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Holding the keys to the Kingdom in my deserted watery bolthole

Artist Poppy Melia took a break from work and wi-fi worries to enjoy glorious kayaking trips near her Kerry home


Moorhen Among Kingcups by Poppy Melia

Moorhen Among Kingcups by Poppy Melia

Poppy Melia on Lake Caragh, Kerry

Poppy Melia on Lake Caragh, Kerry


Moorhen Among Kingcups by Poppy Melia

During April we lost our internet for nine days. On such things are battles lost or won.

I wouldn't have minded the break from wi-fi, but it was such a bad time, an unsettling week of ferrying my two sons around during what should have been lockdown for us all. Initially I took them up the hill, to where we could get mobile reception in the car for their various lectures and important exams. Then that wasn't enough, so into town, parked under the mast to get 4G for an oral exam.

After two days we organised a place in town for them to go. I took them in and out of Killorglin and up and down the hill depending on their requirements. As soon as people saw the almost comical photo I posted of the boys doing their exams in the car, messages flooded in offering rooms and vacant holiday homes for them to work in. People are so incredibly kind.

Nine days later, various beeps sounded out around the house from the phones and modem. "We're back!"

My husband Conor brought his work computer and three screens home again to our kitchen table, and the kids settled back to work in their rooms. It was such a relief to be able to isolate properly in our nest again.

I felt a bit wiped and mentally exhausted, but of course still grateful: lack of internet connection is nothing compared to what other families are going through. It's an upsetting and worrying time for everyone, in varying degrees.


Poppy Melia on Lake Caragh, Kerry

Poppy Melia on Lake Caragh, Kerry

Poppy Melia on Lake Caragh, Kerry

After Conor had finished his work that day, he suggested a kayak trip. I rather reluctantly agreed to go, tired but aware that it would be so good for us all. Aran plotted a 2km radius circle (our generous lockdown limit) from our home on Google Maps and sent it to our phones. We are so incredibly lucky to be so near the lake and to have many beautiful walks around us here.

I plodded behind them towards the water. After the week of keeping things running as smoothly as possible for the kids' study, I regressed to a childish, comical, stroppy, floppy Poppy! They were rather more upbeat than me and teased and cajoled me. My mood changed the minute I sat into my kayak. Floating on the deep, black, almost oil-like lake water dissipated any negativity.

The water was a bit choppy further out. The kayak bobbed up and down, but I felt anchored, a bit like being firm in the saddle of a cantering horse. The sun was low in the sky, producing that beautiful evening glow. The steep hill on the other side was a vibrant rusty orange, with its two streams flowing down to the lake; white barked silver birch, topped with purple branches followed their contour.

We paddled over to the island. I leant out and shook the yellow pollen from the bog myrtle and crushed some between my fingers to smell that pungent, almost medicinal scent I love.

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We paddled along the shore, weaving around and under branches. Carpets of wood anemone and primrose lay under the native oak trees behind the dark flood-marked rocks. Small ferns fluttered and danced on the lazy moss- and lichen-covered overhanging branches.

We came across a holly tree laden with berries. Birdsong was everywhere. How did they miss this feast? What a strange sight to see in April.

Aran identified the different birdsong for us. My dad used to do that.

After absorbing so many treasures we paddled back, packed up our kit and headed back up the hill. On the right, the black, burnt mountain and telephone poles; and on the left, coconut-scented gorse.

The next morning, maybe I should have settled into my studio to work, but from our bedroom I could see the lake was like glass. Lovely Conor encouraged me to head off on my own. It didn't take much encouragement. I took the whole day off.

The sun was warm on my face. Three snipe flew up out of the rushes as I walked down the field to the kayaks. I felt guilty disturbing them, but excited to see these beautiful birds with their incredibly long beaks.

It was very different to the day before, so incredibly still and warm. I could see the brown rocks under the clear water near the shore; further out the lake mirrored the sky and the hills. Sometimes I just stayed still, drifting, floating in the sky.

The reflection of the oaks formed a stunning cemetery, halved at the shore with a line of luminescent yellow kingcups. Fish jumped for insects, sometimes just breaking the water's surface, leaving bubbles in the centre of widening concentric circles. A lone heron waited in the shade.

I came upon a herd of wild goats. They watched me until I drifted too close and then they ran off. I got out a few times to examine the plants and the beautiful micro-gardens on the rocks - gardens of mosses and Saint Patrick's cabbage about to flower.

I remembered Mum used to tell us cheeky fairy stories, walking her fingers over these little gardens, and Dad told us all about 'Izzy Ponk' who lived under the rocks. Izzy Ponk seemed to have a lot of homes. He left us treats too!

There wasn't one other person on the lake for the five hours I stayed out. Bliss!


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