We have approached this holiday with some trepidation. Since the last time we were here, a year ago, the UK and its relationship with Ireland has undergone a significant change. Just what that would feel like, on the ground, so to speak, we weren’t at all sure. In parts of Ireland the British have always been regarded with some suspicion. Hardly surprising given the history of the two countries. Now we have bloody Brexit and it’s possible the wariness might have hardened into something less pleasant. Probably not we told ourselves but we should be prepared. As I said in my last but one blog we’re trying to avoid unpleasantness as we get older so we are hoping nothing has changed at a local level.
Any thoughts that Brexit might be less significant here than at ‘home’ lasted just 10 minutes into the ferry trip when I started to read the ferry’s copy of The Irish Times. ‘British delusion shows why Irish interests lie with EU’, said one headline. The delusion was summed up in this article with the words – If the British believe they can opt out of financial commitments while leaving the EU and then access the single market for nothing, they are on a collision course that is going to end very badly for everybody, but for them in particular. Other articles wrote about the impact of Britain leaving on the border between the North and Ireland and the prospects thereafter for a united Ireland. So despite our probably unrealistic hopes, no respite from bloody Brexit here. We feel like we need to display a sign on our Land Rover, ‘We didn’t vote for bloody Brexit, nor this government’.
We’ve been so disillusioned with the UK this last year we have thought about getting our Irish passports that we are both entitled to courtesy of our parents’ places of birth. But then we thought well, who would want us? A point of view reinforced by a front page article in the same paper, Returning emigrants face ‘culture shock’. It was a report on research (400 people completing an on-line survey) carried out with Irish people returning from abroad and who have found ‘ reintegrating into Irish society was a bigger challenge than many expected.’ Respondents said things like, ‘at times it felt like the country I was born in was making it as difficult as possible for me to move back.’ Others referred to ‘closed and insular’ and ‘patriarchal and conservative’ and ‘feelings of discrimination against their non-Irish family members’. So not much hope for us then, rats and sinking ships come to mind.
So in this sense the holiday was not off to a great start and we weren’t even off the ferry. But then we drove off the ferry into Ireland proper, surely things could only improve? And, yes, they did, we drove to a place called Nenagh and the first of our hotel stops. The photo at the beginning of this blog might give some indication of what an unusual place this is architecturally, first referred to in 1640, the original house being built in 1700 and developed throughout this century into the house (or most of it, other bits being added in the 19th century) you see in the photo. Strangely I’m not going to name it for reasons that may become clear as I write on.
The hotel had no reception, just a key in the door. I walked in and was greeted by a woman wearing rubber gloves. Nothing unusual in that you’re thinking except she insisted on shaking my hands while wearing the rubber gloves and persisted in touching / poking me as she told me about herself (unasked I might say). After a while she said, now I’ve given you your key (she hadn’t) and when Mrs Summerhouse came in, she said I’ve shown your husband your room (she hadn’t but I have included one below to prove we had our own room). So far so very Irish. Would you like a cup of tea and a biscuit? We said we would love one and sat in the lounge and waited, and waited and waited. After half an hour or so Mrs Summerhouse went to enquire the status of our tea. Is it possible she had had to go further than we thought for the tea bags?
Ah no, oh I completely forgot, she said and then, quite bizarrely, said to Mrs SH, ‘well all good things are worth waiting for’, quite an accolade for a cup of tea, then clapped her hands on both Mrs SH’s ears in a fine impersonation of Morecambe and Wise and then gave her a hug. OK, this is Ireland.
But here’s the thing that’s weird, she was American, from New York city, which I think is still part of the USA, and then she moved to Fort Lauderdale (I stopped listening at this point to the other places she lived) and I’m writing a book. I wasn’t going to ask her what the book was about. I’m not surprised she had to leave New York if clapping people unbidden at the side of their head was her modus operandi. The last time we were in New York I don’t remember this being an accepted form of greeting. None of this was a problem, it was just slightly unusual, that’s all.
A little later the chef (a different, very nice lady) insisted on lighting the fire even though I told her not to bother as there was only the two of us plus the pups of course. Chef lit the fire anyway and left the room and the fire went out. I tried to revive it by blowing on it but decided I needed a pair of bellows. Surely a hotel this old would have such a thing, after all we have a pair at home and that’s a much younger house. It did not, but I did find the owner who insisted on reviving the fire which was nice because we learned a lot about the history of the place (now kept going I think by wedding receptions, they have one every weekend of the year until autumn). He left, and although we wanted to go to bed, we couldn’t because he had gone to a lot of trouble to get the fire going (that’s the fire we didn’t want in the first place, you will remember), so we had to sit up with the pups until the fire had decently died down and so, later than usual, we went to bed.
And that takes care of our first day in Ireland. Something of a mixture I think you’ll agree. By the time I get to Friday’s blog we will have been in our holiday cottage for nearly a week, so who knows what exciting times we will have had by then. In the meantime our retirement holiday adventures continue.