The Lakes of Connemara (part one)

I have a pretty strong foreign accent when I speak French, but most people never guess where exactly I’m from. They know I’m not American, English or German so I am constantly asked where my accent hails from. Only one man has ever guessed right and he made this deduction thanks to the freckles on my face  and not the lilt of my voice! When I say I’m Irish (after playing the guessing game for a while) the information is met with a whimsical sigh and one out of two people will ask if I’ve ever heard the song les lacs du Connemara (the lakes of Connemara) by a well known French singer Michel Sardou. This song was clearly quite the hit back in the day, as it seems to be the reference point that a lot of French people reach for when it comes to Ireland. So you can imagine the reaction when I hit them with the sweetest of upper-cuts, “Well actually I used to live in Connemara”. BAM- floors them every time. Connemara is really where this story began…

When I look back and try to pinpoint the moment that a decision was taken to move to France- it’s extremely difficult to hone in on it – to identify the very beginning. A decision was taken. One thing led to another I suppose.

I can’t say that I had always had a love-affair with France. I only learned French for one year of secondary school (high school) and after that switched to German. It’s funny though- I still remember to this very day, a dialogue we had to learn by heart- mother asks child to go to the shop- child asks what to buy and suggests jam- the jam didn’t make the final cut- clearly the mother had other pantry priorities that day!

After this very brief fling with the French language I learned very little about France or French culture. The only things I had learned about France by the time I left school were that French women didn’t shave their underarms and that you could buy condoms in the supermarket (absolutely shocking news at the time for those of us attending single-sex Catholic school). These gems of wisdom were shared by girls in my school who had the great fortune to go on school exchanges and lucky us to bathe in the global wisdom acquired!

After school I managed to have scraped enough grades together to get into college and my chosen field of study was English literature and Classical civilisation. Not a word of French in sight (you see where I’m going here). There was no burning desire to live in France. I was drifting along. Australia was briefly bandied about as a possible destination for a year, but no more concrete plan than basically following friends who were already there.

In my final year of college things changed. I got a part-time job in a restaurant…and.thus.began.France.

I had met the man I would share my life with. Him-chef. Me-waitress. Our path wasn’t to be a straightforward one, but we stayed on the same one nonetheless, and subsequently I have been given France.

We had been ambling along in our Irish life, I was working for a theatre company and mon homme had gone back to education, when a few thought-provoking things occurred. We were living in the sweetest cottage you could imagine, in one of the most picturesque parts of the world. The gateway to Connemara. I loved Rose cottage so much (seriously that’s what the house was called!) and I still think of it with the fondness of the notion of home. This was where we first shared our lives together. I honestly thought we would live out our days there. However we didn’t own the cottage (ah! there’s the rub).

Despite our best efforts to keep the cottage comfortable, it was starting to begin to show its age and a lot of structural work would have to be done . We told the property owner that the maintenance was beyond our scope and we needed to know what her plans were for the cottage. Most houses in the west of Ireland exist in the precarious position of a constant battle against humidity, and old houses suffer and carry the battle-scars more often than not.

The property owner was a sweet lady who had been born and raised in that cottage. As long as we were happy to keep up with light maintenance she was happy in the knowledge that no tough decisions had to be taken. But when the maintenance proved too much for us, her hand was forced. She decided the cottage would have to be razed. We received our official notice (which loosely translated to “until we found somewhere else we were happy to live”. The hunt for a new home was on.

At the time, the housing situation in Ireland was a little out of orbit, and we knew we could never afford to buy our own home- and the cottage had always been the next best thing. The day I realised we would have to leave I cried like a baby. On moving-out day the owner travelled a good distance to say goodbye to us and I think she was a little emotional too.

Whenever we travel back to Ireland, we still visit the property to say hello to the craggy old apple tree that still stands guard in the yard. This apple tree had played a central role to many an afternoon’s lolling and climbing by my stepson and daughter. Most Irish people feel a need to call a place home. We feel a sentimental attachment to the ground where we stand. I think a few of my roots may still be tangled up with the roots of that tree deep down somewhere.

Little did I know on the day we pulled out of that yard for the last time that it would the first move of seven over the three years to come!

This is the first part of a two-part post. To read the rest of the story please click here.

If you’d like a little flavour of the song les lacs du Connemara click below. Dramatic stuff indeed!


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