SO HERE we all are, out and about for the day — my mother and father who spent many decades in England having run out of an Ireland that offered them nothing: my aunt whose first child was born in England before they returned to Ireland and my uncle, home from New York where he and his family live.
One of the things we end up visiting is a plaque outside a cemetery. The plaque is to the memory of a man whose funeral my mother attended when she was a babe in arms. He is my grandmother’s uncle and was active in the IRA between 1918 and 1921.
In one book I have, I have been able to track down that he took part in an audacious jail break of a leading IRA volunteer who was likely to face a capital charge.
No doubt he was a participant in a bitter and bloody time in Ireland’s history but there is something about the men who took up arms against the might of the British Empire that is hard not to admire.
I’m not sure they knew what kind of Ireland they were fighting for, beyond that of one in charge of its own destiny. I think that has hampered the country to this day. But they took on the unjust might of an empire and there is something noble in that.
So in the late warmth of this summer that won’t end, we stood in front of the plaque. My family spoke of an older set of relatives and for a moment it was as if the links broken by time and emigration were still intact.
It is beautiful countryside where we stand, all rolling hills and fields, estuaries and inlets and the sea never far away. And we roll on across lanes and byways and down by the sea and inland again. And it is better than a lot of things to be in the company of older people, especially this generation of Irish people who have seen so much and lived so much. Then we head down a lane and turn a corner.
When we turn the corner we come to a clash — between the memory of a man who took up arms to see off what he saw as the unjust invaders of his country and his society, and what now lies before us, something you could only ignore if you tried. We are a few yards away from the Old Head of Kinsale — and we have to turn around.
My family has, as with the man on the plaque, links to this immediate area and even as kids we came here from England often — staying by a certain beach. We even recall that it was here that my youngest sister fell off a cliff and survived. Family memories throw up the oddest things. But how odd is this?
How odd is it that one of the most historically famous spots in Ireland, a place where in many ways the old Gaelic order met its final defeat — something that led some six years later to the famous Flight of the Earls — now has access so limited that a uniformed man stands by some imposing gates.
This place where Irish history took a definitive turn, a place I remember clambering over as a kid. A place that is now accessible to members only and I don’t think that any of us in that car are ever going to have enough for that membership.
A place, in fact, that now advertises something called Heli-Golf above the description ‘executive heli-charter for the discerning golfer’ as if outside this exclusive place the rest of the world just never happened.
Certainly, I would suggest, the world thought of by the man on the plaque who took up arms against an empire did not include this. It did not include a future Ireland that would hawk off one of its most famous landmarks to an English company.
Ironic isn’t it, to exclude a general population that had for decades accessed the Head at will. Is that the Ireland that anyone dreamed of?
We had the boom here and in that time the overwhelming mantra of society was that the only thing that had rights was money.
That, of course — recession or not, rebirth of the boom or not — is still the case and sometimes that is so evident you cannot ignore it.