Our house hunt had specific parameters. We would sit at the computer and plug in the must-haves. At least three bedrooms and two bathrooms, space to build a studio for Tom, near enough to a town to feel connected, not too much renovation to be done (after 15 years of working on our home in CA, we were not keen to start tearing down walls in Europe), and I insisted on the tiniest of views. I joked with Tom that if we were going to move halfway around the world to a tiny green island, I better be able to see the sea that surrounds me, even if glimpsed through a second story window over trees. This narrowed our house search significantly. Just as in Newport Beach, the minute a house had a glimpse of water, it drove the price above where we could reach, with a few notable exceptions. You see, it seems that the Irish consider a “partial ocean view” to be negligible, not important enough to place a premium on because it takes work to take it in.
All of the properties we were serious about in the beginning had glimmers of water somewhere in the view, some with great swathes of glittering bays visible from every window (insert video of me sniffling over the Bantry house we were outbid on that had jaw-dropping water and island views) and one with a skylight that popped open on the second floor in which you could stand to take in a slice of the harbor lights and the view of Kilcoe Castle where Jeremy Irons lives (insert Tom sniffling over the Ballydehob house with a garage studio that slipped through our fingers on the viewing trip in October). Reavilleen, however, is perched on top of one of the few smalls hills in this landscape, and it looks out over the valley below. In fact, it sits on the border of Benduff (Black Peak) and Reavilleen (small hillock or knoll). Oddly, we are in Reavilleen, and our neighbor in front of us, literally a driveway away, is in Benduff, the dotted lines delineating the townlands runs down the narrow farm road separating our houses. Townlands are important here, as they are at home. Being from a certain townland has cache, just as at home I say I live in EASTside Costa Mesa near tony Newport Beach, not Westside, with its connotation of industrial parks and higher crime.
Because Reavilleen is perched on the very edge of the hill, the valley dips away in front of us before rising to a soft ridge, and then diving back toward the coastline. The effect is disorienting. The patchwork of farmland below seems to fold up toward us like the wide flap of an envelope trying to close a letter, a visual effect that makes the land seem tilted, and so the sight of a herd of cows moving across it makes one wonder if they have Velcro hooves to stay stuck to the angle. Here’s the kicker. When we bought the house, we didn’t really know we had a view. I mean, we had a “view” insomuch as you could see a sliver of Galley Head lighthouse on a finger of rock poking into the bay. The three or four times we viewed the house before we bought it the view was the same. Tom would wander down the slope, gaze into the clouds, and ponder how lucky we were to make this purchase. Mist cloaked the valley and horizon each time, and if we walked down our lawn to peer between October’s bare braches on the sycamore trees we could appreciate a nice enough view for us to make an offer on the house.
When we returned in April to collect the keys and start cleaning and prepping the house, we toiled in the rain and mist, socked in for five or so days, wearing our parkas in the house against the cold as we hadn’t yet gotten the rads working. Imagine our surprise when on the sixth day, we arrived to work on the house one morning to a clear sky. There’s a little rise as you enter our driveway which makes the nose of your car tip up as you run up over the ridge, and the minute the car nosed down again, the view came into focus. Tom and I simultaneously sucked in a gasp, as the 25-degree view we previously had enjoyed opened up into a 110-degree view so gorgeous and unbelievable, we didn’t even notice at the time that we could discern the curvature of the earth on the horizon. For that day and the next clear day that followed we were peeking out the windows constantly, almost as though we were making sure the mirage wouldn’t fade. Tom took frequent trips down our sloped lawn to gape, shaking his head and looking back at me watching him from one of the windows. Workers and neighbors stopped by and each looked at the view and exclaimed. I felt a little self-conscious then… everyone knows what a view costs in these parts so I took to proclaiming the truth: We didn’t know we had a view!
Our first weeks here this summer were spent climbing the huge sycamore trees on the property line to prune branches away enough to shape the view. I got an impressive series of spider bites on my shoulder painful enough for the pharmacist to say: Well, the good news is that we don’t have any venomous spiders in Ireland, so you won’t die.Good news, indeed. Tom acquired a bite right in the middle of his tattoo on his bicep that added a hillock of its own to the image. As we carefully cut away branches and hauled them into the midden pile, our view of Galley Head was framed. I went back to our bedroom and lay down in bed, making sure no stray twigs interrupted the sightline from our pillows. We kept shaking our heads at our good fortune. My life has been a series of fortunate views, from my aunt and uncle’s beach house in Carpinteria, to their Montecito houses, each with dazzling vistas, to the dusty oak-scented hillsides of my childhood landscapes in the San Diego mountains. In California my view is up. Up into the enormous branches of a Torrey Pine so large it is literally eating my house and blocking out the sky. Here, it is the dizzying view down a valley and out to sea that makes me feel like I’m falling, rolling off the hillside, moving toward something new.
It gives me great pleasure to watch Tom sit or stand at the edge of the property and take in the view of the sun and clouds making the sea grey, then steel, then blue, then azure, then pink, the lighthouse fading into mist or popping white off the rocks as the light changes. The mist will roll in and we will be in a bubble up here on our hillock above the sea, swimming in white. Then suddenly the clouds will break and its like watching a movie jump from black and white to Technicolor. I will catch Clare sitting with the neighbor’s dog in her lap, absently scratching Trixie’s ears and gazing out at the water. And I sit with my morning coffee, staring at the way the tide moves against the hidden rocks. What do we look for when we take in a familiar view? I think it becomes a space where we see the infinite. We gaze out at beauty and wonder about our place and function in the world. I’d like to think that it’s here we figure things out without really thinking about it, letting realization break open like clouds over a bay.