Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Going home to Cappoquin

The former Hallinan family farm at Moonwee, outside Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before leaving Cork on Tuesday – following the ordination of three deacons in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral the night before – I had coffee with two cousins I hadn’t seen in years.

Judy (Crowley) Greene had been in Saint Fin Barre’s on Monday night for the ordination of Anne Skuse, Adrian Moran and Patrick Burke. On Tuesday morning [30 June], she brought along her sister, Ita Crowley, and Ita’s partner, Larry Southard, and we spent the morning together sharing family memories over endless cups of coffee in Isaac’s in MacCurtain Street.

Ita and Larry are old friends from CND campaigns in the 1980s. We hadn’t seen each other for 25 years, and we all had a lot of catching up to do, while Ita and Judy regaled me with stories about my Crowley cousins.

On the way back to Dublin, I took a scenic detour through the Blackwater Valley, and despite the fact that it was a damp afternoon I stopped to stroll through Lismore before having a late lunch in Foley’s on the Mall.

Lismore is in a beautiful setting on the banks of the Blackwater. As a child, I loved visiting Lismore … to some it may be no more than a pretty village or a market town, but to a small boy in the 1950s this was my first introduction to elegant architecture, with its overpowering castle, pretty cathedral, arched alleys, hidden courtyards and Tudor-style shop-fronts.

Lismore is charming ... even on a rainy afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, Lismore has pretty craft shops, cafés, galleries and a variety of restaurants. But it is still possible to pick out the shops and pubs of a previous generation.

Saint Anne’s Church, Cappoquin, built at the beginning of the 19th century by Bishop Joseph Stock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After lunch in Foley’s, I moved on to Cappoquin, 6 km down the banks of the Blackwater. As I stood on the Main Street taking photographs of the street, the shopfronts and Saint Anne’s, the Church of Ireland Parish Church, a local man advised me I would be better off taking photographs in Lismore.

“It’s more scenic. It has a castle and a cathedral,” he advised me.

I told him I had lived in this area as a boy.

“Nothing’s changed since then,” he replied.

“Except SuperValu was then Russell’s,” I offered.

“True,” he said. “But nothing else has changed.”

Even Lehane’s Garage on Cappoquin’s Main Street looks and smells the same as it did 50 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a small boy, when we were brought into Cappoquin on shopping trips, this town was the the centre of my universe. The co-op – where we did most of our shopping – is now Glanbia, Walsh’s Hotel and Sargent’s Garage have closed and the Blackwater Bar is up for sale. But many of the old shop-fronts and pubs are still there … the Toby Jug, Barron’s Bakery, the Market House and Uniacke’s … even Lehane’s Garage still has its petrol pumps out on the street, and as I pass by it still looks and smells the same as it did 50 years ago.

Cappoquin’s Main Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I can still pick out the spot on the hilly street where I accidentally left off the handbrake on the car, and all three children inside panicked until it stopped rolling back out into the street. We three survived – the adults in the family must have panicked more. But in every other respect, this was the safest place in the world, as far as I could imagine, and every step and corner of Cappoquin is still etched in my memory.

From Cappoquin, it was only natural to move on to Moonwee, which had been my grandmother’s farm, across the fields from Mount Melleray Abbey on the slopes of the Knockmaeldown Mountains. How is it so easy to remember every tree and every hedge on the twisting, turning side-road down to the Hallinan farm and home?

Everyone is gone now, and Steve and Cindy O’Shea have built a new house in the meadow field where I made hay in summer-time, and first learned to ride a horse. The mist was rolling down from the mountains as those memories flooded back, and an empty farmyard and the haggard behind the house were filled once again with cows, pigs, dogs, hens and the people I loved and that I knew loved me. I could picture the five-year-old inside the house, or was he ten? He has come back from another adventurous day in Cappoquin, and is drawing maps of the town streets ... or painting images of the streets and Russell’s shop on rolls of plain paper ... or calling the dogs to the door to be fed ... or sitting by the open fire, on an old car seat, with a slice of home-baked bread with Gran’s own hand-made butter.

It was another world, another generation, another time. In those days, Dublin was a full day’s journey away. It was hard to believe yesterday that it took only three hours to get back from Moonwee to Dublin.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.