All our moments are filled with such richness; a wealth that can constantly tapped into; a means for transformation. The senses, should we choose to acknowledge them, surround us with fragments from the current place and time in which we dwell. Yes, there are those who do not take notice of the here and now and choose, instead, to make the journey, blinkered, race-horse fashion, and racing toward a destination set by others–their loss, but I digress…again. Over this rich tapestry of the moments at hand, our own consciousness layers in memories and values; a context, no, a scaffold on which to attach the present to the past. That sense of self, though, is such a fickle, fleeting thing. That which on one day seems so clear, so solid, so real may drift away, subsumed, perhaps by either new events or pushed aside by the ever-changing array of needs and wants; the ebb and flow of daily life that often just carries us along.
For several days now, as, with Josephine and Lesley, I’d explored places not seen in at least 37 years I had continually been struck by the notion that things I’d assumed to be at least somewhat familiar, were no so. This over-riding thought; this doubtful sense of reflection had been casting something of a shadow over every experience.
Or perhaps it was just the weather. Before making the trip to Ireland we had been enjoying the warmest summer in St. John’s that any of us could recall. Since landing in Dublin, though, things had decidedly cooled off. It was not bad, mind you, just a few degrees cooler–a blessing maybe; a break from the oppressive heat we’d had back home–but each day carried with it the potential for rain. Today, in Cork, our second day here, things were no different
The bus to Blarney was mostly full but the ride did not seem all that long. It was not terribly scenic—mostly narrow streets lined with nondescript homes, one after the other, and a shop here and there. The final stop was routine, just part way down a hill on a drab street. Not what you’d expect for what has to be one of the biggest tourist draws in the country!
But then we rounded the corner and I saw the Inn. A memory flashed back. “Hey, I remember that place! We used to go upstairs for treats whenever we’d visit Blarney. It’s still there and just like I recall it!” Perhaps my memory wasn’t quite so bad after all.
We skirted around the green and made our way to the park entrance. The fee, €34 for the three of us, wasn’t too bad. Two bus tours had pulled up just behind us when we were paying so we walked a little faster, recalling what both the taxi driver and the barman at Henchy’s had said about the lineups.
You don’t see the castle right away. The grounds around the castle are spectacular, arguably the real treat–plants of all kinds. The grounds are ancient and have been well-kept for centuries. The trees in the park are tall; mature and carefully placed. They mostly obscure the castle as you go in. Once you cross the little brook, though, things open up and all of a sudden there it is.
We want straight to the castle entrance. It was a good thing we had done that as the lineup behind us quickly expanded way out past the entranceway. They say there are 100 steps to the top. I have no idea but I do know that we made the ascent slowly owing to the crowds. It was a strange lineup but in some ways a fortunate one as we all got to have a good close look around. Rough rocky walls, marked here and there with graffiti but the steps were worn smooth. Worn not so much by the feet of the soldiers and families of nobles who had lived here in the past but, much more likely worn by the millions of tourists who had made the same trip: up one side, across the battlements, “Want to kiss the stone?” then herded back down the other side.
History. Visions of the life of a noble? Best place in town! But still, cold, rough and far too high. Give me a smaller house back in the village any day. And what of the real history? If it’s about the people; about a quantifiably huge shared human experience then the real story has to be about the incredible number of tourists who have come by here for a few photos, a chance to kiss an ancient, fabled, stone and maybe purchase a few trinkets.
Ah, finally the top. “I’m not kissing it. I already did, many years ago.” Besides, if the locals could graffiti on those stone walls, what else might they have done with the stone, just for a lark? Lesley, too, was not so sure. She, too, hung back. Kissing the stone is not exactly a pleasant or easy task. It is set low so you have to lie down on your back with two people holding you on and then lean back your neck, then creak it forward to kiss the hunk of limestone. At least now there’s a few iron bars so the worse than can happen these days is a broken neck if you slip down on them as opposed to…
It has to be great to be the groundskeeper. If you are then you get to live at Blarney house. Funny, after all the times I’d visited the place I simply do not recall having seeing it before. Too bad we were too late to go in. We arrived around 2:10 and found that it had closed ten minutes earlier. No bother, though, the grounds were spectacular. I was particularly fond of the poison garden. I recall none of it from previous memory.
On the way back we crossed the green and made our way to the inn. I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with a familiar place.
It did not happen. The restaurant was not on the upper floor, as I thought I’d remembered it. It was really a more traditional pub located on the ground floor. Familiar in the way all pubs are but, again, nothing like I recalled. The food was good though. Was it always that way?
St. Patrick’s street was the end of the line for the bus back to Cork. We decided we’d not seen near enough the first time. Off we went, up the street. The young buskers from the morning were just packing up to leave. Two older folk—likely their parents—were there to pick them up. Judging by the coins and bills that came out of the guitar case it had been a good day. Josephine and Lesley ducked into a Carrols—those things are everywhere—for a bit.
I’ve often said that if it just happens that there is, in fact, an “afterlife” and I end up being judged as “bad” then there’s no doubt what awaits me. No flaming pit; instead I will be doomed to spend eternity in…retail. In all honesty there’s no more unpleasant state of being than finding myself trapped, following loved ones, as they browse through aisles, and aisles and $%@#&% aisles. Death by PowerPoint pales in comparison! But I digress…again. I elected to remain outside.
Drawbridge Street again, right across the street; I was drawn to it. I walked over to see if the dress shop was open.
It was, this time and I went inside. Two employees were quietly working with a customer; a fitting. They seemed quite friendly and were very attentive to the customer. Too bad not every shop is like that. I wandered around for a while. Once the customer had been served I walked over and introduced myself. “I’m from Canada and as far as I can tell this was where my Mom was born and where my aunts used to live until they died. It’s nice to see such a nice place here where they were.”
They introduced themselves: Aisling and Fiona. Aisling, the shop owner, noted that they’d had the place there for several years now and things were slowly growing but the hours were long. I thought about that for a while, noting that what Aisling was trying to do ran quite across the established grain. One of a kind clothing is a tough business and either you had to be independently wealthy or just highly skilled and hard-working. I figured the latter was the case.
While we talked about the business I noted how one half of the store had to have been the house and how it had three floors with only a small bit on each floor, a kitchen and living room on one, bathroom and small bedrooms on the next. There had been small garden—really no more like a walled-in courtyard out the back. Aisling said it was not there now, just more storage space.
Still it did not seem quite right somehow. Of course a major renovation that takes in two houses and converts them to one business will certainly do that but still—the garden, gone?
Finally Aisling solved the mystery, “You must be talking about the original place, which burned down 17 years ago. We’re in the building that replaced it.”
That was it. No wonder. Still, a degree of closure.
I wished them well and left, just in time to rejoin Lesley and Josephine.
We walked around some more but were starting to tire. Finally, with the rain, which had been threatening for a while, now falling in earnest, we decided to get a cab back to the hotel. I wasn’t done with the forgetting though, and left my favourite umbrella in the cab.
It made good sense to dodge back to Henchys and anesthetize the tired feet as well as mourn the loss of my poor brolly with a few more pints.
Through that growing beer fog I thought again about how things “remembered” could be so misleading. Making sense of a building that had burned down almost twenty years ago! What if I’d never found out about the fire—would I have re-written the story from so many years ago to match the new reality. Who’s to say?
Josephine laughed about Blarney. She was the only one who’d done it. “You guys are such wimps!”
“But I already did, years and years ago,” I protested.
“Are you SURE? After all, how old were you the last time, fifteen or sixteen maybe?
And suddenly I was no longer sure. Again, who’s to know?
One thing I do know, though, is that I don’t NEED to kiss it.