Friday, August 19, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Tea in a Tower

Day 16 of 35: Thursday, August 19, 2010

Clonony Castle, 2006

My morning on this blessedly rare dank and blustery day was spent back in the Archives. I had arranged with someone on staff to arrive early, so didn't have to go through the main Castle entry (which would have required Lady Rosse's answering the door) but rather through a door on the very lowest level in the rear from which I could get to the muniment room via a back stairway.

Looking up from the back entrance, looking down across the years.

We finally got to meet Campbell Black and Rebecca Armstrong in Clonony Castle on this afternoon. (I say "finally" because we were originally scheduled to visit them on Monday, but had postponed because of the freshness of Diane's ankle injury.)

Campbell and I had encountered each other on the internet four years before, a result of an error I had made in the caption for a photo of Clonony Castle that I had posted shortly after our 2006 trip to Ireland. He was well-suited to make such a correction, since he and his wife are the owners of the old tower house, and have been restoring the ruin to habitability for almost ten years. (The process of restoration is frustratingly slow for them in large part because of the difficulties of dealing with the Irish bureaucracy in matters concerning antiquities.)

There was something about his writing even in the telegraphic medium of e-mail that I enjoyed, so instead of just making the correction and forgetting about it, I kept up an occasional electronic correspondence with him. It wasn't until several months later that I realized who, exactly, I was exchanging IP packets with: the author best known as Campbell Armstrong. While most noted for thrillers (very good ones, if you like that sort of thing -- I'm especially fond of his Jig and Jigsaw, since they once carried me through being stuck in bed with the flu) but his talents extend far wider than that. His autobiographical All that Really Matters, for example, is as riveting as any of his novels. (To Campbell's irritation, its title was changed for US distribution to I Hope You Have a Good Life.)

Since Clonony Castle is only about ten miles north of Birr, Campbell and Rebecca invited us to visit the tower house for tea during our 2010 stay in the midlands. Rebecca's efforts to make the 500 year old structure habitable have been a consuming task for the better part of a decade, but progress to this point is impressive. The ground floor was nearly finished when we visited on this day, the one above that lacked a few things (like glass in the windows) but was well enough along that we had our tea and chat there:

Diane, Campbell, and Rebecca in Clonony Castle.

The restoration of the room above that one was just underway; Campbell took me up there (and to the roof, which provided a great, misty view of the surrounding Shannon River valley -- and also had my height-fright on full, pounding alert) to see what their contractor was up to.

It was an absolutely delightful visit, and we Harringtons lost track of time completely during it. I'm afraid in retrospect that we were impolite guests on that account: we arrived for tea at 3, and didn't leave until 6:30. I suppose I could say that they have only their charm to blame for that, but their charm didn't physically restrain me from looking at my watch once in a while. I'll admit to being selfish -- I don't often have conversations as good or as wide-ranging as that one was (from politics to writing to Upstate New York winters to having sons in the music business), and I was very, very reluctant for it to end.

Their schnauzer, Oscar, was pretty cool, too.

More images from August 18, 19, and 20 will be linked to in one group on at the end of tomorrow's installment.

Next: August 20, 2010 -- Sparkling Stories, Sparkling Wine
Previous: August 18, 2010 -- Back to the 19th Century
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2


Mike said...

I think I was more fascinated with your travels on the first trip and with your encounters on the second, but it may have been that, as in this case, the first trip set up some of those encounters.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Some of our most interesting encounters on this trip happened by accident -- literally as a result of Diane's accident -- in the emergency department of the hospital in Coleraine: stoic people in the waiting room, the ER nurse who was a native Galwegian and regretted her move to the UK, the PSNI in their starched white shirts and jet black trousers separated by a belt bristling with anti-riot gear, the twitchy, tiny female patient with an iv port hanging from her arm who kept walking back and forth through the waiting area to go outside to smoke...

The first trip also set up some internet encounters that, in turn, set up some travels that happen later on: Irish photo buffs on Flickr who gave us pointers to places not ordinarily seen by tourists.

As Diane's pain from the accident decreases (and her patience with staying put degrades), I think you'll find this trip's travels more interesting. At least I hope so.

Mike said...

No,not that the travels are less interesting -- but the encounters moreso. And I think you've said it, that the first trip set up the second, so that it was more directed and less random. not that serendipity doesn't have its place, mind you.