My family and I had the pleasure of the company of my brother on St Stephen’s Day. We went for a walk along the Flaggy Shore, Co. Clare. To get there you drive south from our house in Kilcolgan, through the village of Kinvara, then after a bit you take a side road along the coast and you’re there. The landscape is bleak and beautiful: the road is flanked on either side with small rocky fields surrounded by dry stone walls, each bearing the character of the hands that built it. At this time of year, the colour has been leached out of the landscape. The fields are still green, but barely, and any tiny gnarled trees that have managed to make it above a couple of metres high are dark grey against the glare of grey winter sky, their branches always a twiggy trace of the prevailing wind. Yesterday was warm and still, and dry – good for a walk, but neither crisp nor clear. I was happy, because I’d tucked my sketching stuff under my arm, and as long as it stayed dry I would have my way, and get a sketch in.
Walkers thronged the little road along the shore line. Families with tiny tots on new bicycles, dogs in Christmas jumpers, lone walkers. No one walked on the shore itself, which is so weird, because the walking gods designed it specially, with great sheets of horizontal limestone that anyone could navigate (apart from the tots on new bicycles). The only thing you had to watch out for were water traps: the still, overcast day meant that there were neither ripples nor reflections to alert you to the presence of a rock pool. Poor Reuben the terrier doesn’t know about things like that, and chasing a pebble someone had thrown for him he raced full tilt into a deep pool. He hates the water, but I got a good laugh out of it.
We walked along the limestone pavement, the less intrepid strollers on the road to our left, the sea calm and greenish blue slightly below us to our right, with the low hills of the Aughinish peninsula just beyond. A whale was washed up on the Flaggy Shore one hot day a couple of years ago and although myself and the kids raced out to see it, it was gone by the time we got there. This time, I strained my eyes to spot cool stuff in the water, but every time I saw a bobbing head that I thought was a seal, it turned out to be cormorants and other fishing birds. Still cool. My brother read me a poem, “Postscript” by Séamus Heaney, written about the Flaggy Shore following a visit. The next time I go there, I will make a few sketches to better illustrate the poem: I didn’t do it any sort of justice yesterday.
One bit of horizontal pavement was just so comfy that my brother sat and chatted with the kids, Paddy and his younger sister Liv. They love to listen to their uncle, who tells a story like few others. He is knowledgeable, entertaining and erudite about nearly everything. The Irish for generation, glúin, translates as “knee”: if you wanted to say “from generation to generation” you’d say in Irish “from knee to knee” (ó ghlúin go glúin”) the idea being that the older generation teaches the next as they sit on their knee. That has certainly been the case with my brother and his nephews and nieces. I was happy to record the moment. So happy to have my loved ones sitting together in that peaceful setting.
This morning, my young lady Liv looked very nice in a black and white stripey jumper that she got for Christmas, and a red and white stripey mug that she got in her Christmas stocking. You may have noticed that I have taken to letter-stamping everything: some choice letter stamp sets somehow found their way into Liv’s Christmas stocking too, so that she too would fall for their charms. As you can see, this has come to pass, for the stamping on the sketch is her handiwork. Little does she know that nowhere is safe, that I have letter stamp sets in lots of sizes and styles squirrelled away all over my studio…
I asked Paddy (17) to offer his room to his uncle for the night, and sleep in the spare bed in Liv’s room. They are very good kids and have always got on like a house on fire so they agreed. Liv is the sort of teenage girl I wished I was at fourteen, the type who comes up with choreographed dances with pals and has a tidy bedroom. When she and her friends have a sleepover, they go the whole nine yards. There’ll be five of them stretched out on the floor, with ne’er a wink of sleep until daybreak. She told Paddy that she had planned out the sleepover.
“Dancing at three o’clock, doing each other’s hair at four, watching a horror movie at five and then watching the sun come up at seven,” she said. This is funny because it’s so Liv, but also because Paddy sleeps more deeply than anyone I have ever met. If he falls asleep anywhere but his bed you’re in trouble – he’s not waking up. Fully dressed, too cold, whatever – he’s staying there for the night unless you’re very big and strong. Needless to say no one did anyone’s hair last night.
This will probably be my last post of 2018. It only remains for me to thank you for taking the time to read my simple musings over the last year, and for your kind comments on my website and on social platforms. Starting to write this blog on a near-daily basis has been a terrific source of pleasure for me – like discovering a fantastic toy that never gets old. I look forward to sharing lots more stories of life in the west of Ireland as 2019 unfolds; lots more sketches, lots more colour and lots more fun.
Happy New Year!