The middle of Co Down is drumlin country; round, rolling green hills dotted with neat little farmsteads. It must have been suggested at one time that it resembled an English county, for the local aristocrat took the title of “Downshire”, but it is not like any part of rural England that I know.
It is a place where time goes slowly, where the topography brings the horizon down to the few miles of your neighbourhood. It is a place where friendships and affections are long and where stories fifty years past are told with the freshness of the present.
Driving North yesterday, I watched the hills rolling past and decided remembering was in order. Swinging off the dual carriageway, I pulled into a garage in Dromore, one of those modern places where you can buy everything, but would not be of any help if your car broke down. Buying a dozen red carnations, I went back to the main road and turned to the left for Kilwarlin.
The problem with drumlins is that the roads creep up on you before you know it, I was past my turning, catching sight of the road name in the rear view mirror. No matter, the roads have a spider’s web quality, miss one turning and another will arrive. Cutting back to the right, I found Saint John’s Church, a plain Protestant structure, as enduring as the landscape around.
Just inside the gate, there was the spot where we gathered at the end of August last year to say our farewells to Katharine’s mother, Peggy, buried alongside her husband Robert, who died while Rector of the parish.
“Peggy, I missed your anniversary. I’ve brought some red carnations. They’re garage ones, so I’m not sure how good they are”.
I arranged the flowers in the vase as best I could and stood back to look. I had managed to get green stuff from the stalks down the front of my shirt, and my hands, wet from the flowers that had been wrapped in plastic, seemed to have gathered mud from the leaves I had brushed away from the grave. I would have made an odd sight, not that there was anyone else there to disturb the utter silence of the churchyard.
“Until the day break,” declares the gravestone. Aye, indeed, until the morning of the eternal day.
My brief remembrance completed, I turned for Belfast. Winding through the timeless lanes, the piers of an old railway bridge stood sentry either side of the road. Perhaps there was the sound borne on the wind of a GNR locomotive steaming from Hillsborough to Dromore, perhaps it was just the melancholic mood of a September afternoon.