I'm kind of in awe of the fact that the same day I spent so much time amongst the Megaliths, I managed to head south and take in Kinsale as well. Kinsale is a town on the southern coast of Cork, where my mother's family lived prior to emigrating in the early 1800's. It was her grandfather who worked as a gardener, on an estate in Bandon. Lord Bandon that is. Lord Bandon was one in a line of British landowners who occupied and controlled land once owned by the indigenous Irish population. After my residency, I found his estate, performed a ceremony, had some other-worldly experiences and left an offering.
But back to Kinsale. On the same trip where my dad had that out-of-body experience, my mother had deja vu. (See my earlier Cork post.) My mother was standing on the southern tip of Kinsale, on a place called Old Head and felt like she had been there before although this was her first trip to Ireland. Again, these types of experiences are not seen as unusual in my family. It's interesting for me to think back on my childhood and see how these types of stories were woven into our daily lives. The macabre, preternatural, supernatural, inexplicable, luck, superhuman and ancestors who assist in a time of need - are part of the deal. These ideas had been introduced enough times that when she told me this story, I saw it as quite normal. I took what she said as fact.
It was my mission to find this spot and see what might happen to me. Google brought me into the town. Kinsale was a postcard. Old buildings, storefronts with brightly colored trim and signs line the narrow streets. Try to conjure an image of a village in Ireland in your head, Kinsale will look just like it.
Again, my heart was pounding in my throat. The streets were far too narrow. Cars parked on both sides of some roads and on one side when the roads narrow further. Google went out of range and I made a wrong turn. Literally, I was cursing out loud. (Admit it, we all do it.) In Brooklyn recently, I watched a Rabbi drive slowly past me in traffic, middle finger in the window, as he stared straight ahead. I had almost cut him off.
My window was closed so I wasn't offending anyone. I was focused on avoiding a throng of pedestrians, streetlights (did I mention how narrow the streets were?) and those cars parked on my left - my bad side - the side I was not sitting on - the side that hits things.
I crept along at a snail's pace and then noticed a car behind me, impatiently tailgating me. So I picked up the pace a little bit and then there was a loud crash. Ahhhhhhhhhh! I'd hit something. I imagined a gaping hole in the side of one of the cars. Instead it was a mirror, sticking waaaaay out into the middle of the street. (It seemed that way at least.)
All of the pedestrians had stopped and were watching me. I needed to pull over, so I tucked my car in a tiny space, trying hard to not be intimidated by those who stood waiting to see what I was going to do. I resisted the urge to say, "It's the streets! - These ridiculously narrow streets!". But I quietly headed back to the mirror, head averted in shame. The mirror was dangling by a wire. It was attached to what looked like a miniature truck from the 1960's. Rust had left holes around the wheel rims and the flat bed in the back. Just my luck. It didn't have a break away mirror. The last time I hit something with the left side of my car was in Cork City - a street light (I know...). It made an equally loud noise and as many people turned to find the source. Fortunately for me, my break away mirror had done it's thing and it snapped inward with no damage. "I have insurance" had become my mantra on this trip.
I walked up to the car to see if I could put the mirror back where it belonged and miraculously, it stayed in place, tucked against the car as if it was a break away. Ok, it crunched a great deal as I wedged it into place but it did stay. I walked back to my car and wrote a short note. (They were still staring at me.) I tucked the note into the windshield and shakily got back into my car. "Sorry, my mirror hit your mirror and it appears it is broken. Please call xxx xxx xxxx." No one ever did. Maybe they thought it was futile, maybe they realized they parked in the wrong place (no, the Irish don't consider this), maybe they realized their car was decaying and this was just one more broken part, maybe they didn't want to call a US #.
I drove on a bit, leaving the downtown. My nerves were rattled. I saw signs that said a golf course was ahead and remembered that my parents had said Old Head was now a golf course. The terrain was mostly knee-high grasses in gold and green and low hills surrounding a winding road. I pulled over to confirm I was heading in the right direction. It was several miles on still. My shakes subside as I drove through the open, expansive land. I breathed myself back to calm by the time I reach the peninsula.
Old Head was shaped like an ivy leaf, fastened to the mainland by a narrow stem. A crumbled stone building marked the base of the stem - a fortress - visible as I approached. I was getting use to seeing these abandoned shapes on the horizon, masses of anthropomorphic darkness, surrounded by green and gold.
The fortress didn't disappoint as I drove up. It was about as tall as a 4-story brownstone and as wide too. (I'm a New Yorker now, these are my gauges.) There was a stone wall that extended from cliff edge to cliff edge, where the peninsula met land. A wrought iron gate with stone "flames" sitting atop, framed the road leading out to the end of the peninsula. The edges of the fortress has fallen away. It too had ivy vines, grasses and plants occupying a large segment of its facade.
I can't believe I didn't do my research before going to Kinsale. Turns out there were some Neolithic stones - one with a hole carved through it - out by the lighthouse I saw on the horizon. There was also a significant battle that took place on Old Head. In the 1600's the local clan had been fighting off a British invasion. The Spanish decided they'd help out the locals and ran supplies in through Old Head. The Irish were defeated and fled. This is where my head starts spinning. Ireland has been invaded, occupied, re-invaded, reoccupied so many times, I can't keep track. I need to take a history-of-Ireland course. Apparently the Vikings were there for a while too, in the 800's, right around the time they had their settlement in Cork City. So maybe I've got some Viking blood from my mother's side too.
The reason none of this came to light was because when I arrived at the fortress there was a big sign that said, Private. I wasn't allowed out on the peninsula. Only golfers were.
This fort was erected in 1677 to keep the Spanish and French from coming back and taking the land. Another land grab had just happened in Ireland and the locals weren't happy. I mentioned this story to the herbalist Rosari Kingston when I stayed with her later in the trip (see former blog entry). She and her husband tisked audibly and shook their heads. They said there had been an ongoing fight over the right-of-way. People had been walking the 4 mile circumference of Old Head for a hundred years, unimpeded. They hadn't realize the real estate /golf mogul had won the lawsuit and access was cut off.
Does this sound familiar at all? Golf, greed, being inconsiderate of neighbors (and the offspring of former neighbors), thinking you have special rights, that common courtesy doesn't apply to you and that the world owes you something?
Frustrated, I noticed a family parked off to the right in an area outside of the stone wall, so I pulled my car in, grabbed my camera and headed over to the cliffs, visible on the drive out and 50 feet ahead. At various times prior to and since my visit, people have asked whether I visited the Cliffs of Moher. I didn't. Here's why.
There was nothing to keep a visitor from walking to the edge of the cliff and over the side. This was something I appreciated about the Irish. They assumed one will take care. A guard rail would have altered and obscured the view. It was unnecessary. The cliff dropped at least a half mile to the churning ocean and sharp rocks below. From where I stood, I could see out along Old Head to my left and back towards downtown Kinsale to my right. Cliffs receded in both directions, to the horizon. There were sea birds zipping in and out, so far in the distance they seemed as small as those tiny, spastic, red spiders I sometime watch on walls, spinning in circles, careening in every direction - half a millimeter at most. They added perspective as they defied the stiff wind. Some zipped into what must have been nests, tucked into the jagged cliffs.
Standing on the brink, with the wind blowing madly at my back and then whipping around to my front, I felt unsteady, tossed around. This dance with bodily injury was invigorating but I had no desire to make that plunge. I wanted to capture the insanity on film so I crouched to sit on a ledge. Despite my efforts, the video came out shaky. The wind nudged and shoved my hands. I did, however, manage to grab a few shots with the camera.
After about 15 minutes of this I'd had enough, so I headed back to the car. I noticed the family didn't stay long either. I'm sure they were worried about their young children getting too close to the edge.
I walked up to the gate of the fortress and noticed a guard in a dilapidated building just on the other side. It was cold and the guard post had no windows or door. I walked through the gate and headed over to talk. He was a lovely man with a heavy accent. It looked like he might have been a farmer ... or a bull wrestler. He was stout with broad shoulders and thick legs. He lumbered like a bodybuilder as he approached the doorway, thighs making his stride wide, arms so big, they couldn't rest against his sides. I asked if he would let me in but the answer was no. I told him my mother's family was from Kinsale and we talked about the famine, emigration, the earl who once owned this land. I was still not allowed out onto the peninsula but felt I'd grasped a sense of the place. He was just doing his job. The Irish economy has taken the locals on a roller coaster ride over the years. It had been particularly harsh since the crash in 2008, so I didn't blame him. It's a long climb back to equilibrium after hostile forces occupy a country. Irish independence happened in my lifetime, which is something to be proud of but many still lived marginally. I took a few photos of the fort on my way back to the car and headed home after a very long day.