Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Sort of Homecoming...

With the current economic downturn, emigration is once again becoming an option for many people. The last 15 years have seen very little emigration but before that, emigration on a large scale was common. A lot of those who emigrated have made lives abroad and now, in their 50’s and 60’s, come to Ireland every few years for a holiday or for weddings and funerals.

I recently carried out a Valuation for probate purposes on a small cottage near Fethard. It had been lived in by an elderly bachelor (whom we shall call Gearóid) and had not been modernised or changed in probably 50 years. There are two bedrooms and a large fireplace with the crane still intact. Running water was provided by the stream to the side until quite recently, when a mains connection was provided by the County Council. There is no bathroom, toilet facilities being ‘au naturelle’. In certain parts of Ireland many people lived like this until quite recently, but it is very rare in Tipperary.

Gearóid lived happily for many years and when he passed away, he left the property to his nephew, Philip, who had emigrated 30 years previously. Philip lives in the Middle East working on the Oil fields. He has been an infrequent visitor to Ireland, but always visited Gearóid on his returns here. When he first met me, he passed comment on how Ireland had changed utterly since he left and he reminisced about olden ways.

Gearóid’s house is on a very small triangular site with the aforementioned stream to one side. I was concerned from a Valuation point of view, that it would be almost impossible to get a sewerage treatment option, such as septic tank or Puraflow, on the confined site especially with the stream nearby. I outlined my concerns to Philip who said he would investigate the matter further. Despite the absence of a University education, Philip has spent most of his working life around oil rigs and is very technically minded. He came back to me the following day with a scaled drawing of the site, showing the house on it and all the relevant dimensions. He said he had called Bord na Mona in relation to a Puraflow treatment system and had got the specification from them. He also thought that the system would not fit within the narrow confines of his site. His only option was to see if his neighbours could facilitate him. One of the neighbours had built a new house directly beside the cottage so that option was immediately ruled out. To the other side of the cottage was farmland. Philip said that he knew the land owner and that he would call to him to discuss the matter.

The following day, Philip returned to our office looking very tired. I ask him how he got on, he said ‘Bad and good’ and told me the following story. Not having lived in the area for over 30 years, he drove up the adjoining boreen to where he thought the neighbouring landowner lived. This was a long narrow driveway. He got out of his hired car, opened the gate (which was tied with baler twine) inwards and proceeded up the drive which had huge potholes full of water and briars on each side which scraped the car. He was extremely concerned that his Renault Clio would not make it to the end but as the laneway was so narrow, he had no option but to continue. When he got to the house, he found it deserted and ruined. He assumed that the neighbour, John, had moved elsewhere as he hadn’t heard that he had died. He managed to turn the car without getting stuck and went back down the boreen and saw a modern bungalow. He drove in, thinking it might be John’s house but when a younger lady answered the door, he knew it wasn’t. He asked where John was living now and was given directions to a house on the other side of Fethard. The young lady told him to travel two miles up the road and watch out for a narrow gateway, ‘you’re sure to miss it first time’.

He drove the two miles, didn’t see any gate, drove a further two miles, just in case and then realised that he must have missed it. He called into another house and was directed back towards Fethard, again with a comment ‘watch out for a narrow gate with two piers or you will drive past it’. This time though Philip was ready; he saw the narrow gate with two piers, with an old metal gate tied with baler twine, on the edge of the road. He opened the gate and drove in. There was no sign of life other than an old sheepdog lying in a barn and two cats on the window sill. He heard a tractor next door and walked out the road to ask of John’s whereabouts. When he caught the attention of the tractor driver, he said ‘He’s probably in Fethard, he cycles into McCarthy’s Hotel for his lunch most days’.

It was almost 2 pm now and Philip drove the Clio, by now completely covered in mud, into Fethard and pulled up outside McCarthy’s, opposite the church. Upon entering McCarthy’s he saw John just finishing his lunch and went over and introduced himself. John remembered him and was happy to see him. John turned to Vincent, who was behind the bar and said, “Vincent, we will have to celebrate, Philip is home on a visit, 2 pints please”. Before Philip could say no, he was sitting down at the table with a pint in front of him and John was asking him all about the Middle East and his job, the customs and way of life out there and how different it was from Ireland. Being a well mannered chap, as he watched John drain off his glass, he had to call for 2 more pints which were duly delivered to the table. John kept asking questions; Did he have family? Was he making lots of money? etc. By the time Philip answered these questions; John had drained his second pint and called for a third for the two of them. Coming from a Middle Eastern country where drinking is not the norm, Philip was under a bit of pressure at this stage but when the third pint was put in front of him, he really had no option but to start drinking it. They then started speaking about Gearóid and John told many stories of Gearóid and their times together as neighbours. Before Philip knew it, Vincent had delivered a fourth pair of pints to the table and he still hadn’t asked John anything about the house.

Before he started into the fourth pint, and now committed to a taxi, Philip decided that he had better broach the subject sooner rather than later. He got out his carefully drawn plan of the site and said to John that he was thinking of renovating the cottage and that would entail putting in a septic tank or a similar system. He said that by his calculations, there wasn’t enough land on the site itself to put the tank in. John, having attended UCD in the 1960’s, (where he did an Arts Degree) told Philip that he must surely be wrong and to show him the plan. Philip duly did and John examined it, looking at it upside down initially and when finally getting the orientation right, studying it at great length. Philip said, “You see, John, I don’t think that the site is large enough.” “Shush, will you, I’m trying to think,” said John. Philip sat there waiting for John’s comments. John held up the plan, turned to Vincent and said, “I think we need another couple of pints, Vincent, this will take a while.” Philip said, “No really, I couldn’t have another one” but John insisted and it came to the table. As John took the first large gulp out of his pint, Philip said to himself, ‘Now is my chance.’ “You see John,” said Philip “I’m quite certain that the septic tank won’t fit on the site and I was wondering, seeing as you own the land immediately beside it, would you sell me a small bit of ground so that I could put that septic tank in there?”
John sat back, looked at Philip and said, “Jaysus, Philip, did you not know that I sold that land 20 years ago when I moved house?”
Philip didn’t know whether he was dizzy from the shock or the drink but before he could say anything else, John continued, “But I know who owns it and we can call out to him. Finish up that drink and we’ll get going”

Vincent called them a taxi and they finished their drink as the taxi arrived. They drove back to; you guessed it, the new bungalow on the boreen where the day started with the lady of the house giving Philip directions. Paul, the lady’s husband, was down checking on stock and a phone call ensured that he was back up to the house within five minutes. He had never met Philip but had known Gearóid well. Before Philip could speak, John took over matters and said, “Paul, Philip here wants to renovate Gearóid’s cottage. He can’t put a septic tank in the property itself as the site is too small. I know his family for a long time and I want you to help him out.” Paul said, “That’ll be no problem, John. How much ground do you need Philip?” Philip gathered his thoughts and explained what was required. Paul said, “That’s no problem, I was going to re-fence that field when the cattle come into the shed. Organise your man with the digger to come and do whatever he wants and I’ll re-fence it afterwards.” Philip asked what payment would be required and Paul said “Don’t be insulting me. Gearóid was a good neighbour; I’ll be delighted to help you out if I can”. Everyone shook hands and Paul said, “As you are not here that often Philip, we must have a drink.” He took out a bottle of whiskey. “That’s a great idea,” said John. Two glasses were drunk while waiting for the taxi to come back. The taxi drove to Fethard, put John’s bike in the boot, dropped it and John home and dropped Philip back to Clonmel, leaving the Renault Clio outside the church at Fethard.

We both laughed as Philip recounted the story and as he was leaving me to get a taxi back out to Fethard to collect his car, he said “You know while a lot has changed in this country, some things will never change”.

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