Friday, 20 July 2012

On the Emerald Isle (Part 1 of 2)

Part 1:  In Dublin’s Fair City

A few weeks ago I made a brief visit to Ireland with my friend Michèle.  We were at school together in Argentina from the age of 13 and I have mentioned her on this blog several times, particularly recently because she is looking after her younger 25-year old daughter Selina who was in a terrible car accident last October.  After being unconscious for several months Selina has now woken up and is making a slow recovery at the rehabilitation centre near Buenos Aires where Michèle cares for her 24 hours a day for most days of the week.  She has to be up every two to three hours at night to turn Selina over to avoid pessure sores, so she rarely gets a complete night's sleep.  I post updates on this blog from time to time, the most recent on the post before this one.

She does it gladly and greets every small progress Selina makes with joy and relief, but there is still quite a way to go, and recently it became clear that my friend urgently needed a period of respite.  She was able to find a nurse to live with and look after her precious daughter, and thanks to her air hostess sister’s organisation she came to Britain in May to stay first of all with her youngest son, who is making his career in the world of polo here.  After a week she made her way on her own over to Bristol, and we were up at the crack of dawn the following morning to catch a plane from Bristol to Dublin.

We are in touch by phone, e-mail and Facebook, but it had been three years since I had last seen her.  Although her life had taken a ninety degree turn in the past months, it was clear that she was coping remarkably well.  She is strong in her will to provide her daughter with every care and stimulus necessary to give her the best chance of a complete recovery; confident in the route this must take, no matter what the obstacles; determined to meet red tape, difficult people and circumstances head on; steadfast in her faith that one day Selina will lead a normal life again.

She has been loyally and lovingly supported by her husband and family, and has discovered that the circle of friends and acquaintances that care about the family and wish to be involved in providing practical help is many times larger than she ever realised.  It has now been nearly nine months since the accident; at the beginning the visitors to the hospital were so numerous that they took over the cafeteria area – one day Michèle counted 150 visitors who had passed through its doors throughout the day to ask how Selina was. 

When Selina was eventually moved to a rehabilitation centre it was far from the centre of town with little or no access except by car.  This however did not deter the army of well-wishers who were horrified by the personal ordeal this young, vibrant and intelligent woman was going through, and they contrived to come by taxi in groups to share the expense, or if they took buses they devoted the day to their visit.  Some would stay overnight so that Selina’s mother could go home and wash clothes or have a complete night’s sleep. 

Michèle can actually remember the number of days when there have been no visitors, and says frequently that she has been greatly sustained by this tremendous support.  Speaking as one of the army of friends, her Facebook page is our lifeline; thus we learn of the little advances and the affectionate and thrilled messages they generate.

Her tiredness has been accumulating for some time, but I knew that she would not want to sit around and sleep all day when she was staying with me.  While browsing idly on the internet earlier this year I had found the website of an Augustinian Retreat in Orlagh, near Dublin in Ireland, which had been the home of Michèle’s husband’s ancestors, the O’Dwyer family, during the 1800s. 

I learned that the lady of the manor in those days had been Lady Selina, and Michèle’s daughter had clearly been named after her. 

Lady Selina O'Dwyer
and four of her children -
all of them boys despite their apparel.
(From the Orlagh website.)

This now struck me as a very appropriate coincidence and I wrote to the organisation to explain the story of Selina’s illness and ask whether it might be possible to see the house and grounds for an hour or two to take pictures.  I thought our not being Catholic might have a bearing on their decision, so I explained that we were Anglicans.  I hardly expected a reply.

When it came, it was overwhelming.  Fr John Byrne is the Augustinian priest who runs the retreat, and he told me that there had been two previous occasions when members of the extended O’Dwyer family had made personal pilgrimages to Orlagh, and he was glad to have been able to fill them in on some of their family history.  They in turn had given him some O’Dwyer material for the Retreat’s website.  The O’Dwyer family had sold the property in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and it was eventually purchased by the Augustinian Order.  It had originally been a place where novitiates were trained, but was now a retreat and meditation centre.  He invited us to stay as their guests.

So that’s what we did.

When I’m ruler of the world, one of my first edicts shall be that mornings are to start later.  Educational establishments, businesses, shops... at least 10 a.m., if not 11.  And this business of flights departing at sparrows’ fart is going to be discontinued.  Definitely.  I might even impose mandatory siestas as well. 

So I was practically cross-eyed when we got on the plane to Dublin which took off at 8 a.m., and there was a busy schedule ahead.  The flight from Bristol is less than an hour – not even time to doze.  We hired a small car at Dublin airport and I drove into town while Michèle had the difficult job of navigating using three different maps, all of which were too small, as were the street names, not to mention having to remind herself constantly that road signs were on the lefthand side. 

Her head was buried in the map while I did as I was told and was able to look around me.  We observed straight away that even in rush hour the volume of traffic and number of people around was way below what we were used to.  No one tooted impatiently at me, I was allowed to change my mind on lanes and directions, performing u-turns with little warning; though there might have been the odd “tsk tsk” and a rolling of eyeballs behind the rolled up windows, I certainly didn’t hear or see them.  This patience and courtesy was to become a feature in the days we spent in Ireland.

Not being one for figures and statistics, I hope nevertheless you’ll find this as interesting as I did.  England (i.e., not including Scotland or Wales) covers 70,280 sq km or 32,599 sq miles, whereas the Republic of Ireland (excluding Northern Ireland) has 130,400 sq km or 50,346 sq miles.  So without being too pedantic about it, the Republic of Ireland is nearly twice the size of England.  Compare this with the population:  England has 51.5 million people, Rep of Ireland 4.6 million – less than a tenth of England’s population.  So you can appreciate why the conurbations we saw and the roads we travelled along seemed quiet – or as England might have been a very long time ago.

We left the hired car behind in a car park and embarked on a bus tour of Dublin on the top of a double-decker bus... the blazing sunshine of that most unusual of circumstances – an Irish heat wave, and not a cloud to be seen.  Shauna our bus driver was also the tour guide.   Talented and funny, she told us endless anecdotes and saucy facts about the Irish politicians of the day, and I found myself joining in with her singing “Molly Malone” at the top of my voice and stamping my feet at the appropriate point in “Wild Rover”, like a ten year old on a school outing.  Each guide has their own style – we know hers was not typical because a couple of days later we did it again (when we had recovered our energy and got on and off several times) and the tours were pre-recorded with nothing like Shauna’s exuberance.

Dublin loves its statues, and rightly so, because there are many unusual ones -

Molly Malone, otherwise known as The Tart with the Cart...

The Needle, otherwise known as
The Stiletto in the Ghetto...
(Google pic)
 The Hags with the Bags...      (Google pic)

Anna Livia representing the River Liffey,
otherwise known as
The Floozy in the Jacuzzi...  (Google pic)

Jim Larkin, Irish Trade Union leader
and social activist

Heroic maybe, but he'd obviously
been on the Guinness...

And she was holding the scales
as though they smelt horrible...

I'll take you to Orlagh next time.


Photo Finish

A change to the usual - these are all pictures
taken by John in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands,
with an underwater camera.



Joyful said...

It warmed my heart to hear how Michele and her daughter Selina have such tremendous support. Often it just isn't the case. It's so great too that you and Michele were able to get away. I'm sure it is just what she needed. You are a good friend. I like you would like a later start to each day. I laughed out loud at your expression "sparrow's fart". Haven't heard it before, lol. Have a wonderful weekend my friend.

Lonicera said...

Thanks Penny! I'm quite astonished at the level of support they get - people seem to visit every day, and the place is not on the way to anywhere... Long may it continue.

Sandy said...

Can't wait for the next post. Tim and I are planning a trip to Ireland next June Including Dublin and it gives me some ideas of what to do.

Lonicera said...

Although it was only a few days, I can't wait to have a proper holiday there. I was totally bowled over by their kindness and charm - and by the relative emptiness. Fewer cars, fewer people. Green, so green...

Margaret said...

You really got a lot done in the time you had!
We arrived in Dublin on Good Friday one year. Everything was closed.
Best wishes for Selina's recovery.

Lonicera said...

I can imagine the whole of Ireland would close down over Easter with the exception of the churches! Thanks for the comment Margaret.

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