An Irish Visit: Walk-On Luggage Only

Monday 13th May 2019

I thought I was going for one night only but as soon as I got there I realised it would have to be two. My funeral outfit was the Topman frock coat in real wool (shaggy tartan). It had to double up as a travelling coat owing to being in a walk-on luggage only trap.  Otherwise I had only one extra day outfit and insufficient foundation garments.

Prince Dmitri had briefed me about Ireland beforehand. He lived many years of exile there. A cupboard is a ‘press’. They say, ‘I’m after buying a Wedgwood dinner service’ which doesn’t mean ‘I hoping to buy a Wedgwood dinner service,’ but the opposite: ‘I’ve just bought a Wedgwood dinner service.’ On the plane it all zinged into life on Aer Lingus. They were Irish. ‘I’m after getting a gin and tonic,’ one stewardess said to another. Thrilling. On the radio in the hire car from Cork airport to Waterford, a reporter was describing a court case going on in Dublin. ‘His mother lost the run of herself,’ he said. Can you be surprised?

Strange countryside – very green, of course, huge open spaces with fields, then mountains, bleak little villages, often hideous 19th or 20th century buildings. It looks like England but it isn’t. Much ruination. Any gentleman’s residence, such as might be a parsonage or a solicitor’s goodly house, almost certain to have been wrecked with replacement windows. And very few of them – good residences, I mean. The terrible history, I suppose. Really nothing but wretched peasant dwellings that fell down or were demolished. Somehow no sense of a peaceful rural life, but strife and wrong.

At Waterford, hotel not progressed since 1981. Amazing long-haired carpet with nylon sheen, the vast expanse of it the main feature of the room, obliterating the need for pictures on the walls. Spanish receptionist suggested a bistro in the town but when I get there crazy parking arrangements: there were parking spaces in the pedestrian zone and vehicle access permitted, but actual parking forbidden – or so they said when I asked in the restaurant. So had to re-park. But no provision made for getting out of zone again – i.e.no traffic light at the junction, lights only at the other three junctions of the cross-roads – so just had to drive out randomly. Terror of ticket.

In the restaurant there was an enormous woman saying to the waitress: ‘Can we have three puddings? It says here “3 courses for 25 euros”. But we only had one 1st course between us.’ She got her three puddings. I longed to lean over and say, ‘The last thing you need is 3 puddings.’

The funeral was to be of the Gay Mother’s oldest friend who passed at 95, always known as Miss B. This was because a very snobbish neighbour said to the Gay Grandmother in 1930,’ How fortunate the Gay Mother is to have Miss Bigby to play with, the charming little grand-daughter of General Sir Morgan Bigby.’ Miss Bigby at that time was only six, but still the grand-daughter of General Sir Morgan Bigby without escape. This same neighbour, when the air-raids came, announced that Hodges, her maid, was in her proper place under the kitchen table, while she was beneath some Sheraton in the drawing room. Sheraton did not design his furniture with air raids in mind. The same might be said of the kitchen table but I think we know which would have been the stronger. Also the kitchen was in the basement.

But I agree that placement and prestige should take precedence over life and death.

The funeral wasn’t until 2pm the next day so I was able to fit in Mount Congreve in the morning. Important Spring garden and fabulous Irish Georgian mansion (no inside visits), so bare and grey, the only feature an elaborate black stone front door portal. In fact Miss Bigby’s son-in-law had been the agent to old Mr Congreve who died aged 103 in 2011. Completely feudal set-up and carry-on so what has changed in Ireland? Trespassers all but gunned down and staff abolished at will.

I gained the grim Church of Ireland barn in a Cornish-type of sea-side town with golf links and knew no-one. Within it was pitch-pine lined. I was summoned to the front row by Miss Bigby’s daughter whom I last saw in 1968. Every summer they stayed in the 60s. Now for a moment we were revived and strangely thrown together at her mother’s funeral. And I hadn’t seen her since 1972. My placement meant that at the end of the service when the mourners filed by the family as is the Irish tradition apparently I was showered with condolences. But it was all for the Gay Mother who had known her the longest and could hardly be there herself at 95.

Miss Bigby had lived quietly without men mostly and in her mind had dwelt on Proust and the struggle to produce art in the emptiness of the 20th century. She left a body of hard-line abstract paintings which seemed less important on the day of her funeral than her lovely life of the mind. Awfully brainy woman vicar, explaining all this, full of culture and learning. ¬†Miss Bigby’s void was full of light. Although her form was lowered brutally into the grave in its wicker coffin. In her day she had been whacky in a salmon-pink leather mini-suit on the train from London arriving in the Far West. Now laid in the earth. I’d not seen that before. In Ireland there’s only one crematorium.

We returned to the same nylon and rice krispies hotel where I was staying for the funeral baked meats which was a hefty sit-down chicken dinner on a potato base. Not much drinking. Then it was over.

The next morning I schemed to fit in Lismore on the way back to the airport. Much mentioned by Debo as the Devonshire branch in Ireland. Arrived in the town and at once a door in the wall painted in the same blue as at Chatsworth. The Estate colour. Marvellous Magnolia Campbellii towering over the wall – the King of Magnolias. I have never seen such a specimen before. The town of Lismore – well, really it might have been 1958. That red and cream scheme for the shop front. Just glimpsed the Castle high above the river. Debo and Andrew could never stay there because the IRA could have got them from the road. In church was glad to see that the Duke’s agent had been simply marvellous during the Famine and got a a big monument plus window.

Irish Hotel Bedroom at Waterford with Luxury Sheen on Carpet

Irish Hotel Bedroom at Waterford with Luxury Sheen on Carpet

Mount Congreve: Superb Irish Georgian

Mount Congreve: Superb Irish Georgian

Magnolia Campbellii at Lismore

Magnolia Campbellii at Lismore

Lismore Church

Lismore Church

Tablet to Curry, the Duke's Land Agent who acted so Admirably during the Famine

Tablet to Curry, the Duke’s Land Agent who acted so Admirably during the Famine

The Land Agent's Window at Lismore

The Land Agent’s Window at Lismore

Lismore Church Cat

Lismore Church Cat

 

 

 

 

 

Posted Sunday, May 19, 2019 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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