In my previous life I was a runner. I don’t mean the jogging kind. I mean the moving to foreign countries to escape your job as a hostess & your boyfriend under house arrest kind. The running away from home at 17 years old to New Orleans kind. The catching a Greyhound bus from San Francisco to San Diego with little save a pair of cut off Levi’s, motorcycle boots, and a handle of cheap vodka to your name kind. I don’t need that anymore. I both come and go with ease. And that makes traveling even better. I still feel all that lightness, yet none of that looming. Still… there is part of me that likes to go. And go.
So 24 hours into our two-week trip to Ireland we took off for the south, to Fermoy, with my Stetson in the back window of our tiny blue hatchback. Note: Ireland was mad windy…not much use for the Stetson other than as a good luck talisman. We drove the couple of hours out of Dublin to the Ballyvolane House without event, save stopping at a gas station to buy myself a bag of wine gums. I’m so fond of them, as I am of any and all gummies. As a matter of fact I’m most fond of them, and they remind me of July birthdays spent in the Netherlands’ countryside, pin cushion flowers, drunken cycling down gravel roads, and being so young I cared about the philosophy & science of my spirituality. Heavy stuff, wine gums. Nostalgia. So I drove, saving the blackish purple gums for last. They’re my favorite.
Foreigners are like babies, and we spent the entire drive oohing and ahhing at everything, be it castle or roundabout or a rain cloud hovering over a healthy, dull herd of cattle. And when the green hills unrolled before us like so many manicured lawns, I didn’t have problems. I always feel that way when I’m abroad. I can’t be down, at least not for long. I think that makes sense when the bulk of your past, problems, and responsibilities have been left on the other side of a decidedly large ocean. I’ll always be part runaway.
When we pulled into the drive of Ballyvolane, flanked on one side by floral forest and the other by green pastures of grazing cows, I immediately decided we needed to marry there. Of course, we’ll probably get married in the Tennessee Mountains, but if it weren’t for cost no doubt Ballyvolane would be my first choice. So if you have more disposable income than I (or happen to live in Ireland) & are looking for a place to pretend that forever is an easy thing, you should do it there. Because you can believe in it there.
We’d told them we wouldn’t need supper that first night, but being too tired to go out we were graciously accommodated even though we hadn’t given them any notice. We were fed an impromptu supper of tomato soup, brown bread, local cheeses, salad with arugula from the garden, an assortment of homemade ice creams, and other sundries by the fire. It was magical in its simplicity really, and we couldn’t have been happier, but the next night supper was even more fantastic (as they’d been planning on us that night!), replete with house-cured West Cork salmon gravlax, lightly pickled cucumbers, and mustard-dill sauce & herb crusted rack of lamb alongside wild garlic mash, cauliflower gratin, and wilted garden chard. Dessert was a delicate lemon posset with homemade shortbread biscuits, homemade brown bread ice cream (a revelation!! I plan to make cornbread ice cream soon.), and compote of rhubarb from their walled garden. It was one of the best meals we had in Ireland, made all the more so by taking it at a table just the two of us (there were no other guests that night) in the drawing room by that fire that always seemed to be burning. We sat by the fire taking tea & reading A History of Magic together after supper before heading up to our room, with a huge Jacuzzi tub, cordial, cookies, windows that opened onto the garden, and most importantly: a warmed, downy bed. That was the second night. The first was a bit more of an, ah, adventure.
We spent two nights total, one in a bell tent in the garden (I believe the word is “glamping”) and the other in the main house. The night we spent in the bell tent was unseasonably freezing, storming, and the wind howled so mournfully loud, I thought the tent might blow right over. Their littlest dog, Dumpling, seemed to know it was a frightful evening and some time after dark took to standing outside our tent and barking valiantly into the rain. It made me happy, to hear this noble little dog out in the storm barking away; I think she was protecting us.
Luckily we were still solidly jet lagged and thanks to some hot water bottles strategically placed in our bed, we were out and slept heavily through the night. Of course, at any point we could have gone to the main house & they would have graciously let us stay inside, but we were having an adventure dammit. And I was not to be dissuaded.
It’s important to note it’s not usually like that! We just had a bit of bad luck with the weather, and next time I’ll definitely be spending some more time in a bell tent in their beautiful garden. The bed was warm despite the cold, fresh flowers were set by the bed, and we had a crate containing provisions: crumbly chocolate cookies, the best apple juice I’ve ever had made of nothing at all but apples, flashlights, matches, and a few crisp apples. A little chandelier of tea lights swayed over our bed all night, extinguishing slowly one by one as we slept.
The next morning we shuffled across the damp lawn into the main house where a breakfast spread was laid out. After a stormy, jet-lagged night in a tent almost anything would look good, but this scene would have looked good no matter what. A fire was burning in the hearth, there was hot coffee & tea, fresh bread, jams, yogurt, poached rhubarb, and granola. And of course hot breakfast. We had sausage and poached eggs. I usually eat the same thing every morning, but Ireland was an adventure of breakfasts as much as anything else. We were planning to venture to Cork that day but instead spent our time roaming the grounds with their spaniel Pepper as our guide, exploring the walled garden, having tea, and just enjoying every moment in that beautiful house. I took more photographs than I could ever share here. So many thanks to our gracious hosts Jenny & Justin Green. They are wonderful people, and they’ve created a very, very special place. Before we left, Justin took us down to the bar area to show us his favorite nook, a warm little space with cobbled together vintage furniture, a wood burning stove, and a large adjacent room for dancing into the night. I still dream about it there…