November 7th – Home is where the craic* is

I’m writing again. This is a good thing – for me if not for you! After months of worry over the sale of our house in London, I rather lost the motivation. It wasn’t that blog-worthy stories didn’t occur, it was simply that any flashes of inspiration seemed to vanish as quickly as they had appeared. Anyway, a lot of what I wanted to write was just so damn depressing that no one would have wanted to read it. But that’s all in the past. Now we’re in Ireland.

Ireland? To bring you up to speed, one of the incentives for selling up in London (quite apart from not having the tedium of repairing damage caused by our charming, but careless, young tenants), was to use some of the equity to rebuild John’s family home in the West of Ireland. This has been a dream of ours since he and Mike bought back the ruined farmhouse from the forestry company in 1998. Why the farm was sold in the first place or how the house came to be destroyed by fire, makes for an interesting story in itself, but it would be too long in the telling. Suffice to say that John’s father passed away happy in the knowledge that his childhood home would be rebuilt and that the “new” flagstones, laid by John’s grandfather during the 60’s, might once again ring with the sound of music and laughter.

People around here remember the flagstones. They were the best in the neighbourhood and perfect for dancing.

The ruin is a sad sight now. One gable end was deliberately pushed in shortly after the fire and, as the years passed, wind and weather have gradually taken their toll on the weakened structure. Brambles and rushes have now overwhelmed what remains of the internal walls and chimney breast.

Rebuilding was never a realistic option. The farmhouse had a traditional layout consisting of a large central living room in which all cooking and entertaining took place, a large bedroom at one end, and two smaller ones at the other (one of which was also used to store salt pork, and sides of bacon hung from the ceiling). John remembers Aunt Gret cooking in a cauldron or on a bakestone over an open fire. There was no bathroom. Water for was brought up from a well each day and the surrounding fields served as a latrine. Even so, the family home is remembered for its craic.

The original house was, as our architect put it, a tad on the tidy side. Too small for modern-day living. In any event, planning regulations did not allow us to use the old footprint, as it was too close to the boundary. So we designed ourselves a spacious new three bedroom bungalow. The old cow cabin and cart shed together provided enough stone to level the site and, weather permitting, the foundations should go in this week. And, yes, we do hope to salvage those flagstones for our new living room.

In the meantime, John and I have a house-worth of furniture on our hands. Contemplating the cost of a year or so’s storage in the UK, coupled with a few weeks’ tourist accommodation, we decided it made economic sense to rent a house locally for the duration of the build. And here we are.

Having lived like a nomad out of suitcases for the last few weeks, I found myself having a Maureen O’Hara moment.  No sooner had John turned the key in the front door, than I was complaining that I wanted “me tings about me”*. In particular, having set off the smoke alarm twice cooking breakfast on Saturday, I needed my own pots and pans. A functioning washing machine would be a bonus too, along with an address …

Yes, it’s true. We have no idea of our address or, indeed, whether this house actually has one. Quite possibly, it doesn’t. Our building site is known locally as “Johnny Paddy’s”. Before the old house came to John, it belonged to his uncle, Johnny. So why “Johnny Paddy”? Rural Ireland was, until recently, populated by enormous families (John’s father had 16 siblings, 13 of whom survived into adulthood). Over the centuries, cousins have necessarily married cousins, albeit distant ones, and local surnames proliferated, with many instances of the same surname appearing in both sides of a family tree. John, of course, is a popular boys’ name. Since roads and houses didn’t have names, in order that the postman could differentiate between men of the same name that lived locally, it was customary to add the father’s name, in this case Pat or Paddy, John’s grandfather. Hence, “Johnny Paddy’s”. Perfectly logical. Even today, it isn’t necessary for a house to have a name. A friend of ours routinely found his mail on the front seat of his (unlocked) Volvo.

* Craic is an Irish term variously translated as fun, entertainment or gossip, depending on the context.
* From the 1952 film, “The Quiet Man”, where the plot revolves around the refusal of O’Hara’s “brother” to hand over a dowry of furniture and money, having discovered that he has been duped into allowing her to marry John Wayne.

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