Freshford, Ireland September, 2016
“You are from Canada? Oh! Canada is good. Canada helps Kurdish people. One movie star from Canada left her home and family and went to live with the Kurdish people and help them.” The man behind the counter was effusive and sincere, touching and embarrassing us.
The Brennan Sisters restaurant was not the fish and chips joint we had expected. Kebabs, pizza, and burgers as well as fish and chips were prepared and served for take-out by three bright, shiny fellows who seemed as delighted at the incongruity of brown faces in the village of Freshford, Ireland, as we were. It was the only place in town that served food and 14 kilometers felt too far to drive into Kilkenny in the rain and dark of our first night in the area. The three of us were squished into what had been advertised as a “Family Suite” when I booked our B&B on-line – not really the kind of space one wanted to sit around and eat a meal in.
So we sat at the only table in the only restaurant in the town where my great-great grandmother had once lived, eating gargantuan portions of spicy vegetables and meat wrapped in fluffy pita bread. Maria Leary, née Sneyd, glares out of her portrait on my mother’s bedroom wall in rural Manitoba. I doubt that as a lass in Freshford at the turn of the 19th century, she could have imagined such a gathering of foreign people eating strange food right by the village green – much less that some of them would be her descendants, coming to look for traces of her life there.
After we finished what we could of our meals, we crossed the road to peek into the cemetery of St.Lachtain’s Church. The wrought-iron gate to the Remembrance Park creaked as a cemetery gate should, but on the information board through the other, more often-used entrance, we found no trace of the names we were looking for. My mother says she had been prepared for this, but still….
The wind had begun to pick up and it was quickly getting colder and darker. We crossed the green to the car and drove around a bit, past the newer, bigger Catholic church, out of town a ways and then back.
It was still too early for bed – we’d be awake in the middle of the night if we went to sleep right away – so although we were exhausted and jet-lagged, we picked one of the three pubs within spitting distance – the one with the white swans hovering in all the second-story windows – and went in for a pint.
My daughter and mother settled in with their Guinness, and I with a shot of Jameson. In the dark-oaked, musty coziness of the pub, a couple of lads playing darts along the far end, and local accents hugging segments of an American movie radiating from the TV on the wall amid bottles of spirits and statues of hurling champions, I felt I had really arrived in Ireland….