postcard from Gannoghs


Yesterday we were driving home from another medical appointment and I heard a song on the radio that I kind of liked. What I liked was the chorus:

I wanna take you in a caravan
To the edge of the ocean
Where the trees make a canopy
And the moonlight is golden
We could make this a beautiful life
Come on let me show you
In a rented caravan

It reminded me of 39 years ago, in July, when I lived for a month in a small caravan on the edge of the ocean in Gannoghs, a townland in Connemara, not far from Cleggan. I spent two months in Ireland that summer, one of them in a cottage and then in the caravan. It was not fancy but I didn’t want fancy. I wanted a quiet place, in sight (almost) of the island where I’d lived the previous year and which was the muse (that’s not too exaggerated) for the novella I was finishing. After returning from that island, I’d met John and we’d decided to spend our lives together but first I wanted to finish my novella and that meant returning to Ireland.

The caravan had a bed that was stored in a wall and you unlatched it each evening. The view was a field and rocks and the water. There were cows in the field and they rubbed against the caravan. The first time they did it I thought I was the middle of the earthquake but then I heard them stomping around. There was also a neighbour, Bridget King, who lent me a bicycle and who visited most days. She was forgetful and sometimes she came more than once. She made a “cooey, cooey” sound as she rapped on the door with her stick. To get to the caravan you had to cross a stone fence and then push aside a tangle of fuchsia. Usually I heard Bridget but sometimes she caught me unaware.

John came in August and we spent a week in the caravan before going off on further adventures, including a week in Paris. I took him to meet Bridget, thinking that might forestall a visit from her. She lived in a cottage her husband had built with her help and she told me how they’d made the potato beds, draping seaweed over the rocky ground until there was enough depth for planting. (Gannoughs means “a place of stones”.) She had running cold water but no hot and she was elderly and her cottage needed a good cleaning. She had an old goose wing she used to sweep the table with, the crumbs and other bits and pieces landing on the floor. She found three mugs for the tea she offered us and wiped them out with a cloth that had seen better days. I was used to this but John had trouble drinking his tea. I should have warned him too not to take milk. There wasn’t a fridge.

This morning there was something in the air that reminded me of the caravan. The windows were loose in their frames and on a windy day the whole place smelled of ocean. The pages of the novella I was writing, by hand, scattered over the table and benches at the prow of the caravan where you could sit and feel that you were in the prow of a boat. The glass was even scoured by salt.

So that’s the postcard I send today, just before we head out for the follow-up to yesterday’s appointment. The moonlight was golden and we did build a beautiful life, one that goes on, despite the medical mysteries.

I wanna take you in a caravan
To the edge of the ocean


12 thoughts on “postcard from Gannoghs”

  1. Mmm, thank you for taking me there so vividly with you, to your caravan. What an adventure. Thinking of you both, Theresa, during the medical adventures too.

  2. I have the best vicarious trips when you take me along, Theresa. I feel as if I stepped into your caravan, felt the cows rubbing against the sides, smelled the seaweed, watched Bridget sweep her table with a goose wing (!), steeled myself to drink her tea. Thank you! I hope the medical shamans are unravelling the mysteries.

    1. Alice, the goose wing still had *stuff* (connective) hanging off the end. I was used to it but John was surprised…! And I became used to what was called “stewed” tea — the metal pot was kept warm for hours on a burner or else in the ashes of the fire.

  3. I like reality fixes. They clarify what we assume–which is more a reflection of how we think than what the other has said. I happen to be thinking a lot about fairy tales these days. (So did you guess? Is your “grim detail” an inside joke about Grimms?)

  4. No, not an inside joke but I do love the Grimms. (I have the Pullman edition and love his commentary.) And yes to fairy tales. I will look forward to hearing where your thinking takes you!

  5. I have a German edition of Grimms published in 1957 with scratchy Expressionistic ink illustrations. Post-war, very *grim*. My grandfather sent it when I was maybe seven or eight. Some of the ink sketches bothered me so much that I scribbled across them.

    1. I remember some tales with really scary illustrations. I think my favourite 20th c. version is a translation by Randall Jarrell of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, illustrated so beautifully and in some ways realistically by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. The illustrations embellish the story in really interesting ways. You see that Snow White might be tubercular — her pale skin with flushed cheeks. You see why the dwarfs lived away from others. And the image of a dog looking to see where the stepmother was sent — oh, nightmare!

      1. It’s a book worth having. Our copy is 30 years old and I look forward to reading it to my grandkids, just for the experience of the illustrations again.

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