That last Christmas in Cork

We spent that Christmas in Ireland in the countryside near Cork. The main road to our rental was closed due to flooding so we met the owner and followed her along a series of no-name roads, joking that we’d never be able to find our way out. I scanned the small homes and barren fields for land marks but found none. We wanted to get away, and we had.

No cell service or internet at the rental but that didn’t matter because we didn’t have anyone to call and wanted a break from the internet anyway. To see what it would be like in some old farmhouse outside of Cork. Mom and our kids, maybe a ham.

The shops were closed for Christmas and the day after for St. Stephen’s Day, with horse racing and gambling in the makeshift center of town, where a small crowd had formed and someone narrated from a loudspeaker that echoed off the surrounding hills.

Only Dawn knew how to use the GPS so mom and I were screwed coming back from the store. We hadn’t written down the coordinates of the rental or if we had, we’d left them back at the house. Night fell and I felt a real terror we might get stuck with no phone or map, the old gravel roads crumbling from all the rain. We spotted an old man hunting with his dog and stopped to ask for help, but it’s hard to give someone directions if they can’t even tell you where they’re going.

The ad for the rental promised Irish country charm and well-appointed quarters. They put up a small tree for us in the sun room, where we spent most of our time. It was freezing-ass cold, but got good light out there. They had a space heater that hummed and glowed orange, and made the windows fog over so everything looked fuzzy outside. We’d sit out there in the late afternoons as dusk came on and the thin windows beaded up with condensation, forming jeweled patterns in the corners. With the glow of the lights and the heater it felt cozy, like looking out from the inside of a gingerbread house. Soft blue light, pink and gold in between.

That was the first year the logic of Santa Claus fell under suspicion by the kids though. With all this moving around how could he know where to find us? We’d been on the road now for several weeks in a used German hatchback driving around the UK. But the kids soon learned the dynamic nature of truth, sometimes it’s better to just keep your mouth shut and go with it.

On Christmas Eve we all squeezed into the car and drove to the nearest town, Skibbereen. And there we found a store that had everything, including many jarred curries mom couldn’t get in Germany, so we loaded up the car with oranges, chocolates, biscuits, potatoes and ham, and then hit the local shops and last, a pub.

The bartender looked familiar, I’d seen his face in a local paper at the store. They’d done a write-up with some of the locals asking what they were grateful for. And he was sad when I asked him how he was, his father had just passed away and he’d talked about his dad in the article but his dad had died before they published it and so now he’d never know what his son said. We toasted and that was that. I tipped my new Irish hat and gathered our things, the girls knocked back their hot chocolates and we waved goodbye.

The ham wasn’t so good, and there was a lot of it left over. It would be rude to leave it for the owners or put it in the trash so in the morning I chucked it in the bushes.

We had to leave early to get mom back to the airport and the car nearly got stuck backing out, almost fell in a ditch. Mom agreed to take some of our crap back to Germany as we’d overpacked for our three-month tour. The sun came out but that was the last we’d see of it, our last few days in Ireland. We ferried over to Wales before the new year and wound our way up to Chester, knowing that was probably the last Christmas we’d spend in Ireland. It was our favorite one, we all agreed. I wrote the name Skibbereen on the inseam of my new hat but it disappeared not long after, and I always wondered if somebody ever found it, if somehow our memories of that Christmas were imprinted in the fabric. If the kids’ laughter lingered in the sun room or if we’d left a part of ourselves there too, that last Christmas in Cork.



Categories: Memoir, travel, writing

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14 replies

  1. It sounds wonderful for many reasons

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  2. Jewelled patterns of condensation… lovely.
    Here’s an odd thing. I google-mapped Skibbereen and the main photo has a cubic castle in the background and large stone Buddha sitting in a field. At least I think it’s a Buddha; it may be an obese leprechaun.

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  3. I can imagine the cold and rough weather with flooded roads around Skibbereen!! This still sounds cosy and like a nice memory though. I live in the area – roads were flooded yesterday…

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    • Hey there Irish friend! That’s so cool you live there. What a magical place. We live in the Pacific Northwest, in the States, and share in our love of perennial green. Thank you for reading and chiming in! So nice to hear from a resident…I love your amazing, warm country. Warm in all the best ways! Be well. Oh, and I’m a Pearse if that means anything to you?! I learned to not wear orange sweaters our first time there, near Doolin.

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      • Haha, not sure about that with orange sweaters, I have lots of Irish history to learn! I’m Swedish but I live in West Cork since almost two years and I absolutely adore this place. Certainly a warm country when it comes to the people, community. The main street in my town is called Pearse street 😍 Named after Padraig Pearse, one of those who led the Easter rising. I have book of Irish history waiting for me, maybe something to start reading now. I’ve tried to read quite much of Ireland’s history but there’s so much more to learn, and I love history.

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      • Thanks Susanne! Yes I visited your blog and quickly learned that you’re from Sweden. How lovely! My mom has been to Sweden twice and I hope to visit some day. Yes, my name comes down from my step-father who was related on the English side to Padraig. So I learned a lot about that history on my first visit to Ireland in 2009, and we were fortunate to visit again for a whole month in 2015, right before the 100 year anniversary of the uprising. So I’ve seen some of the memorials for that in Dublin. And my favorite writer is James Joyce (and another favorite, David Mitchell lives in your fine new home, too). Be well! Thanks for your note and enjoy your time there, as the year ends. Best, Bill

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  4. I too googled Skibbereeen, trying to jog my memory, and I agree that the obese leprechaun definitely looks like the Buddha. My friend and I went through Skibbereen on our quick tour of Ireland in ’95. We were coming from Glandore, where the uncle of a high school friend of ours ran a fancy hotel and restaurant. He didn’t know us, had no idea we were coming, but treated us two dirty backpackers like kings. We were very grateful, but embarrassed to be looking like hobos in such a nice place.

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    • I remember you’d been there! Thanks for sharing the story again. Isn’t that name funny? It looks like it has too many consonants or something. Sometimes you have a brief experience like that and it’s best to just walk away and say damn, wasn’t that great? I know I’ve respun this tale a few times myself, thanks for reading again…

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      • Aw shuckies, I guess your memory is better than mine. Funny, because Robert, the guy I went with, has a great one (memory), and remembers tons of stories I was involved in that I don’t, or at best can only hazily access with long dormant neurons. It is a funny sounding word, Skibbereen, but also the perfect name for a small Irish town. I won’t say anything about Dingle being a perfect name for a peninsula (unless I already have).

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      • Dingle is magical isn’t it? I love the names there. Skibbereen takes the cake though.

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  5. Such great experience translated into writing, Bill. I enjoy reading about life and your last Xmas in Ireland, giving the feeling am there.

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