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Posts tagged ‘Ireland’

Christmas is a big deal in Ireland

We hadn’t expected much of a Christmas. We had moved in December and were mainly confined to our cottage but Christmas is a big deal in Ireland.  When we arrived on our first evening there were fairy lights around the Ingle nook.  We had scarcely got inside before our friends’ young daughter was demanding we decorate the tree.  Yes, the cottage provided a Christmas tree and a collection of red baubles with lots of pine cones.  It was only December 9th but I lacked the will to resist.  We decorated the tree.

Finding the two boxes of our own Christmas stuff in the store room (thank you Lynn!) meant we had no excuses. We had to “do” Christmas.  Our decorations are less designed and more eccentric than those supplied.  Some were purchased with our tiny budget in our first house, some inherited from parents and relatives and some given by friends returning from their travels.  We have a camel on our tree!  Most of them are old but along with the strings of battery powered lights they looked rather festive. 

The next week we looked out of the window to all of the cottages outlined in twinkling coloured lights, including ours.  Suddenly the dark nights were less depressing as we walked the dogs round the green.  It was still cold though, a deep hard cold that froze the grass and struck up through the stone floors.  There was a significant gap around the front door and most of those inside too. Jacqui found an old pillowcase and made a couple of draught excluders and we circled the furniture around the ever-burning fire. 

A second visit to the storage facility provided a few more DVDs,  extra rugs and dog bedding but no sign of my clothes.  I was walking around looking like a scarecrow (my own fault) and with so few clothes I needed to wash them often.  Unfortunately there was no dryer in the cottage, no laundry in the village and anything put on the line outside came back just as wet and half frozen too.  Resorting to the internet – reluctantly as there was no password on the wifi – Jacqui sourced a low-voltage drying rack.  She also persuaded me to order some new jeans.  I was reluctant as delivery was already patchy and signs of disruption apparent.  I am so glad I did as it was three months before we finally got into the storage boxes.

Much to our surprise we began to receive cards sent by friends and relatives to our new address.  It was such a lovely feeling, knowing they had thought of us and made the effort to keep in touch.  We could not go to the Post and had no access to stamps or cards but we have resolved to send cards next year.

Released from self-isolation a few days before Christmas we headed for the nearest town and picked up food for the festive season.  The oven in the cottage was small and rather temperamental but we were feeling more optimistic and wanted to make our first Irish Christmas memorable.  Our friends dropped round and we exchanged presents (from a safe distance) and we had each chosen a few gifts to bring with us.  With our tree, lights and cards and the fire blazing away the main room looked quite lovely.  The meal, cooked by Jacqui, was of course exquisite and we had some of our “saved from Saltburn” wine and a home-made pudding. 

That night we walked the dogs, the ground crunching under our feet.  It was very quiet. Only one other cottage was occupied and the pub and shop were closed. The future was still uncertain, we were desperately cold and I still had hardly anything to wear but it was Christmas.  We had made the journey, we were sheltered and fed and we’d even managed our own little celebration.   Looking up, my breath steaming in the cold air, I could see the Milky Way stretched overhead and for the first time in months I felt a sense of peace.

Yes, Christmas is a big deal in Ireland and this one was very special. 

Moving from Darkness into Light

It is dark at night in rural Ireland. Very, very dark, especially in the rain – and especially in winter.  As we turned the corner into the village suddenly there were lights from houses by the road.  The shop and pub opposite the entrance to our little enclave had bright windows and outside lamps shone on sacks of fuel.  We staggered from the car and waited in the rain as the dogs sniffed and had a pee on the walls.  The front door was flung open and our friends were waiting with open arms – literally – to greet us.  Inside it was bright, warm and surprisingly crowded considering we were in the main room and there were four adults, three small dogs and one little girl.  A fire roared up the chimney in the ingle nook and we were ushered into chairs as we took off the dogs’ leads and blinked in the light.  It was a wonderful welcome.

After greetings, wine, sandwiches, more wine and a guided tour of the cottage from the little girl we fell into the beds that were already made up, too tired to unpack the car.  The next morning we found supplies for breakfast in the cupboards, provided by our lovely friends. We were able to finally stop and take stock.  We opened the last of the cards and presents from Saltburn and decorated the main room with them.  The fire had gone out and it was cold – very, very cold.  There had been virtually no visitors over the last year and the cottage was in hibernation. Storage heaters in the bedrooms took off some of the chill but we were going to need the fire on constantly to keep warm and wake up our home.

Our cottage and home for the next few months was one of eleven set around two little greens.  Built in the 1960s for tourists they were “traditional” in style.  Deep walls, stone floors, basic furnishings, small windows and very small rooms.  Perfect for a holiday but not perhaps ideal in winter for long-term residence. We unpacked the car and waited for a delivery from the nearest supermarket that Jacqui had ordered before we left.  Apart from unpacking our meagre goods and walking the dogs in the park behind the cottages we were pretty much comatose for a few days. 

We did manage a celebratory dinner on the second night.  Saltburn has a marvellous butcher, Gosnay’s, and we had one final steak from his meat counter along with some excellent wine carried in the boot and wrapped in towels.  We had ordered a large block of special sheep’s cheese from Real Meals before we left.  It and the steak travelled without harm and we raised a glass to all our friends left behind and our friends in Ireland who had made the journey possible.  

Musing on life and strange coincidences I remembered when we moved from Somerset 31 years before.  We had visited Street, the home of shoe making in the west, and I found a pair of painted boots with a picture of a cliff on them.  As we drove into Saltburn we saw Huntcliff – a distinctive shape that matched my boots exactly.  It looked like a sign. 

The week before leaving for Ireland I had packed an unfamiliar tea towel, probably from Jacqui’s great aunt, with a picture of a donkey outside a cottage.  Looking out of the window I saw a rainbow over the green and realised these cottages matched that picture.  Another sign perhaps? 

I looked at the news and saw Scotland and Ireland were both closing their borders to all travellers.  Despite the cold, despite the exhaustion I felt a great rush of relief.  With barely 36 hours to spare we had made it.