Perhaps I'm spending too much time on my own lately, but I've had a very strange week. As this blog sets out to be as much about my personal journey as my physical one, I'll tell you about it.
On Sunday afternoon I was washing up and idly staring out the window - as one does when faced with boring, repetitive jobs that have to be done - and saw a small plane flying across the face of Mt. Leinster. Now Mt. Leinster is not really all that high - around 800m - and taking into account the position of the house, the plane had to be flying very low.
That evening I was out for my walk when I ran into a neighbour who asked me, "Have you heard about the plane crash?" A light plane had crashed in the Blackstairs Mountains that afternoon. The day was calm, the weather clear, the pilot experienced, yet a plane flew into the side of a mountain killing both men on board. My heart goes out to their families and friends.
In the society most of us live in we rarely have to confront death. Bodies pile up on cinema screens, but unless we lose a family member or a close friend to illness or accident we rarely see it. "We lose a family member or a close friend." Such a normal way of talking about death, the concept of loss.
Something I realised only recently contributed greatly to my strange week. When I was five years old my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Back then most forms of cancer were a death sentence, to the extent that the word was rarely mentioned, and cancer was referred to as "The Big C". Mum not only survived but lived another 27 years, but at the time her illness and treatment was a huge upheaval for my family.
I suspect, although I don't really know for sure, that Dad sat us all down and told us we might "lose" our mother. At five years old I would have had no idea what he meant by "lose", so I interpreted it in the same way I would have had I been reprimanded for mislaying something. So I stopped losing things. As a child I had entire building kits, puzzles, sets of toys and books that I never lost a single item from. To this day I never lose my car keys, and have trouble understanding people who do. If I do lose something, like a sock in the laundry, I retrace my steps until I find it. Having since had children I can now appreciate just how weird this is.
Never underestimate the power of words, especially to a child.
The weather is improving at last, so yesterday I drove to New Ross and Waterford. The day started out cold and I wondered if the forecast had been a tad optimistic. I wandered the streets of New Ross shivering inside my jacket, because I'd believed the forecast and was wearing summery clothes, and was struck by similarities to Salamanca Place and Battery Point in my home town of Hobart. New Ross was once a busy port, and the buildings along the quay would have been warehouses.
Many thousands of emigrants left from there to establish new lives in the Americas and other places, including Australia. The most famous were Patrick Kennedy and Bridget Murphy, great-grandparents of John F. Kennedy, who visited his ancestral home in 1963, months before he was assassinated.
One sailing ship is still moored at the quay, the Dunbrody, now part of a permanent exhibition about the Irish Emigrant Experience. The emigrants who boarded ships like these knew there was little chance they would ever see again the friends, family and country they were leaving behind.
From there I drove to Waterford, the oldest city in Ireland. The weather improved, the sun emerged, and the temperature rose by several degrees..
Waterford was founded by the Vikings in 914AD, although there had been a settlement there as early as 853AD. The Irish drove out the Vikings, but they returned later to establish a stronger base which became, eventually, Waterford.
I have a fairly random approach to visiting a new place, and Waterford was no exception. I parked the car near the quay, and headed up the hill via a narrow street purely on the basis that it looked interesting. My luck was in. I spotted a man unlocking a gate to an interesting ruin, and asked him if he was opening it to the public. It turned out he wasn't, but he let me take photos of a place I could not have seen otherwise. Black Friars Abbey dates back to 1226 and is still in remarkably good condition. It wasn't difficult to imagine the floors and roof, fires burning in the grates, and friars in the chapel.
From there I explored the rest of the Viking Triangle, the site of the original walled city of the Vikings. There was something exciting around every corner - the cathedral and bishop's palace, a Romanesque tower, a row of Georgian terraces - and the highlight of my visit, Reginald's Tower.
As I roamed the streets of this fascinating city, I couldn't help but think about the generations who had gone before me - Irish, Viking, English, Huguenot French, and many others from all corners of the world, all long gone.
Waterford is an intriguing city overall, and one I hope to visit again.
- New Ross in Wikipedia
- The Dunbrody and the Irish Emigrant Experience
- The visit of John F. Kennedy to New Ross
- Waterford in Wikipedia
- The Vikings in Waterford
My novel, Hot Summer’s Knight, is for sale on Amazon for the special price of $US0.99 until midnight on Saturday, 30th May, 2015. It's in Kindle format, and you can download the free software onto a laptop or computer directly from Amazon.