While it would be gross fabrication to say I miss the U.S., it would be mere exaggeration to say I am homesick for Ireland. We followed the Queen’s recent visit with uncanny fascination, surprised at the waves of emotion that overcame us at the reconciliation and mutual respect that arose from the ceremonies. I regretted that I could not stand near the motorway running between Cashel and Cork to see her motorcade pass – until I realised they made the journey by helicopter. Still, in my mind’s eye, I stood at our sitting room window in Tipperary and saw – across the pastures of Tincurry – her Range Rover glide through the landscape, past the gaze of Galtymore.
Likewise, we would have liked to have been there to see the crowds welcoming Obama, though, as it happened, we were in Italy during his visit. As well, when Tipperary recently beat Cork, its long-standing nemesis, in the first test of the summer-long hurling national championship, we wished we could have been watching the match from the comfort of the Garryroan sitting room.
Those are public occasions, of course. The twinges of nostalgia, those passing moments of longing, more often come in the odd, private moment. Weeding the garden in the stillness of an overcast afternoon, the breeze soft and pregnant with rain, the clear trill of blackbirds the loudest sound I hear, I am put in mind the long, overgrown garden at the back of my mother-in-law’s house. Looking up, I notice the swell of currents and ripening raspberries on the bush, and I wish, once more, that she could have seen our garden here.
I recall also the low rolling hills of Ireland, green fields cross hatched by deeper green hedgerows and grey clouds swelling on the horizon. Perhaps the memory is triggered by a photo; perhaps it comes suddenly to my imagination. The Austrian landscape is beautiful, its wide open meadows spreading against the soaring Alps breathtaking. The ancient onion-domed steeples and charming villages, dignified in these vast spaces, still astonish me. But my response to the Irish landscape, whether imagined or seen, is instinctual, as if primordial. It’s the quickening recognition that draws one toward a long-missed loved one.
It’s not just the landscape I miss, of course. I think of languorous warm Sunday afternoons, when, dinner dishes done, we wander aimlessly. Waiting, perhaps, for the Sunday match to begin, we sit in the glassed-in porch of my mother-in-law’s house, where, overheated by the welcome sun, acrid dust rising from the elderly brown cushions competes with the sharp scent of geraniums. Or we drift to the long tunnel of the polythene house, where the interior temperature rises a good 10 degrees higher than the cool afternoon. Flying insects ping against its taut surface; the air is rank with humus and sweet with ripe peaches and apricots. Rusted tools, rough twine, unspooled in irregular loops, faded boxes and broken crockery litter the tottering timber table. A drumming flutter beats against the plastic in the corner as a thrush, frantic, finds her way out the opening at the far end.
Later, in the long evening, we sit outside, if we’re lucky, to watch the colour drain from the light over the tips of the towering hedges. We try to distinguish the music of the thrush from the melody of the blackbird. Overhead, swallows and swifts dance their soaring song, filling the sky with swooping arabesques, their high chattering cries hanging in the air. They fill me with contentment.
We see no swallows from our veranda in Salzburg. I spotted, last summer, a few over the Salzach as I cycled along it in the evening. They flitted over the river, dancing from current to current just above the water, their cries muffled by the roar of the water. But they do not dance over our garden.
So it was with exhilaration I listened to the high shrill twittering of a sky full of swallows above the basilica in Padua. They soared too over the campos and canals of Venice, filling the heaven with their shrieks, weaving an elegant ballet against the fading blue light, blue reflected and intensified by the mirror-like waters below. In the heat of an Italian evening, I saw the swallows and thought of Ireland and home.
|View of the Galtee Mountains from Garryroan, South Tipperary, Ireland|
Photo by Lorraine Seal