assured them we would be fine now that we had such a stout weapon. They bid us good luck and good evening and continued on their walk. It's a well known fact that an Irishman can spin a good yarn out of the flimsiest of materials. We took comfort in knowing that, though he'd lost an umbrella, our benefactor gained the makings of a great story for the next time he stopped in at the local pub.

We did eventually beat enough of the nettles into submission to be able to reach the wall and climb over it, back into our humdrum, middle aged lives, unstung.   


Molly said...

Apologies to Jen and Marlene who pounced while I was still tinkering with this! I couldn't figure out how to save your comments.....sorry!

Calvin said...

Sorry Molly but as I may one day choose to run for President of the USA, I can't be associated with criminal trespassers and nettle abusers.

But seriously, I enjoy your romantic view of all things Ireland and tales of your spunky adventures.

One question: If you call your sister "The Blister", what does she call you?

P.S. Your word verification won't let be comment as "lone grey squirrel" on openid.

Thimbleanna said...

Hmmm, something is very funny with your posts, coming from google reader. I saw this wonderful post the other day and came over to comment but it wasn't here. (But now it is and what an enjoyable read -- and the picture is perfect!) And now the same thing has happened -- a new picture that isn't here -- it must be coming?

And now, I must go dream of going to Ireland!

Isabelle said...

Ah, isn't it great when you can do things without embarrassing your children?

Pauline said...

Ha! Even a transplanted Irish(wo)man can spin a good yarn if she's nettled enough ;)

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

It's only natural to want to peer in the windows ! Miss Haversham probably got it all the time .

Molly said...

Calvin---If you'd ever been stung by a nettle you'd have fewer reservations about abusing them!

Anna---Flickr seems to have changed how you get photos onto your blog.... With my limited skills, it goes straight to "publish." And I scramble quickly to "revert to draft" but, obviously, not quickly enough! The second picture was of a rusty gate and I gave up in frustration! Next time I go home for a visit I'm going to stock up on photos of rusty gates as there is a serious shortage of same [at least the kind I had in mind] on Flickr, and a multitude of wonderful ones in Ireland.

Very liberating indeed Isabelle!

Some would call it blathering Pauline....or "rawmaish" [a phonetic rendering of the Irish word for "rubbish!"]

S&S---If only one could travel back in time to peek in when there was life in the place!

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