I took a stroll yesterday evening, my feet swimming in one of the boys oversized for me, size 11 wellies, down my laneway of Corlandy, and round the corner to Coolnahorna, to the site of the Gullet where the forge and cottage of my Gran-Uncle Maurice and his wife Bridget, their daughter Mary and their little boy Thomas who died aged four, used to be. I have been meaning to stop and literally smell the late blooming roses nestled in the hedgerow among the bamboo for the past week. Roses planted over a century ago, perhaps by a woman named Elizabeth Harris who sold the cottage and land to Maurice, or by Bridget, who certainly tended to them during her lifetime as did my Aunty Bridie. I gather them yearly, remembering all the Quinn’s and the visitors who passed through the half door and enjoyed Bridget’s hospitality. I gather them for their scent and beauty, both of which are sublime, although they will not last long in the vase on my kitchen table. I normally gather them in June or July when they bloom in splendid companionship with a deeper hued pink rose. So last evening’s bouquet may well be a second bloom or just very patient blooms happy to bide their time. They bring me a shot of joy each year they return without fail.
They infuse me with nostalgia and connect me to an array of Quinns, from long ago and not so long ago who are woven into the fabric of my life, who are near and far from me. They remind me of why I love history, everyday histories which are the stories of roses gone wild marking the life journeys of others in their essence.
They bring me back to inside the cottage, through its half door, with its steep stairs , deep
silled, wooden shuttered windows which were a deep toned punk pink in their last incantation,
paraffin lamps and a big open hearth with its’ big wheel bellow which stirred my imagination as I
pretended I was some long lost heroine with her spinning wheel as I hummed and sang the chorus of a school learned folksong song, aptly named ‘The Spinning Wheel’ “Merrily, cheerfully noiselessly spinning, spins the wheel, rings the wheel while the foots stirring, Sprightly and lightly and merrily ringing, Trills the sweet voice of the young maiden Singing.”
My turning and whirring of it, replacing in some small measure, the long since silenced anvil of the forge. The kettle permanently on the crook over the fire. Tae so strong, you could in the words of my Dad ‘trot a pig across it’ from its constant warming by my generous tending of a now furnace like fire. Brown bread, butter and eggs served in silver tin eggcups so fresh, they had barely left the hen. Weeing in a bucket up in the bedroom upstairs, a small low roofed room that always made me feel taller than I was. Being a townie with a bathroom, that bucket with its lid was a source of huge curious interest and delight. The ice-cold water brought from the spring well across the road, daily labour involved in the fetching, we guzzled it as if it was a rare lemonade on tap.
Myself and my sister doing our party piece bit of Irish dancing which may have had a mix of our own concoction of cha-cha cha ballroom dance thrown in, that we had gleaned from the tele. Being
applauded as if we had just staged a forerunner to and an equally well polished form of ‘Riverdance’.
The echo of the stories told and music made, jigs, reels and foot tapping beats from all the gatherings soaking into stone walls of the house and living on in Gran Aunt Bridget’s hospitality. An open house, a special place. I remember it well.
The child of seven or ten years, growing up in 1970’s and early 80’s, had no idea of what a privilege it was to walk back in time in an instance, by just stepping over a threshold. This place was a regular Sunday destination that seemed so far away distance wise to my childish gauge of miles and minutes. I would inevitably be asleep on the back seat of my Dad’s Morris before we got home to our modest corporation house that was in fact only over 20 miles away door to half door. World’s apart, but joined by love, connection and family bonds. I now do this drive, in reverse on newer roads, much much more regularly even that my Dad, my destination being my first home and my Mam, who also tends her beautiful garden roses. I now can walk to the the site of some of my loveliest childhood memories, from my front door, down the boithrín, in the shadow and shapes of the Comeragh Mountains. Revelling in the privilege, that I am now so aware of, in so many ways, to have been here before, in the company of so many and the memory of more met and unmet past generations and to still be here, smelling these roses.