An Irish Autumnal Lockdown
By Patrick McCarthy
Photos by Mark McCall
It must be said, it was a rough crossing. Enormous waves edged with white foam-like giant meringues spotted through the cabin’s porthole. There was a temptation, in spite of the turbulence, to kill the lights and stare transfixed at the giant swells and stormy sea.
Not surprising, we resisted, settling into a fitful sleep and suddenly awakening to the calm of morning, sailing along the Irish southern coast towards Cork and Ringaskiddy Dock. In the distance, clusters of multi-colored homes cascading from cliffs to coast in the towns of Youghal, Cobh and Crosshaven. Each community cocooned in their harbors, bathed in sunshine, the waters calm. Not a wave, not a ripple. In the warm, early sunshine, a steady stream of fishing and sailing vessels make their way out to sea.
We disembark and leave port having signed declarations to stay in place for two weeks at one location in a time of Covid. We head due north to our Kilkenny destination and the house we had not been to in almost a year, the first wave and lockdowns scuppering spring and summer breaks in the Irish countryside.
That was early October and now a month on, as November opens to storms, sun-filled, frosty mornings, and the new wave of lockdowns across Europe, we make the decision to stay longer and shelter in place, working from here, resting and enjoying the relaxed silence of our place in Kilkenny. The countryside, now as then, is full of autumn color and the rustle and sounds of blackbirds, thrush, great tits, and sparrows. The pleasure of morning walks along the river Barrow as we set out from Graiguenamanagh, straddling the Kilkenny-Carlow border and the welcoming friendly banter and fleeting pleasantries of the occasional other walkers.
In this time of lockdowns, plans made, changed and the new flexibility about travel, schedules, credits, and refunds, we remember again, what drew us first to this house and this place. In part, the 19th century stone facade of the imposing traditional farmhouse.
Also, in truth, the modern vaulted light-filled interiors with the simplicity and sophistication which we created. Then there is the beauty and shelter of the south-facing walled garden, with its sweet delicious juicy, fat figs; tall grasses; dogwood; bamboo; multi-stem birch; hornbeam, and statuesque pear tree conducting all the elements. It creates a perfect harmony which includes a host of perennials.
The last of the dahlias are still in bloom, providing ideal flourishes in wild and wonderful arrangements for the house. Not forgetting the simple, familiar joy of collecting and stacking the winter wood; sweeping russet leaves from decks and paths; re-arranging books and objects. Looking again, with seeming new awareness at photographs and paintings almost forgotten in the passage of Covid time since we’d last been here.
There is the wonderful feeling of being back once more, the house ready, the greeting of neighbors, friends, and the chance after the initial cocooning to catch up on events and happenings. But most of all, it’s the relaxed long evenings, the warmth of the wood-burning stove, drinks prepared, the occasional Manhattan with Teeling’s small batch Irish whiskey replacing the familiar bourbon and the extravagance of a second cherry.
Fish fresh from the Atlantic coast bought in the superb Ronan’s fish shop close by. Crab with coriander, haddock, cod or hake seared and served on a bed of risotto with tapenade or smoked salmon for warm-up. Perhaps too, the occasional apple sponge with the remaining windfalls from the orchard. Slow evenings spent turning a page, adding a log, pouring a glass and the long nights rest undisturbed for the most part by pandemics and presidents.
It reminds me again of these early days like memories of a romance. The small details, the little-appreciated or forgotten elements. Nooks, crannies, a stone circular pillar encased in ivy; a fat, noisy red robin; holly loaded with berries two months too soon; wildfowl in fields skittishly rushing along. The morning light and the star-studded sky at night. The many sensory revelations, all new, all fresh or so it seems.
To have this time, space and be in Ireland in the autumn is a special pleasure for us. Time to wander, rest, and observe.
Originally from West Cork in Ireland, PJ McCarthy lives in Sussex England. A designer, consultant, and writer, he is currently working on a collection of short stories.
Dublin-born Mark McCall is a London based award-winning professional photographer with over thirty years of experience. He travels extensively in the UK, Ireland, and internationally on assignment. Portrait photography is his specialty, with subjects as diverse as Rebecca Miller, Daniel Day-Lewis, Alek Wek, Margaret Atwood, and Sir Michael Gambon. Visit his website Mark McCall Photographs People.