Going Back: Kinsale, Ireland
Having spent the first half of my life changing homes every two years, there was only one constant place in my world: Folly House, Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland. This was the house my parents bought in 1972 to allow their four daughters to escape the oppression of Algerian summers. This was the house in which we spent innocent summers surrounded by pastures, overlooking the Bandon River, sunbathing on the dry barn’s roof and listening to Billy Joel and The Eagles under the surprisingly hot Irish sun (when it appeared). This was also the house of my parents’ retirement after my father’s career in the US Information Service. Here we spent many a warm, cozy Christmas before peat fires in the cast iron fireplace, played board games on the great oak refectory table, and heard the mysterious sounds of the beloved Folly House ghost late into the night.
In 1998, we all said goodbye to Kinsale, Folly House was sold, and my parents settled in suburban Maryland to be within reach of their daughters’ care and comfort as life wore down their ageing bodies. Eleven years later, after both my parents had left this world, the four daugthers felt it time to return to Kinsale. Our mission: to commemorate our parents’ lives in the place they loved so much and to dedicate a park bench in their honor.
I had mixed feelings setting out for Kinsale–a place so familiar and yet so distant. I knew one can never go back, never relive the joys of the past. So I set out with measured expectations, keeping in check my hope that it would be, in fact, magical.
As my sisters and I gathered, with several children and one brave spouse, we marveled at the comfort of our fisherman’s cottages overlooking the harbor. We toasted our return as the yachts sailed in past the 17th-century forts guarding the town, we smiled at the delighted giggles of our children playing on the small zip line in the gardens below and we reveled in the familiarity of it all.
Our bench dedication took place in a blustery storm (“ah, sure, it will clear by this evening” had reassured several of our Irish friends when we tried to rethink our plan), where my sister Lisa and I stood with umbrellas, perched on the bench itself, attempting to deliver a commemorative address. The wind caught hold of us at one point and threatened to transport us, Mary-Poppins-like, across the Bandon River. The ceremony ended early and we all headed to the shelter of our cars and the reception at my parents’ good friends, the Doyles.
An evening of poetry readings and addresses followed, with memories being shared liberally of my parents’ joie de vivre, their unmatched hospitality, their devotion to friends and family, and their unfailing respect and love for each other.
The following days, we settled into Kinsale like longtime residents. We met for coffee with Irish friends, we went sailing on the harbor, we ran into people we knew in bakeries and pubs, we took the children into town for “99s” (soft serve creamy ice cream pierced by a Cadbury’s Flake), and we went for a stroll along the Salmon Walk to Summercove.
One day, sitting perched on a rock above James Fort overlooking both inner and outer harbors, my daughter Sasha remarked “this is so beautiful, Mommy.” I took in the dark blue sea, the sculpted apple-green grass dappled with wild flowers on the hills above us, the rustic grey stones of the fort, and the saturated Irish light and had to agree–yes, this is very beautiful.
In this moment, when my own child stated the obvious, I realized I had never fully appreciated the place of my childhood. I had taken it for granted and made Kinsale a backdrop, rather than a centerpiece.
I had fully expected to close the Kinsale chapter in my life through this one commemorative trip. Yet, I found that, through connecting with old friends, seeing the place through the untainted eyes of my own daughter, I had, in fact, opened a new chapter. Kinsale will always be a part of my fabric, and I now know that I can and want to weave new tales into this tapestry.
Our friend, Mareta Doyle, is chairman of the annual Kinsale Arts Week. International and local artists of all kinds come to Kinsale to share their talent and enliven the town. This sounds like the perfect enticement to return to Kinsale in summers to come.
As my sisters and I prepared our departure, it became clear that we had come to the same conclusion: we will return–not to commemorate the past, but to make new memories and carry on a family tradition. And if you are ever passing through Kinsale, the “Gourmet Capital of Ireland,” stop by the park on your way out of town, by the “new” bridge, and settle yourself on the only bench there. Take in the beauty of the lush green grass, the wind-bent trees, the deep blue river, and lonely Ringrone tower in the distance. My parents will surely make you feel welcome.