By 1 tIA UREEN O'SULLIVAN
IRELAND in 1958, that glorious warm summer! Everywhere we went that year, we seemed to carry Californian weather with us. This was disappointing to my children who were sick of sunshine, but wonderful for everyone else.
First Madrid — very warm. Then Southern Spain — even hotter. Next, London, glorious weather even there. Now we were all on a plane approaching the coast of Ireland. The clouds were white and fluffy and I could see that our eternal sunshine had got there ahead
From the plane window I could see the familiar coast line. All along the shore from the North Wall. past Merrion and on to Don Laoghaire two waves danced brightly in their own special way. They danced right past the house where I had lived as a child . . . • For a moment I was back again running wild-haired on the strand. For a moment I could hear again the waves pounding against the grey stone wall in wintertime, or high on to the road above, or sometimes, in wilder weather on to the lawn in front of our house — even splashing the windows of our drawing room.
ILOOKED at my children sitting rather tensely in their seats (thinking no doubt of the aunts, uncles and small cousins that they were soon to meet for the first time). Soon they will understand the things that were only words until now, for how can you explain, even to a child, the mystery and the magic that is Ireland? This was to be my dream come true, to bring them home with me to discover Ireland for themselves.
But dreams faced with reality
are sometimes different things and this homecoming was not quite as I had always pictured it would be. My father would never be there to meet us again, nor was my oldest son Michael with us to step off the plane .. . . But one
must make the best of things as they are . . . .
IFELL to wondering about the practical side of things. Since nay father's Jeath we did not have our big house in Killina any more. Our family unit had split and My sisters and brother were married. My mother had a flat.
No matter how kindly they might make the offer, it was physically impossible for a family of our size to descend upon any of my relatives as guests — so we were faced with hotel life again, which after two years of travelling we were heartily sick. I was concerned that my children would never see the real Ireland from 'he confines of the hotel lobby.
SO ran my thoughts as we made that (to me at any rate) always terrifying descent into Dublin Airport. No matter how clear the day, the clouds always seem to hang low, and through swirling mist one swoops and dives, seeing now and then patches of green field or a cottage.
I always concentrate on the remarkable record for safety held by Aer Lingus, and say a prayer of gratitude as the pilot performs the impossible and we land safe and sound once again!
Before we knew it, that horrible moment when one meets one's relatives almost as strangers, after a long separation — was over and we were all crowded happily in various cars, heading for Dublin. In the remarkable way of grandparentS, the children and granny were in perfect accord, their
thoughts running along as one, So began our summer in Ireland.
T HAD made reserve
'. tions at a hotel in Monkstown, close to my mother and the family — on the way from the airport I noted with relief that nothing had changed. This is one of the wonderful things of returning to Ireland — the feeling that you can pick up again right where you left off.
True, there were a few rather hideous Government houses that I hadn't seen before on the outskirts. of Dublin but to make up for that was a rather beautiful church. Anyway, the houses were undoubtedly warm and practical and one couldn't he picturesque all the time. I reflected.
Time suddenly seemed not too important — there was plenty of of it. and somehow the years in between disappear and life is warm and reassuring again as when you were a child. No great apartment houses looked at us on our way to Monkstown, no hideous advertisements or neon lights or supermarkets although we were in the capital of the country; commercialism seemed to have left Dublin untouched.
IN Monkstown, however, I quickly found that I had made the wrong choice for this particular trip, for one thing the new diesel train. though impressive, seemed to be running right under my bed, and for another I felt again that I must get my six children out of town and into the country.
So I did the obvious. I picked up the telephone and called the Tourist Bureau. (I had done this in Spain and found that this simple key opened up a Spain that visitors seldom see.) The Bureau was immediately understanding. Would I like to stay in a country house where one dresses every night for dinner and dines by candlelight? Yes I would indeed, but not with six children.
Perhaps I would prefer a country hotel only an hour's drive from Dublin, with good food, fine Irish horses, and no one dressed for dinner?
That was it.
Off we went again for Co. Wicklow. The Bel Air Hotel proved to be a country estate formerly owned by the family of Roger Casement (his autograph is on the wall of one of the bedrooms). It is situated in one of the beauty spots of Ireland, not far from the beautiful Glendalough and the Vale of Avoca where the Waters Meet. From upstairs you can see the ocean, and the house is surrounded by acres of fields and lovely country.
THIS was surely an answer to a prayer. The children were immediately at home. There was riding for all of them — all day long. Picnics and gymkhanas.
For the older children there were two attractive girls who helped with the horses.
In the evenings there was good conversation as everyone gathered around the fireplace talking or singing or telling stories. Quickly the wit and kindness of the Irish became clear to these young people and they settled down as happily as if they had -lived there all their lives.
Small cousins, granny and different relatives came to visit us, having almost as much fun as we did. Irish accents mingled with American accents as 0 Sullivans and Farrows discovered each other!
The children learned how to take the horses over the jumps in the field in front of the house. We were of course fortunate to be there at the time of the Horse Show and coming from California where the horse has been put almost out of existence by the automobile no one ever forgot its thrill and splendour.
A visit to Ardmore Studios close by was on our agenda, and anyone feeling that America and England have the edge on efficiency, is due for a surprise. There was the Abbey and the Gate Theatres to enjoy — living theatre where "method" actors would do well to study.
AT nearby Glendalough (the stoppingoff place of every tourist) there was the wish (that seems to be always granted) to be made at the seven churches, and the daring climb to be made above the dark lake to the cave where St. Kevin lived in the early centuries. In the cool of the late afternoon we would walk along the country lanes stopping sometimes at a thatch cottage. "God save all here" was the password and then we were as welcome as the flowers in May. A cup of tea and some soda bread, mashed potatoes for hungry children.
Back to the hotel as the sun is setting, in time to see the swallows swooping back and forth from the trees, chattering as they prepared for the night. Soon the "ghost" who walked the upper hall might appear. "Going to bed" held a certain excitement for the children.
Then awake early to another of those wonderful summer days (we didn't have a drop of rain in the two months that we were in Ireland).
SUNDAYS were pleasant days for us. After Mass a visit, usually at the priest's house. The parish priest, Fr. Grogan, being about as witty and enlightened a man as you could hope to meet anywhere, So, all too quickly our summer— and my fondest dream—came to an end. But though the summer is over, the dream is fulfilled, and I have given to the children that which is theirs. The part that was always missing. They grew to love Ireland as I would have wished, and had that strange sense of belonging there. I know that all their lives they will long to return.