"Watch the bar. A cow came up here a few years ago, calved. Got to protect the cows."
We climb over the single rusting iron bar that straddles the entrance to Kilcrea Castle. LBFF and his friends used to chase eachother round the crumbling ramparts, but now that the ramparts are even more crumbling, and we are all a little older, our party, consisting of RHB, LBFF and self, do not chase. We walk gingerly, and climb very carefully, through the phenomenally dangerous structure. In Canada, or the UK, this building would be signposted, sponsored, advertised, illustrated and illuminated, with an entrance fee, interpretative panels, a gate, guides and a booklet as well as an interactive guide to the place's history. In Ireland, the impressively crumbling ruins are just plonked in the middle of a field and no-one has been there for ages, apart from pregnant cows. A lot of local knowledge is required to even know the place exists, and the locals never visit the place. It is empty, haunted and falling down, overgrown ivy and an eerie silence surround the place. You have to make up your own history, which is perhaps, how it sometimes should be.
The weather has been consistent for three days - sheets of Atlantic rain that look more like snow flurries than water - the rain here has a solidity that you either accept, and even revel in, or it defeats you. Little Niall, Mandy and LBFF's seven month old is heroic, albeit that he is snuggled up in a kind of miniature tent attached to his mum's papoose, but Callum hates it, even his Kermit the Frog raincape and boot do'nt help, and for a little four year old, I suppose it must be quite boring and confusing being bundled from car to house to restaurant to car to wet field, while the adults look for something to look at.
Later that day, the rain clears and Cian, Callum, Ciaron and Nieve demonstrate what four year olds are really interested in, which is, essentially, themselves. Mazzer, Mo, Gedsy and Pat are standing next to the trampoline in Gedsy (grandpa's) back acre, discussing road traffic fatalities (death being a favourite subject among the Celts), while the kids - Cian, Ciaron, Callum and Nieve are bouncing up and down, and landing on their necks in falls which would cause paraplegia among any adult. The adults (us) refuse an invitation from the kids to join in (bad leg, bad shoulder, bad hips and bad back in that order) but it is felt that an adult should join the kids, so the youngest among us, 17 year old Jamie, who anyway is torn between trying to be very grown up and show some interest in
c). commenting on the things that younger people are interested in
without much success, is enlisted into the trampoline game.
Immediately, all the four year olds - Callum, Cian, and Ciaron want Jamie to "Look at me!" all at once. Jamie valiantly attempts to obey, but inevitably he fails to pay attention to one kid soon enough and tears, temporarily, result. Shortly after, me and Mo(LBFF) steal Jamie's shoe from the side of the trampoline and give it to the dog. This is inexcusable really, but it is very funny watching him chase the dog round about five square acres of field trying to get his shoe back.
Gedsy, as patriarch, watches this sagely, commenting only that "The exercise will be good for the dog". LBFF's dad is very dry and he has been abroad twice - once to Canada and once to Liverpool.
"You're Irish right?" he asks me.
"Well, yes and no" I tell him, trying to explain the situation of 2nd generation immigrants in a country where signs on boarding house doors used to say "No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish". I continue "Everyone i went to school with was second or third generation to England, but mostly we did not mix. We went to an all Irish school, played in a seperate soccer league at school and dated eachother".
"And now they're all coming back". And it's true. Ireland's population is growing phenomenally quickly, and as well as the Irish diaspora returning home, there is a host of new immigrants as well. We are served coffee in Ballincollig by Eastern Europeans, a surprise to me, as previous experience was that Ireland is, at least in permanent population, extermely homogenous. Almost as bad as Nova Scotia. Gedsy looks wistfully at his Canadian relatives, and makes one final comment "Yeah, there's lots coming home".