Writing this on the Ianrød Eirann train from Kent Station, Cork to Heuston Station in Dublin, after a week of quiet days in West Cork. Well mostly quiet and mostly West Cork, though we began and ended with nights in a hostel in Cork City. Bunk beds and excitable young voices in there, us taking refuge those evenings in the city’s pubs. The Sin É for the music, the history and the new out last year Rising Sons beer, brewed all of 800 meteres away. And the Shelbourne Bar for rare whiskeys we’d never afford and food you could send out for from the local cafés, such a civilised idea.
The train here full of Cork voices. “We’re not used to the trains. I didn’t know you could get on so early.” Train announcements in Gaelic first. Often heard spoken out along the Wild Atlantic Way as the road signs are trying to brand it. Not heard so often in the city and not at all yet on this train other than in the announcements. A welcome sound though. The sound of somewhere else.
“Tell me this and tell me no more?” says another voice. Who then gets herself a fully detailed family history reply including the information that someone’s “gone off to Brazil or is it maybe Tel Aviv?”
The joyous noise of people who love each other’s company, but noise nevertheless after a week of pretty much only talking to each other. A week off all radars. No computers, no iPads, no email, no Twitter and phones mostly off or out of range. Quiet.
We drove down from the high hills in the middle of the peninsula into where we were staying in Allihies, the furthest away village from Dublin in all of Ireland. And a tiny community there we spoke with only a little. Being there mainly to speak with each other. Meeting the shy little girl and her talkative grandmother down on the beach. Her telling us of growing up on nearby and nearly deserted Dursey Island. Asking us the questions everyone else would ask us. “Where are you staying? Where are you from? And when are you going back?” Not unfriendly, just independent.
Staying at Patty Macs, where the cobbler used to live. “Gone these 20 years now but lived to 96 and could still read the paper without his glasses” someone else tells us over by Dursey. His cottage now booked by Sarah Horton through AirBnB. What would Patty think?
Long sleeps and waking up with nothing in particular to do. Even living these lives in Liverpool we more than love, realising how long it’s been since either of us had nothing to do, nowhere to go and the relief of no one waiting for us.
Walking around through cattle farming and copper mining. Finding what leads to where and turning constantly to gaze at the ocean. Looking at the map to see which is this island and that island and which the coast of Kerry? Listening to the rise and fall of the sounds of the wind and our boots and the birds and the waves on the rocks. The soundtrack to a conversation of companionable silences with occasional interludes. “Do you want a Kit Kat? What’s the Latin name for this? Is that a seal pup or an otter?”
Through Limerick Junction on the train home now the conversations continue around us. “They’re not great but they’re grand.”
Meanwhile back in Castletownbere, West Cork (‘Town’ they call it in Allihies) will the Cheese and Olive man’s stall be up? Will Gino’s be open yet? (We were their second ever customers. Good luck!) Some things for certain are that Cathy Harrington will have been baking since early at Jack Patrick’s, Issy will have sold the first ice creams of the day and the ferry over to Bere Island will be well into its relentless to-ing and fro-ing.
Along the quay Sarah Walker will have opened her gallery and studio and may be telling two more curious souls about this painting or that. How she picks out the lines of washing in oils against the West Cork background. Or driving her boys to Bantry for the boxing and sketching them and their coaches in the ring. What else would an artist do?
Then time and again back to Patty Mac’s with nothing to do but make sure we’ve got food for tea and wine for the evening. Music too. And having brought none with us, the pleasures of making do with what’s there. Brian Kennedy, some sacred singing and, best by far, Neil Hannon’s Divine Comedy. “For Absent Friends.” Intelligent, literary, tuney and like a third participant in the conversation some of the time.
Stopped at Templemore now, well across the island. An Teampall Mør. A cup of tea and hot chocolate from the trolley becoming the detritus of travel on the table in front of us. Disposable mugs, plastic tops, stirrers, napkins and empty milk cartons. All that waste for the want and the washing of two cups and two spoons. The waste of the way things are.
Later on the Holyhead Ferry after a cross crossing of Dublin that may give us a laugh one day but not this one, the reading and the quietness of the past few days are resumed. My reading has included one novel about life on Canvey Island and the importance of Wilko Johnson and the rest of the Feelgoods. Then another reflecting on the importance of hermits and others, commenting on society from vantge points slightly and quietly outside it. Quiet.
Quiet times round the kitchen table.
Meanwhile, outside in the here and now we are passing South Stack and the beloved lighthouse, arriving at Anglesey. Miles to go yet but feeling like home.
Not too late though for one final piece of comedy noise. On the train along the North Wales coast a passenger has had the brass cheek to ask the train attendant how many stops ’til their stop at Chester? After no doubt a long day he bellows back, “Quite a lot of stops actually, and you’ll know when we get there!”
We laugh, quietly. These were precious days in West Cork.
And there’s another West Cork post, by both of us, about an inspirational garden – Ilnacullan – we visited for Sarah’s birthday.