Tom, Peter the plumber, and myself crouched over the wellhead with a pebble and flashlight, ready to count how long before we heard the splash. We had been told it was a 200-foot-deep well, but at only 8 inches wide, it was impossible to see the ripple of the water line. Many neighbors have had their wells run dry this long, warm summer with little rain, and since we have to do a well flush to cleanse our system, we needed to know how much water we had. Tom dropped the pebble and we all held our breath as it skittered off the sidewalls for a good way down before hitting with a definitive Ploosh! Peter looked at me askance. That was a long drop, which meant our well level began about 20 feet below the surface. And who knows if we were told the correct bore depth. Will we run out of water?
Living largely off the grid like this, electricity and Wi-Fi being our only tie to the government services, we have to know our systems. Tom and I have taken the top off the septic tank and peered into the murk and thought… Hmmmm… I wonder what we should do about that.It turns out we need to chuck fish guts into it, according to Peter, to help it all rot. Barring a fresh delivery of mackerel from Union Hall, I think I’ll just run to Lisavaird and pick up some activator, thank you very much. We peer into the massive oil tank and try to see how much is left since our purchase in April, not knowing how much the whole system uses on the daily radiator warm, and wondering what we can drop down there to see the level to know for sure. We find large cisterns in the attic filling with mysterious water that goes… somewhere… and each day it is something new. I feel like I’m Laura Ingalls, my childhood hero, as I tend to the well and beat back the briars out of my heather plants. Except I don’t wear calico, but I do own some kick-ass boots to keep the nettles from stinging my ankles.
A few days a week we try to contrast the painting, weeding, systems juggling, and chores with an adventure, and there is so much packed into West Cork that we don’t have to look far for diversion. Usually we hop into the car and pick up the super-detailed ordinance map that we paid dearly for, and just point toward a wavy line that looks interesting. This is how we ended up at the end of a pier opposite Warren beach on a warmish day this week. We luckily found a parking spot, and settled in to watch kids and adults alike launching themselves off the sea wall into the placid aqua water. Some had wetsuits on, and some tiny bikinis and Speedos, but all shared an easy manner, and all whooped and hollered as they flung themselves into the cold water. A few men perched on top the highest point of the breakwall fished silently, carefully casting out their tiered lures.
We had wedged our rental car into a spot next to a trailer campsite complete with toy Maltese dog curled in a plastic chair and the remnants of a charcoal brazier fire smoking under a cast iron pot. A woman about my age emerged wrapped in a towel, clearly after a dip, her skin pink purple from the chill, and her cheeks rosy. As she greeted us and began the customary hundred Irish questions (a volley I love, actually) we learned that she and her husband had set up camp a few days ago, and intended to stay till, well, whenever they REALLY had to get back to work. She described their morning breakfast of fresh mackerel caught off the pier and smoked over the fire. She asked the question that is always the stumbling block: Are you on holidays?which means You’re just here for the summer, right?and this is where we shift around and dance. Well, actually, we own a home in Ross(nobody uses the full names of cities in this area – it’s Clon, Ross, and Skibb) and we come every few months.But for now, we can only afford to come in the summers and perhaps once more during the year, and none of those answers are quite right either. We are In Transition. We are currently Displacing. We belong neither Here, nor fully Thereanymore. But you don’t want to bore a stranger with that, and it’s complicated. So we just say we own a home a visit as often as we can.
This elicits a new response from most locals. Their shoulders drop and they relax a bit, now bringing their gaze fully to your face to remember you, and remember you they will. Ah, you’re the Americans that bought the place up the hill, right? In a town of 1200 people, everyone knows your business. Yep, that’s us. It’s both refreshing and disconcerting. Now they start to ask the real questions, not about whether or not you’ve seen the tourist sights and enjoyed them, but: By God, isn’t this summer the damnedest in the last 40 years? Can you believe the well levels and the fact that the famers have had to feed the silage already?Did you see the Yes vote recently on abortion and by God isn’t it time Ireland joined the modern world? The questions are intimate, probing, searching. The small talk lasts about 30 seconds and then it’s We are all in this together.
And we are. We may not be here full time, but we’ve been coming to Ireland for 20+ years and watched it grow, change, boom, and bust, and rise again from the ashes. The entrance into the EU, the shift in currency, the acceptance of immigrants have all made their mark on the people and the land over the past few decades. Tom has, after many years of searching and following fruitless leads, found his way home, and he is flourishing like a tree whose roots finally have reached that deep source of water that will sustain it as it grows. Clare and I are walking the roads of the back of beyond, learning the patches of blackberries, learning the names of the ponies (Lia, Chico & Brownie) and learning when the clouds look a certain way to turn toward home before they break over us.
The woman at the pier was praising the beautiful, languid light of summer as the water rolled in tiny waves toward us. She remarked that the secret was out about how wonderful Ireland is, and now people from all over the world were flooding in, displacing the native Irish. With a start, she realized that she was speaking to such people, because she quickly caught herself and said: Well, the Irish left and went out into the world for hundreds of years looking for a better life and the world integrated them just fine, so I suppose it’s our turn now.Tom pointed to his chest and said: Well, some of us are coming home.
The more people we meet here who immediately integrate us into their lives is humbling. The generosity of folks is touching. I miss my friends in American something fierce, but I’m content to be open, to learn. It’s only for season of my life, after all. I had hoped to make friends, but hadn’t dreamed of finding a new idea of home. I guess this is what I find the most interesting… Tom and I were talking later that afternoon about the descriptions of people here. You know, the German couple down the road who have farmed here for 30 years… Oh, you mean the Austrians who started the cookery school down the road in 1980?... Perhaps it’s the Polish or Macedonian hotel owners who have children who go to the local church… Does birth in a place alone make someone Irish, or does their homeland always come with them? Now that Tom has his Irish citizenship, is he American or Irish, or some hybrid in between? I think he is AmerIrish. My hope is that we are becoming a world not of nationalities but of humans, all seeking level, all wanting to know how full the well of good intentions is, and hoping to hear the immediate splash of a pebble dropped to find out.