When I stood in the graveyard on the Dingle Peninsula looking out onto the wild Atlantic Ocean with the equally wild Blasket Islands jutting out of it, I was reminded of a place which is so different but gave me the same feeling of awe. Both are commonplace things in our world, which is why, when they are spectacular, they are (pardon the adjective), completely awesome: A graveyard on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, and the Bus Stop in Cortona, Italy.
See for yourself.
One can never discount the beauty of ordinary things, and I say ordinary because for the people who live here, this graveyard and bus stop are truly ordinary and merely a part of their everyday lives. Makes me wonder what I have not been seeing?
The last day of our trip in Dingle was going to be a busy one: stop by the O’ Curnain Bakery for a last taste of their pastries, buy some fresh fish down by the harbor, find Peig Sayer’s grave, and choose a fabulous beach to lounge and cook upon, before finally making our way back home. I loved having our plan in order, but was also happy not to know how things would play out.
We took the Slea Head Drive road from Dingle to begin our trip homeward. This road would hopefully lead to the townland of Dun Chaoin where one of the most famous Irish storytellers, Peig Sayers, was buried. She was born in the latter part of the 19th century and miraculously lived to the ripe old age of 80. This is noteworthy because she left the Dingle Peninsula as a young bride to live most of her life on an 1100 acre island just forty minutes from the mainland, known as The Great Blasket Island.
Her most famous book is titled Peig and is an account of her life living in that beautiful but lonely place. The life she described couldn’t have been harder, where the simplest task was a torment, and where not keeping a good eye on your children could result in a fatal accident by the cliffs. She spoke in Irish and actually her book was written down orally with the help of a writer.
I am writing about her with reverence, but there was a time I was not so respectful. I had to study her book in school, laboriously reading her story in irish for my final exam before leaving school, and I’ll admit to using a black ink pen in a very unflattering way on her face. I experienced Ireland before it’s economy took off in the 1990’s so was accustomed to not having much, but Peig Sayers was a different brand of irish. Her life seemed unreal to me in some ways, almost exaggerated in the amount of suffering she put up with.
I grew up so familiar with the mentality of “making do” It was so much part of my makeup to feel thankful for every blessed thing, as if indeed it was in some way undeserving. Yes, irish people have a good sense of humour, but I’m pretty sure it came from hardship. What I mean is, if you are continually being “put upon’ by one thing or anther (you know…invaded, stripped of your language, starved) and something good comes along, however small that something might be, you tend to be grateful beyond imagining.
I have found that people who grow up with little are content with less of everything in general. Now when Ireland experienced “the celtic tiger” as it’s economic boom has been dubbed, things changed. I couldn’t relate to Peig Sayer even though I came from a family of six who lived from week to week dependent on that Friday pay check. How could Peig Sayers’ story have a chance of finding anything in common with kids who grew up with what they deemed to be their absolute right to have: cell phones and Facebook, (and everything that goes along with that).
I am actually not old-fashioned, just showing how Ms. Sayers became obsolete fast when Ireland got rich, and was promptly taken off the required reading syllabus in 1999 after 56 years, replaced by a more contemporary Irish story shall we say. I don’t know, even though I resented reading her book at the time, I am, as I am about a whole mountain of things I used to complain about learning in school, still glad I had to read it. Why?
For one, here I was standing in a graveyard, (which my sister and I eventually found after several long looping wrong turns!) with panoramic views at every aspect, in a part of the country which experienced so much hardship and suffering which I wouldn’t know about but for my studying it’s history, and part of that understanding was shaped by the book Peig. She may have just been a little part of the jigsaw in my head, indeed I hadn’t though about Peig Sayers since leaving school until I was standing at the graveyard wall and wondering how on earth anyone could have lived on the mainland in the 1900’s, let alone on Great Blasket Island directly in front of me.
For me, my trip to the Dingle Peninsula was more than just finding the best beach and stopping the car to exclaim “wow, what a fabulous view children, let’s take a picture” Dingle can certainly be that, but I think it is so much more than just geographically spectacular. Knowing even a little of the past of a place can bring it to life, give it character. I think knowing that people like Peig Sayers lived on the Blasket Islands makes it more than just a photo opportunity.
OK I’m done, and moving on to our next stop, yep: the beach we would cook and lounge on for the rest of the late afternoon. We had some plaice fish sitting in a big bag of ice in the boot of the car and it was time to cook it. I got the fish from Sheehy’s Fish, located right on the harbor. There was a great selection, of which I choose plaice because it would cook quickly, and was mild enough to please any palate.
This was our third day in Kerry and we hadn’t eaten in one restaurant. I suppose after my rant about poverty and torment, it is a small thing to be proud of, seeing that the back of the car was our pantry, but proud we were none the less, the new brand of pioneer women. At least that’s what my kids were thinking as they too have grown up in the world where you don’t whip out a flask of tea and a ham sandwich when you are on the road; that’s what restaurants are for.
Not this weekend however. We were showing them how great it felt to be independent and eat like we were siting at home (always the best food don’t you think?). I can say that after three days of cooking and eating outside, they had the most fun, and we were already planning our next trip (read about our trip to County Antrim with my other sister Mimi soon!).
The problem with finding that perfect spot is we had become very picky after our fantastic picnic on Slea Head Beach (read previous post for more info by clicking HERE) the day before. I got out of the car at a dead-end road to check out a beach when a couple appeared over the grassy bank. They greeting me in irish and then a quick translation into english, telling me it was a lovely beach and not well-known. I answered in my rusty irish which prompted them to continue our conversation in irish. I was delighted to talk to them and was happy I didn’t make too much of a show of myself, seeing as I never get the opportunity to speak that lovely lilt-y language, albeit in my more anglicised accent.
We took their recommendation and unloaded the grocery bags for the last time. It was getting close to 4 pm and what was supposed to be lunch would have to satisfy as dinner also! The pan was hot and mushrooms were sautéing in olive oil, white wine and rosemary (my last sprig from the garden) within five minutes. The beach was long and the tide was out so the expanse of sand was enormous. Within moments the kids were making their way down to the water, net and bucket in hand.
As I sat with June sipping wine we had to laugh again at our little set-up. We were still a little surprised at ourselves for not succumbing to the comfort of a restaurant, and we made up all sorts of scenarios where we could imagine ourselves pulling out our frying pan and cooking on the spot. Like whipping it out right in front of our hotel, or Stephen’s Green in Dublin, why not? The more socially unacceptable the place we thought of, the more we laughed. Like taking it someone’s house when invited to dinner, and setting it up in their yard.
I cooked the fish on top of the mushrooms and then served it all with fresh bread rolls and big wedges of lemon. Do I need to explain how good this all tasted!
The only problem was the flying ants. By the time we discovered how pesky they would be, we were too entrenched to leave. My daughter was completely tormented, and she had several outbursts of contempt for the entire insect kingdom. She made her usual speech about how she was aware that insects play a very useful part in the world, but, why flying ants, what purpose did they serve here on this beach? She was convinced that they were out to get her, and her alone. Her reasoning is always lengthy and eloquent and, if it doesn’t make the mother in me fret for her, I usually find it quite entertaining.
To distract from the ants, June decided to round everyone up for a game of tag in a giant circle that she made in the sand. As they began to play (I was content to clean up and observe), it attracted some other kids on the beach. There was a sister and brother from France who apparently came here every year, along with a friend of theirs’ who was Irish, and presumably someone they met years ago on this beach and had been meeting up with ever since (that’s my romantic take on the friendship anyway).
They had a ball and 2 teams, and it was amazing to see how an organised game, with rules, can break down any notions of shyness between a bunch of complete strangers. They laughed, they teased, and fought over rules like they had known each other for years.
This is another of the many reasons why children are great to be around. You do things for them that you wouldn’t normally do, like kneel over a stove in spitting rain and ask strangers to play ball-tag with you. Kids make everything more fun, and my kids make me brave in a way I would never be on my own. It also allowed me to see my sister June running around like a maniac after a small bright red plastic ball.
After that, it was time to drive home. To cheer us up, we stopped in Dingle one last time for ice cream and cafe macchiato.