There is a man’s life story told in this one picture.
It was taken in an abandoned cottage less than 2k from where I live in county Clare, Ireland. Brigitte and I went for a walk locally, all that is permitted right now. We followed a very rough old lane. Called a boreen (bóithrín) in these parts. It brought us past a semi-derelict cottage, windows gone, roof beginning to fail, surrounding barns, ruined, and overgrown. We can never resist sticking our noses carefully and respectfully into such places.
I love to play detective and sift through what remains. In this case, the lower floors revealed a man alone, no sign of a woman’s touch. An old pipe, a cupboard piled high with Powers Whisky bottles, but all small hip flask 1/4 sized, all the better to slip in the pocket on the journey home by horse and cart from the local bar/shop. In later years, the horse might have become a tractor, but the lane would not have admitted a car and this small farmstead, would not have supported such luxury.
This old fellow lived just above the poverty line and his daily or perhaps weekly bottle of whisky was his big expense. I would think it was in all senses; needed.
There was the remains of a single bed, a rosary, a few trinkets and buttons. A few picture frames that may have had holy pictures. The walls had paper peeling and that had been often daubed with home-made whitewash paint, coloured badly with something, maybe tea.
There was a rusty old shoe repair last. When I carefully went up the creaky narrow stairs, I was greeted by the shoes and boots that the ‘last’ had been used to repair – a long row of boots and shoes, all the same size, and all many times re-heeled and thickly re-soled. None had laces. Those had moved to each new pair, and most likely are in the boots he was buried in. There were mouldering rubber boots crumbling to dust and a few Sunday-best shoes. This man was a hoarder. No shoes or boots he ever owned were discarded. No whisky bottle emptied was ever cast in a midden. The occasional Guinness bottle suggested an exceptional expenditure. A treat after a beast was sold at the Mart perhaps?
I found an old aluminium water flask. On the lid it said: Made in Nenagh. The Irish Free State. (Nenagh is a nearby market town). That dates it to between 1922 and 1930 roughly. We brought the flask home and will clean it and keep it.
That row of old shoes and boots extended all around the walls upstairs. Beyond the picture here. A life of toil, thrift and simplicity laid out. One man alone and perhaps lonely, propped up by a controlled consumption of whisky. The little hip flask size does not suggest drunken excess. There were none of the full size bottles of an oblivion seeker. Only small regular aids to living an isolated hard working and simple life.
It was a steamy tropical land south of the equator; swamps, mountains, high rainfall, a primal jungle teaming with the land-pioneers – insects. Amphibians came ashore to harvest the vegetation and insects and some evolved to stay on land. They were the very first vertebrates to colonise the land; lizard-like Tetrapods crawling and slithering through the mud. The high rain fall brought floods of silt from the mountains, quickly filling and burying the tracks of the Tetrapod.
I have been busy with the visual magicians Paul and Ria of Creative Flux Media, shooting film on the books and places that inspired me or are locations in them. The last scene we shot was in Bangor, County Down. (The location of Lauren’s upbringing featured in the Daniel Series.) It’s a very important place for me. I spent many happy hours there as a child. The joy of rock pooling and the freedom I enjoyed there was fundamental to the formation of my belief system.
The seeds planted in the boy’s imagination as he peered into the mini-cosmos of rock pools, would germinate in later life into unshakeable certainties about the natural order of life. Certainties that excluded the mysticism of religious explanations and the dogmas that so disfigure Ireland to this day.
The images of the Pickie area of Bangor are as I describe them in the books. It is not nearly so lovely now I’m afraid. The place is utterly dominated by the marina now filling the bay. An ugly ill considered piece of commercial pragmatism that destroyed the bay. Continue reading →
Yesterday the beloved ‘B’ and I went for a stroll in one of our favourite wandering sites, the Arboretum at Fota Park. This ex hunting lodge is located within the coastline of Cork harbour (The second largest natural harbour in the world, after Sidney. See below for history of Fota.)
The collection of trees and shrubs from all over the world is spectacular but beautifully compact, the very essence of picturesque. Perfect for a dander just as the leaves are changing, taking on their autumn shades and before they fall.
B calls this place the garden of sighs. She sighs a great deal when we walk here. The soft moist oxygen rich breath of the trees gives you a feeling of wellbeing that is both stimulating and relaxing. We try to go every few months to witness the changing costume of the seasons. I am struggling with a damaged knee and walking is still difficult but this is one walk I can do willingly. We always return feeling renewed and with our imaginations stuffed full of beautiful natural image replays.
One image stands out: the sunlit splendour of a mature Paperbark Cherry. This demanded fondling and wonderment at it’s silk ribbon wrapped red-gold beauty.
I now have a new scene for the novel in progress, Trial. David and Regan must walk here hand in hand. David is wrapped in Regan’s beauty but made melancholy by the falling of the year and their failing relationship.
(Fota’s arboretum and gardens are what they are today thanks to the Smith-Barry family who recognised the significance of Fota’s sheltered location and warm soil – “Fota” is derived from the Irish “Fód te” meaning warm soil – perfect for the growing and cultivation of rare trees and exotic plants.The development of the arboretum coincided with the great plant hunting expeditions around the world bringing back wonderful specimens from places such as the Orient, South America and the Pacific coast of northwest America.In the 1840’s, John Smith-Barry showed considerable foresight in generously spacing the trees, enabling them to thrive as they do today with stunning seasonal displays of colour. The family also recorded the plant collections throughout the 19th century and this important work of cataloguing, conservation and development continues today. Many of these plant collections are arranged in association with the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, and other botanic institutions such as the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Scotland. Fota arboretum and gardens were transferred to state care in 1996 and are now in the care of the Office of Public Works in conjunction with the Irish Heritage Trust.)
It’s often called artistic licence, some might say it’s not justified, others it’s a valid tool of the creator of the fiction that is the novel.
In my first published novel, Conflict, I use a location for some of the crucial scenes, which I knew to be historically inaccurate. The prime location for much of the action is a driving school located in Smithfield Square, Belfast. The old covered market that once stood there is the setting for several pivotal scenes. The novel is set in the late 1970s several years after the old market was burned down in a firebomb attack. It was eventually re-built in the form it now has. When I set these scenes, I knew I was playing fast and loose with the facts of the location.
So far, no reader has pulled me up on that, so for the record here is a little of the nostalgia that led me to use this location – even after it had been consigned to the history files I raided for these images. (They are taken from public access internet sources, if any are considered copyright protected let me know and I’ll take the offending image down.)
I set one scene in the second-hand book shop seen in this image. This place was responsible for my youthful literary (and sexual) education. Harry Hall, book seller, sold and traded mostly cheap paperbacks but also mens interest magazines! A boy who looked older than his thirteen years might, if he was bold, buy such a magazine there. Perhaps to stash it under his bed for secret pleasures and revelations about the mystery of the much desired but unknown land that was the woman.
I began my collection of John Steinbeck’s novels in Harry Hall’s shop. I still have several first edition paperbacks bought there when I was perhaps twelve. The more common and long forgotten pot boilers were traded for the shillings, I earned on my paper rounds. I spent money earned in this way, feeding my mind rather than on the more usual: sweets and soda and the then new – cheese and onion potato crisps.
Fiction and non fiction, anything and everything could be found in this literary underworld of cheap and often pulp fiction. So when I embarked, late in life, on a literary adventure, this my literary touch stone, had to feature in that work, even if the historical facts didn’t support that. I took liberties with an area infamous in Belfast’s cultural history, for the taking of liberties.
Smithfield Market became the focus of popular culture throughout the nineteenth century with, at one time, 27 public houses being resident on the square. Smithfield’s reputation for bawdy life was embodied by the location of Marshalsea Prison, a hospital, dispensary and a house of industry, on the square. The market itself was mostly open to the elements until the Belfast Corporation created a square roofed building sometime during the late nineteenth century. The market housed clothes dealers, auctioneer’s, theatres and a handball alley. One contemporary noted: ‘We penetrated into Smithfield court, which is not unworthy of the patronymic. This is, as we learned on the spot, the battle ground of the whole neighborhood; and wrathful pugilists resort thither, even from the most distant parts of the town, to settle their disputes after their own fashion, undisturbed by impertinent policemen.’
The Rev WM O’Hanlon expressed stronger views in 1853: ‘The very worst grade of our population will be found heaped together, corrupting and being corrupted, in this quarter. It is a sort of tumour … in the heart of our city.’ The square was at its most lively at the end of August during the Lammas fair. As SM Elliott testified: ‘Thousands of country people, especially sweethearts, gathered in Smithfield.’ The ghost of Biddy Farelly is said to walk the market at Lammas time, seeking out Luke White, her childhood sweetheart who deserted her to earn his fortune in Dublin.
With the advent of the covered square, Smithfield became, in the words of Robert Johnstone, ‘like the souk in an Hibernian Casablanca’, an underground paradise of bric-a-brac.
Prominent families included the Dawsons, the Kavanaghs and the Havelins, who still run premises on Berry Street. The last inhabitant of Smithfield, Joe Kavanagh, did not close his ‘I buy anything’ shop until 2000, which for many was the valedictory event in Smithfield’s history. The market continued to exist under the noses of the great industrial citizens, always regarded as a low place with dubious morals. For most of the twentieth century, the Belfast Corporation, as the council was then called, attempted to close Smithfield down.
In 1974, the Corporation was planning to demolish the old bus station site, but they were saved the trouble by the efforts of firebombers in May. Amid the uproar of those years, nostalgia was a rare resource, but many were aware that a complex and colourful past had been razed.The market was rebuilt with prefabs in 1976, and a new brick building was opened in 1986. But to many in the city, the soul of the market was gone. With the advent of Castle Court, a smelly, dirty and disorganised market had little place in the city.To those who remember the old Smithfield or have listened to its tales, a certain part of the rough and ready exoticism of Belfast has been lost. As Herbert Moore Pim states in Unknown Immortals:’In Smithfield, breathing as it does the majestic maxim, “Man know thyself” we have a storehouse of splendours, for the loss of which nothing could compensate this city of success.’
Put them together and what do you get? The Irish flag perhaps? Well no. This is not the Irish flag and there lies a tragic tale. People often call the Irish flag green, white and gold. It’s almost standard and it’s a myth. A damaging myth based on intolerance and sectarian divide.
What color is this? Yes orange.
What flag is this?
This is the true Irish Flag. The founding fathers had an idealistic idea:Green to represent traditional Irish cultural identity and orange to represent the other cultural identity in the island with white to be peace between them. A noble idea and one we have still not achieved fully and nor will we so long as people still refuse to acknowledge that noble idea by describing the flag as green white and gold instead of the truthful and meaningful: green, white and orange.
In calling it gold, refusing to say orange, they are disrespecting that ideal. Refusing it.
It’s time we started being bold and brave and using our flag with respect.
We took a last minute break and travelled north to the Causeway Coast in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. (NI)
The village of Portballintrae or Port-balance-your-tray as it’s been nicknamed as an aide-mémoire – is a sleepy little holiday village with a small sandy bay, a harbour and 50% second homes. It has also got what we think is one of the best small hotels in the world: The Bay View. The premier rooms all have big bay windows with a lounge for viewing … the bay!
The place is simple, unpretentious and offers spectacular value for money. We were lucky and found two days of sunshine in a summer of otherwise unrelenting gray and rain. When we arrived about four, we sat in the bay window, sighed a lot and watched the Oystercatchers and Redshanks following the tide up the beach.
That lounging area in the suite is supremely sigh-worthy and we drank tea, took in the views, sighed and smiled a great deal and felt a year of care drop off us.
We watched the wet-suited youth throwing themselves squealing into the harbour. The boys were trying to outdo each other with athletic excess to impress girls who were much too cool to notice. Cool in attitude and body. The water looked very cold.
Later we took a stroll round the harbour and into the next bay Bushfoot where the Bush river enters the sea. (The water from this river is used in what is reputed to be the oldest whiskey distillery in the world: Old Bush Mills). The river was pregnant with dark brown torrent water off the peat-moors so the surfers looked like they were riding creamy crests of Guinness. Across the bay stands the Causeway Hotel and the entrance to the Giants Causeway. The columnar basalt formations that are such a tourist honey spot.
On the far shore stands the gothic looking Runkerry House, built by the Macnaughtons They were given most of North Antrim in times past. They gave the house back to the NI government in the 1930s. They used it up to the 1990s when they decided to sell it. £4 million changed hands and it went to a US based developer with big ideas for a golf centre. One thing NI doesn’t lack is golf facilities so that didn’t happen. Now the place is being sold off piecemeal as apartments.
As we came back, B captured a stunning sunset over the harbour. We sat in our room, sipped a Black Bushmills whiskey and watched the sun sizzle into the sea in the west. Refreshed and delighted we retired glad we made the impulsive trip north.
Next day, after a hearty breakfast and a reading of the world’s oldest newspaper in continuous print – The Belfast Newsletter (first published in 1731), we drove round the coast to Whitepark Bay. A place of great significance to me but that story can wait for tomorrow.
Daniel walked through the garden to the shoreline. The tide was out and he was able to slip out of his shoes and walk along the water’s edge. It was fine silt-mud this far up the estuary, but he enjoyed the feel of it squelching through his toes as he slowly made his way down towards the sea. The sun was gone behind the hills in the west but it was still a fine light evening with a lovely red glow to the sky behind the cottage. He stopped to look but found he was sinking and had to keep moving. Kris’s manipulation had eased his body and he felt more mobile with less pain when walking. His mind felt fuzzy and unfocused and kept flitting about from memories and images to speculations and questions about the future. Since he’d left hospital, he’d had no time to be reflective and hadn’t given thought to anything beyond the immediate and urgent concerns of their safety. Now he tried to think once again of what he would do next. His mind wouldn’t fix on it and kept flitting back to the recent past. He was aware of feeling something like irritation, as if being bitten by a small insect. A tiny pinprick but constant and growing more annoying every minute. He stopped again and tried to concentrate on what it was that was bugging him. He felt his feet begin to disappear in the soft mud but didn’t move. He closed his eyes and looked intensely inward trying to clear away the mud that was in his mind as well as round his ankles.
Then, like a light being switched on in a dark room, he saw it. It grew and enveloped him so he threw back his head and roared as loud as he could, again and again. The sound echoed around the estuary as a flock of shore birds rose chittering and squealing in alarm from the reeds beside him. He opened his eyes and saw them tile the sky around him. He was filled with a great rage and pure clear anger. He had gone back to Ireland to do a good thing – tell Lauren’s parents the news of her pregnancy. The bastards had dragged him back into their sordid vile tribal violence again. He felt contaminated and defiled by it and that filled him with outrage. He had felt no such thing when he had aimed his weapon at Jimmy and ended his life. Then he had felt nothing at all, an effective emotional numbness. Now, the thing that had been nibbling at him bit hard and made him scream in indignation. m so he threw back his head and roared as loud as he could, again and again. The sound echoed around the estuary as a flock of shore birds rose chittering and squealing in alarm from the reeds beside him. He opened his eyes and saw them tile the sky around him. He was filled with a great rage and pure clear anger. He had gone back to Ireland to do a good thing – tell Lauren’s parents the news of her pregnancy. The bastards had dragged him back into their sordid vile tribal violence again. He felt contaminated and defiled by it and that filled him with outrage. He had felt no such thing when he had aimed his weapon at Jimmy and ended his life. Then he had felt nothing at all, an effective emotional numbness. Now, the thing that had been nibbling at him bit hard and made him scream in indignation.
I have been encouraged to re-think this blog and have come over all radical and changed the theme. In memory of a hero, the late Steve Jobs of Apple, I choose this early Mac inspired theme.
The image in the header and here is Sandy Cove, Kinsale, Cork, Ireland. A glorious place I lived and was inspired by. It was here I first took the plunge and began to seriously write. It looms large in the work and is the location of much of the action. I should say that the ‘red house’ described in the work is based on that seen on the waterfront in the image but in reality it has no connection with me or my characters. I hope it’s several owners will forgive me borrowing it.
The content is going to grow over the next few days as I upload more imagery and words related to my work content. Places that influence me. Characters bios and images that helped me create them and give them life. (The creation came first and then the images were found.) Things inspire too, cars, planes and techno boy-toys that appear in the work. There will also be more images and stories about me and my loved ones. Those who made the work possible and who inspired me to explore what that word means. Love – the eternal challenge of all who create.
The first of my novels to be put out with my new publisher: bookbaby, is now out at retailers: Surviving Beauty. This is the second edition and has been much improved with the help of my editorial assistant: Miriam. Gratitude and sincere thanks go to her.
The next in the Daniel series: Daniel’s Grip, number five, is with my previous publisher and should be out before Christmas. Then all future work will be with bookbaby.
I have some sponsorship/advertising due for The Prairie Companions. I will be interested to see if this gets me noticed and produces some much needed sales. I am strangely reluctant to do self-promotion and a brief foray into Twitter was a deeply unpleasant experience never to be repeated. Blogging is fine but very few visit this page. How does one get traffic without distasteful self-promotion and disingenuous visiting of others blogs?
Oh well, back to the writing. I’ll forget sales and think only of the creative buzz.