Holiday in Ireland: August 2016

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On Tuesday we found ourselves at Lissadell House, the ancestral home of the Gore-Booth family, six years after we first visited it and Co. Sligo. Back then we went to see and hear Leonard Cohen; this time the house itself – famous for its connection with Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth) and W.B. Yeats – was the attraction. We looked out at the rain through the windows of which Yeats wrote (and Cohen recited):

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
(from ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz’)

There’s an extensive and excellent Easter 1916 exhibition in Lissadell at present, including a lot of Markievicz paraphernalia. There is also a wealth of material related to Yeats and his brother, the prolific painter Jack B. Yeats.

Markievicz’s handwritten notes from Easter week, during which she was a rebel commander, are on display; also a notebook from her subsequent time in Kilmainham Gaol: she wrote that she was not missing the constant supply of exquisite food she was used to, and was happy with simple fare for a change. She mentioned the executed leaders’ ‘holy and martyred bodies’, which seemed a bit creepy to me (she was not executed, on account of being a woman). Yeats’s verdict, from the same poem:

The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.

Eva Gore-Booth, the other girl in a silk kimono, was an artist and suffragist (‘I know not what the younger dreams – Some vague Utopia’).

There are paintings and sketches in the house by Constance and her sometime husband, Casimir, a Polish count: he allegedly made himself better looking in a self-portrait than he was in real life! It was interesting to see the servants’ quarters, where members of my maternal grandfather’s family would have worked. After the tour, the guide, Bronagh, showed Pauline and me where some of the servants had scratched their names in the paintwork: nobody named Banks, sadly; my ancestors must have been too proper to deface the wall.

The previous day we had visited Ballyshannon, birthplace of the great blues guitarist Rory Gallagher and the minor poet William Allingham: the latter’s diaries are interesting on account of his friendship with the likes of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Tennyson. Ballyshannon is hilly and dull; Donegal town, which we visited next, is cosmopolitan and lively.

En route from Donegal to Sligo we took a detour in north Leitrim, up a long and winding lane (we had to reverse for a flock of sheep at one point) to a rugged and beautiful place called Eagle’s Rock. At The Model in Sligo (a fine town) there was an excellent Jack B. Yeats exhibition, featuring many of his later paintings and copies of the periodical A Broadsheet, to which he contributed illustrations and his contemporaries poems and old ballads. We ate falafels in the café there; I wondered why ambient music in such places is so often ‘classic’ tracks by the Beatles, David Bowie et al., when, say, some nice acoustic guitar music would be more pleasing and less hackneyed.

On the first day of the holiday we had arrived in Bundoran and been thoroughly soaked, while walking beside low cliffs, before even checking in to our hotel. That night in the Great Northern the dinner was abysmal: by far the worst meal of the six days. The live music in the bar in the evening was awful too. To be kind, one could say that the hotel had a certain old-world charm. Bundoran itself is not very nice – a tacky and windswept resort – but the fried haddock in Caroline’s Café on the second night was perfectly fine, and Tullan Strand is a great place for a walk.

The village of Ballysodare in Co. Sligo has little to offer: how did it manage to host major music festivals in the eighties? Perhaps only a field was needed then. We enjoyed our walk on the strand at Strandhill, but demurred at paying €4 each to visit Carrowkeel megalithic cemetery (we told the attendant that we lived beside Lough Crew, and could see that kind of thing any time we wanted). Our hotel – the Sligo Park – was nice; dinners there were excellent, and reasonably priced. It has some clever and humorous Yeats-related artwork (W.B. was a major presence on our holiday).

On Thursday morning before heading to Dublin we went back into the centre of Sligo town to visit the Yeats Memorial Building, which wasn’t a patch on Lissadell. We then broke our journey in Longford town, where we walked around a bit and gave a little money to a nun who was collecting for charity on the street; on hearing we were from Cavan she launched into a monologue on St Killian. Eventually we made our excuses and left.

In Dublin we stayed at the Tara Towers in Booterstown, and didn’t get much sleep the first night due to the noise of traffic from the road outside. That evening we had met Susanna in town and had something to eat at the excellent Umi falafel house on Dame Street before going to Billy Elliot: The Musical at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. It was a fabulous show, and we all enjoyed it thoroughly.

On Friday morning Pauline and I got the DART to Dún Laoghaire and had a nice walk on the South Pier. We briefly dropped in to the Maritime Museum, where Pauline once worked: a humanist wedding was under way. We also visited the stunning new public library.

We took a DART to town and had a walk around: the weather was much nicer than earlier in the week. We ate lunch in Umi and sat in St Stephen’s Green, watching the world go by; later we had coffee and a bun in the café of the National Library, where the Yeats exhibition I visited a few months ago was still running (we didn’t go – all Yeatsed out at that stage). The café was closing, so we sat outside drinking our coffee, and happened to notice my niece Aoife walking across the concourse of Leinster House (Irish houses of parliament), directly in front of us. We called out to her, and she took us in to the building, where she works, and gave us a tour. Pauline took a photo of Aoife and me standing under a portrait of Constance Markievicz in a ball gown (i.e. Markievicz was wearing the gown – not A and me).

Pauline and I got a bus to Booterstown, and later collected Susanna; the three of us had something to eat in The Goat, in Goatstown, and Pauline and I dropped Susanna home. We had bought ear plugs, and slept better.

On our last morning we drove to Sandymount and walked on the strand (James Joyce had started to rival Yeats as a presiding literary presence – National Library, Sandycove Martello tower …) then visited our old haunts in Ringsend and relived the mid-1980s. The place has changed a lot in some ways: we had a very nice brunch, which would not have been possible back then.

We drove to UCD, collected Susanna in the Belfield sunshine and took her for lunch in Ranelagh, again revisiting our past. Then we dropped S back to her work, and hit the road for Cavan. After reaching home and unloading the car, we collected the dogs from their minders – the holiday was truly over. It had been great: an offline time of Yeats(es), Markievicz, Joyce, falafels, Hophouse 13 beer, windswept beaches, sunshine, rain, and pleasant streets and scenes. The good-natured hordes in sunny Dublin were an antidote to the usual rural isolation, and Pauline enjoyed that part of the expedition the most.

A bizarre footnote: for the second time in a row, we arrived home from our holiday to find a dead bat in the kitchen.

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Filed under Ireland, Literature, Memories, Poems, Politics

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