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While going through photos today looking for a nice shot of Dublin for the blog, I came across this photograph of my mother-in-law, Eileen’s, back garden and couldn’t stop looking at it. The photo tugs at my heart because this is the place where I spent a great deal of my time during every trip to Ireland since July of 2000, when I first brought my daughter there for a month long visit. This house on Whitebeam Road in Clonskeagh, Dublin 14, was always our base and is the place I think of first when I think of Ireland. It is from here that we brought that one log of firewood we burned with the turf, when we made our first fire in Rose Cottage… the ‘continuity log’. And if it wasn’t for this very house in Dublin, there would be no cottage for us in County Clare.

Every time we arrived back at Whitebeam Road after a long interval spent in the States, it was almost as much a feeling of homecoming to me as it was for Declan, who was visiting the home where he had spent the better part of his life. His mother would be waiting eagerly at the door when we arrived, the dog, Judy, barking her harsh, Cocker Spaniel bark, her tiny tail stub shaking her body from side to side. Most likely, Judge Judy, Eileen’s second favorite show after Coronation Street, would be blasting on the television. I think my mother-in-law got many of her ideas about what Americans are like from watching Judge Judy. In fact, I think the dog was named after this particular American tv judge, though she never admitted as much.

There are four fireplaces in the Clonskeagh house, one in the sitting room, one in the dining room and one each in two of the four bedrooms. This was not so much for luxury as for heat, because up until about six years ago there was no central heating system in the house. Eileen relied upon a fire built each morning and a couple electric heaters. This wouldn’t be the norm anymore in places like Dublin, but the house had not been modernized over the years and was pretty much still existing in a time warp of 1960’s Ireland, maybe even 1950’s Ireland. But it was an elegant house in a very lovely and desirable Dublin neighborhood, a place I really hated to have to leave when my husband sold it after Eileen passed away in July of 2007. In my mind, Eileen was part of the house and the house was part of her, because by the time I met her she was elderly, and though she still got out for yearly holidays abroad and trips to Dublin’s City Centre, she mostly stayed at home and lived a life of daily rituals. These rituals started with a breakfast of toast and instant coffee every morning while sitting on a wooden stool in the kitchen listening to talk radio. This was followed by a walk to a nearby shop for the Irish Times and a day mostly consisting of telling Judy she was being “bold!” when she misbehaved, voracious reading, working on crossword puzzles, and watching a bit of television between catnaps.  After she died the house felt different, inanimate and lonely. But I’ll miss it just the same…  for Eileen, her spirit and the kindness she exhibited toward me, and for all the memories I accumulated during my visits there.

One of the things I’ll miss the most about my time spent in Clonskeagh are the walks I often took from the house to the nearby neighborhood of Ranelagh with its coffee shop, Coffee Society, and its wonderful restaurants. My favorite recollections of that trek are the innumerable times I made it with my daughter during our first stay there, when she was in the final months of being a 12 year old, just before her more cynical, self-conscious teenage years. Though she complained about tired legs during the first part of the walk, in a short time she would become happily distracted by picking the tiny, purple flowers that grew between the rocks of the stone walls that hid the front gardens of huge homes we passed along the way. She would be equally distracted from her tired legs by yelling, “gross!” at each snail she spotted crawling on those same walls on the wet days. Reminiscing about these walks we made together along the Sandyford Road to Ranelagh is a bittersweet memory when I think of her all grown up now, and of how fast time moves along. But not all memories are bittersweet and Kate and I also have a good laugh about just how cold that old house in Dublin could get, even in July, and how we dreaded its ice cold toilet seat first thing each morning!

Another feature of visits to Declan’s mother’s house would be hopping on the #11 double decker bus on excursions into the City Centre to visit museums and to shop, for fun on Grafton Street, or necessity on Henry Street. I made that bus trip more times than I can count, when Declan wasn’t available with the car and I needed to get around in a city that I would never, ever drive in. For though the Irish tend to be very nice, reserved people, I’ve noticed an underlying aggressive streak that is very evident in the way they drive their cars in Dublin traffic! Perhaps a bit of the old Viking spirit remains from Dublin’s Viking roots.  I took many bus journeys into town alone and also with Kate, who always insisted upon sitting in the upper deck. Later my bus partner was Eoin, no easy task in those first years of strollers and baby bags. But eventually, he became big enough to walk on by himself and look out the window enjoying our usual bus trip pastime of watching for our favorite colors as we passed the colorful “doors of Dublin” on the houses that lined the residential streets.

The River Dodder meanders behind Eileen’s house with a park along the bank. The park would fill with the lunch crowd on work days and what seemed to be every young person in South Dublin on weekends when the weather was mild. On the pretty rare occasions that the sun was out and it was fairly hot, folks would be stretched out on blankets scattered all over the grass attempting to get a bit of color, knowing that the sun could disappear at any moment and then stay away for the remainder of summer. In spots between the blankets there would be young parents walking toddlers and small groups of boys managing to find enough space to kick a ball around. I’ll miss the River Dodder for these sights, but mostly for a memory I have of peering down at it from the nearby bridge one night with Eoin, watching a bright, full moon reflecting on the water.

The last time we were in Eileen’s house was after we had cleared it of furniture to prepare for the final closing. The photograph I’m showing here was taken on that day, just before we emptied the plants from the white Belfast Sink, visible in the photo near the back door. At one time that sink served as the kitchen sink, though it was in the back garden filled with flowers for as long as I have been visiting. Like the log we burned in our first fire in Rose Cottage, that Belfast Sink will one day make the trip from storage in Dublin out to the West and find a new home with us in County Clare. Here’s an idea… maybe I should fill it with roses!

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