Thursday 23 October 2014

Brendan O'Connor: A wonderful day in West Cork

Published 17/08/2014 | 00:00

Tranquil: Sherkin in Cork - 'Maybe it's a West Cork thing, the love of the road, the feeling of being home there'.

'Maybe it's a West Cork thing - the love of the road, the bringing of the food, the feeling of being home there. Clearly I didn't lick any of it off the ground.'

Magic always happens when you least expect it. I was coming off Sherkin island after a blissful couple of days of sun and sea and smallies. I wanted to call in and see my mother for a while, so I was getting the early ferry.

But we forgot it was the Sunday timetable so we were an hour early. Damn it, I thought, I could have gone for a swim. And then I realised I was on a pier with a slipway, and I had my luggage with me. So I got into my togs and splashed around a bit off the pier.

I had just got my clothes on again when all the other people waiting for the ferry rushed towards one side of the pier. It was a dolphin. Right in by the pier, curling up out of the water now and then and whacking the water with his tail every time he went back under. Like he wanted to play. Or maybe he was in distress. I grabbed the older one and we went over. The dolphin came right up to the pier and swam in underneath the few moored boats. You could see him gliding along under the water. It was only afterwards that we would find out he was in fact a rogue aggressive dolphin who had been terrorising the area, but let's not let that ruin the spell for now.

Before I hit the road we had breakfast at the Glebe House in Baltimore. For some reason everything about it was perfect, sitting there in the little courtyard. The tomatoes were the nicest I'd tasted in years so I asked the gaffer if he'd sell me a bag. He said he'd have to ask the boss, and she duly headed off and came back with a bag of every shape and size of tomatoes just picked. I added it to the courgettes and potatoes and peas I had from the father-in-law's garden, and the eggs and bread I bought in the little shop at the Glebe, and I hit the road for Cork.

The hour-and-a-half drive to Cork felt like a road trip. Maybe because I had no kids. Maybe because I was listening to an album of plaintive Americana someone had burned for me. Maybe because I was driving a borrowed old Merc and I was in no hurry anywhere. I had noticed a nice-looking food shop in Inishannon on the way down, so I stopped there as well. I was on the hunt for local honey because apparently it's like a flu jab against the allergies. He had nice-looking ham too and coleslaw like you'd make yourself, as against that awful cabbage in mayo that you get everywhere. I picked up some chocolate biscuit cake too.

And on to the mother's house where it was just me, her and Dad, on the eve of the deluge of family arriving from America and whatnot. We were supposed to head out for a bit of lunch but she took one look at the heart-attack white bread I'd bought and said we weren't going anywhere.

So we sat there marvelling over tomatoes that smelt and tasted like tomatoes, and ham that actually had flavour, and coleslaw with onion in it like my mother taught me to make. And my father said he hadn't tasted tomatoes like it in years. And my mother said it was the best meal she'd ever had. And she made me make a few sandwiches for the road. And off I went, changing CDs at will in the old fashioned but gorgeous-sounding system in the old borrowed Merc.

And somehow, it was all magical, like a lost day, like a whole holiday. A day that was meant to be a day in transition, a day that was meant to be a journey to get through before getting to my destination became the point in itself. Somehow, I was entirely present for the whole day, just taking each moment at a time and enjoying being connected to myself and to the world around me. And a bit of quality time with the folks without my children or their children to interrupt us. The two of them all to myself.

My mother told me later that her 
mother always loved when one of her lads came home to Glengarriff to visit on his own. And I remembered then the uncles would never arrive anywhere without a bit of nice ham or bread or something, things we now buy in artisan shops. The uncles were often on the road too. Maybe it's a West Cork thing - the love of the road, the bringing of the food, the feeling of being home there. Clearly I didn't lick any of it off the ground. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

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