Friday 24 November 2017

Past meets present in a Barbaric moment

Fiona O'Connell

THE middle-aged tourists in the bus station queue in Cork caught my eye. The Latin American woman wore a blue raincoat while her African American partner was shrouded in a plastic orange poncho. Such gear was largely redundant during our sizzling summer. But it was drizzling that afternoon.

The bus wove through streets teeming with people, faces painted red and white for the All-Ireland Hurling Final. It was a red-letter day in the county of the red and white flag.

The tourists also disembarked in Skibbereen. They stood in the deserted street, like two very foreign and forlorn fish out of water as the bus drove away. The man planted a Stetson hat on his head as he looked around the GAA-induced ghost town.

I wished them a good stay and he told me that they were going on to Baltimore because his name was Jean-Marie Baltimore. He was a retired teacher from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. They had come to Ireland as part of their honeymoon just to visit there.

I directed them to a nearby hotel to phone for a taxi. But I spotted them still wandering about in the rain as my friend and I were driving out of town.

"Baltimore!" I called down the main street of Skibbereen to them. "We'll give you a lift to Baltimore."

On the way, Mr Baltimore told us how he and his new bride, Brazilian psychotherapist Bena, had met on the internet six years before. He also spoke about his many offspring, scattered across the world. Did Bena have children?

"Not yet!" Mr Baltimore answered in his deep voice. He patted his substantial stomach. "Maybe I'm carrying it!"

The car was full of his belly laughter as we careered along empty roads. We reached the outskirts of Baltimore to find a checkpoint in place. The garda told us that we would have to go around Lough Hyne.

So we wound our way through insanely lovely scenery, like something out of a Grimm fairytale, with dripping foliage, ferns, and virgin forest towering above us. At any moment you could expect ogres or trolls to appear.

Mr Baltimore thought we were joking when we told him about the terrible night in 1631, when pirates from the Barbary Coast stole away the inhabitants of Baltimore. Until we arrived in Baltimore and he saw the castle looking out to sea. Only then did he realise that, after 400 years, he had possibly come home.

They booked into a hotel. We left them waving after us, all smiles, before Mr Baltimore wandered off in his plastic orange poncho to explore his roots.

Sunday Independent

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