Pastward travels

Aug 4th, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

It was a day for driving through the past. Across the border by ten o’clock, and swinging right towards the Kingdom of Mourne. At the little church at Tullybrannigan outside of Newcastle, we placed flowers on Pat’s grave. A stern, granite Celtic cross marks the family plot; a “Popish” innovation at the time Uncle Tom died. Lunch in Dundrum, before following the coast along the shoreline at Tyrella, where the trees grow sideways in the sea winds.

The country became familiar as we reached Rossglass and the boundary of the parish where I worked for seven years. Over the hill into Killough, which has become as picturesque a village as you will find anywhere on the Irish coast. Passing down the street, I threw a fond glance at the little parish church on the harbour where I worked for seven years.

We drove on through Ardglass and then to Strangford for the ferry to the Ards. The ferry laboured against a rushing flood tide as it came across from Portaferry, and then flew across with the tide as it took us to the far shore. The drive alongside the inside of the peninsula was filled with beauty; land and sky and water, as the road picked its way along the lough shore.

Through Newtownards, where I trained as a curate and then westwards, skirting Belfast, to a little churchyard at Kilwarlin, west of Hillsborough. It will be two years at the end of the month since we said ‘Goodbye’ to Peggy. We arranged the roses in the vase – reds and oranges and pinks. I had been tempted to buy some orange lilies. “D’ye like these, Peggy? D’ye not think they’d look great on the lodge banner?” She would have laughed, but sometimes you have to be serious as well as silly.

A squirrel sat and watched from the graveyard wall, before disappearing into the trees. Had he sat long enough, he would have seen many sad moments on this little patch of ground. I stood at the grave of a policeman, a family man, a good man, who had been murdered by the IRA; the scars in these little communities run deep.

Then it was time to turn south, to come back to Dublin to resume the things of the present time. Searching for lines to capture the day, I opened Seamus Heaney’s Door Into the Dark. Heaney captures the Ards as only Heaney could:

The Peninsula

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks, so you will not arrive

But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
And you’re in the dark again. Now recall

The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
Islands riding themselves out into the fog,

And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.

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  1. I never visit graves. My mother would disapprove she was sentimental about such things but I remember my lost loved ones as they were, in the garden, around the dinner table and through conversation. I can’t bring myself to visit those little grey stones in a cold lawn cemetary.

  2. Ian – that sounds like a day well-fulfilled!

    I’ve always been in two minds about how best to remember people. Like Baino, I don’t like graveyards but I think it’s important to have a place that marks one’s passing.

    When my brother died in the UK a few years ago, we brought his ashes back to Ireland and scattered them at sea in a place where he loved to sail. He had no offspring and now I feel that there is nothing/nowhere that marks his passage in time.

    By having an engraved headstone, it is a record for evermore that the person existed and it allows generations to come, an opportunity to remember their ancestors.

    Having said that, I’ve requested that my ashes will be scattered at a favourite spot in Connemara and I’ve chosen a concrete boulder as my headstone!

  3. I think we are attached to land and place; having somewhere to go is important.

    What I didn’t do yesterday was to visit my own grave. It’s in a churchyard looking over Dundrum Bay to Slieve Donard. I know I’m not there yet, but I won’t be there when I’m dead either.

  4. You’re right about land and place . . .just not a ‘plot’. You have a plot? Wow I thought I was organised. Nah back to fertilise the earth for me (I bet the kiddywinks bung me under a plaque that says “Bolshy Biatch” . . actually I’d probably have a giggle at that!

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