24 January Tuesday
I just learned that the three narrow slits in the front of the Augustinian Abbey down at Molough were specially included in the building so that lepers could watch a mass without entering the church and infecting everyone else with leprosy. I am not sure if much could be heard through the slits. These slits were called Leper’s Squints. I assume the word squint was because anyone looking through could only use one eye.
22 January Sunday
All of the plants in their large heavy flower pots were carried into the barn for the winter. I cut the plants back and tried to give each one enough window space to get light through the winter months. I watered the plants over several weeks before I accepted that not a single one of the plants was alive. The early heavy frosts killed everything well before I got around to getting them inside. I can still walk out and find fresh leaves of mint, thyme, sage and rosemary. Nothing seems to affect their growth in the ground all through the winter. I am now avoiding the job of carrying all of the big pots back outside but it is depressing to be working in the barn surrounded by dead plants.
19 January Thursday
There is one traffic light in Ardfinnan. It was installed last year. The stone bridge over the river is a worry. It cannot take the weight anymore. If the bridge is closed, life is not possible. There is only the one bridge. Many people in each direction will be cut off from one another and from the places where they need to go. The traffic light allows a single line of cars and trucks and tractors over the bridge. The wait is not long. There are never more than five or six vehicles waiting at any one time. The short wait takes a lot of stress off the bridge. If the bridge collapses no one knows how long it will take to build a replacement. No one wants to think about a future without the bridge.
Greg was waiting at the traffic light in Ardfinnan today when a swan crashed into the bridge and tumbled onto the road. Greg got out of his car and carried the swan across the bridge and down to the green. He lowered it into the water. It swam away. He felt that it swam away happily. No one else crossing the bridge showed the slightest bit of interest. He said when he picked up the swan it’s heart was pounding. He said that the nearer he and the swan got to the water the more calm the swan’s heartbeat became. Greg felt himself get calmer too.
17 January Tuesday
Our address remains a problem for a lot of people. The Dutch post office continues to be outraged about it. They have refused to deliver things to us as there are no numbers in the address. We have always made up codes for them and also for the Germans as well as for any internet ordering. The made up numbers amuse John the Post. Most times we write our address one word per line. My mother says it looks like a shopping list. Sometimes I have to explain it to people from away.
Ballybeg is the townland. A townland suggests a small area of land which is locally recognizable. A narrow stream at the bottom of the meadow is the beg. Bally, from the Irish for little town, is the immediate settled area. In this case it is just our one house. Further down the fields and on the exact same stream there is another townland of Ballybeg, but that is in the village of Newcastle. Ballybeg is an extremely common name in Ireland. There are hundreds of Ballybegs. Or if not hundreds, there are at least dozens. The playwright Brian Friel set his plays in a fictional place called Ballybeg. Ballybeg is so much a work of his fiction now that sometimes people are surprised that we really live in an actual Ballybeg. I am not sure if a townland and a parish are the same thing. Maybe I should not be beginning this description of place without some research.
Grange is the village. Grange is another common name. There are lots of Granges. The village center has Frank’s shop, a church, a graveyard, and an elementary school. After that there are miles of farmland in all dirctions. We are at one far end of Grange. We are nearly Newcastle. If we were to be more specific we could say we are just below Knockeen or up from Ballynamuddagh or down from Tullameghlan. These are three other surrounding townlands. There is no sign anywhere with these names on them. Townlands are not identified by signage. People just know townlands because that is how we all know where we are.
Clonmel is the biggest town nearby. It might be the largest town in the county. I am not certain about that. It is not a city because it does not have a cathedral. It has a population of about 16,000. Laurence Sterne was born there. The word Clonmel means Meadow of Honey and it is indeed a very fertile area, known especially for apples and a healthy bee population. It is about 8-10 miles from us, depending how you go.
Tipperary is the county. Tipperary is the largest county in Ireland. On our license plates we used to have TS or TN to denote Tipperary North or Tipperary South. Now new cars just have a T. Our bit of the county borders closely onto County Waterford. There is a town with the name Tipperary too. Any address there would read Tipperary Tipperary. Sort of like a stutter.
Ireland should be written as the Republic of Ireland, or Eire, to differentiate from Northern Ireland which is still legally part of the United Kingdom. We live in a separate and free republic which is not ruled by a monarchy.
So, from the bottom up, everything gets more specific and closer to our exact location. To aid in locating places we were assigned post codes last year. The government was so tentative when they sent out our new codes to us that they told us we did not have to use them if we did not want to. I am not sure what good they are if no one uses them.
16 January Monday
Snowdrops are fully in blossom now. They are everywhere. There are even more than I thought there were when they were first appearing in bud. Em’s little stone has a lovely cluster of snowdrops all around it. The sheep did not destroy them. I never heard any more about those sheep after they disappeared up over the hill. Either the man who owned the sheep came looking for them and led them off home or else enough people spoke of them around the area and eventually the sheep which were missing and which maybe had not even been noticed as missing were claimed and recovered. Maybe they just found their own way home, eating as they went. No one seemed worried so there was no need for me to worry.
15 January Sunday
We went off walking in the late morning because Simon had cut his thumb and it kept bleeding on the pages he was folding. We thought if he walked he would not be using his thumb and it would be better. Which it was. We went over to Goatenbridge and walked through the forestry where the mosses were bright and glowing green. Eventually we circled back along the road which was good because we were tucked right under the mountains. There were many fields and houses to look at along the road and even a little bridge I had never noticed before. You do see more on foot. We walked and walked for much longer than we had planned to walk. It was a beautiful cold day. The sun was bright all the time. We met several people that we knew and so we exchanged Happy New Year greetings. One of the people wanted to talk and talk and talk. He wanted to talk our ears off so he did.
14 January Saturday
Jessie is a lucky dog. She was rescued by Mick who met a man who was about to move to London. He had the dog with him and Mick admired the dog. The man said “She is Giddy and Lively but she’d swim the English Channel for you.” The man found it annoying that the dog would jump into any water even if that water was in a bucket. She simply could not stay out of water. He also found it annoying that she was supposed to be a gun dog but she was skittish around guns. When Mick asked if the man was taking his dog along to London with him the man said he was not. He said that if she had not been so skittish he might have sold her. The man said he was just that minute taking her over to a local farm and the farmer was going to shoot her. He said it was too expensive to go to the vet to have her put down. Mick offered to take the dog even though he had no room for her himself. He delivered her to the animal sanctuary and she was given a foster home for one week. She has never left that home. Not only is she Giddy and Lively and A Water Loving Dog, but she is a Lucky Dog.