Thursday, 30 September 2021

The Clare Retreat

For the past three weeks we have been hiding out in a cottage by the ocean in Co Clare. We went there for a good break and chose a fairly remote location. Although the cottage had good internet connections (and a large satellite TV) we decided not to do any social media whilst we were away. Instead we walked the short way to the ocean and observed its rhythms and moods. From our house we could hear the sound of the waves and smell the salty air. I found myself remembering ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield, especially the second stanza, which I recall Ciaran Carson declaiming at the Queen’s Writers’ Group.

Of course I brought my bike with me. The main roads of West Clare are few and rather narrow, so I spent most of the time cycling the back roads and byways. There is a big network of these but the surfaces can be a bit rough in places. Most of West Clare is a peninsula with the broad Shannon estuary on the one side and the Atlantic on the other. The climate is very mild and the hedgerows and ditches are full of plants that you don’t often see around here, like purple loosestrife and fuchsia. The best ride was along the magnificent cliff road from Kilkee to Loop Head and back along the Shannon estuary. Kilkee was a Victorian resort visited by Charlotte Bronte and Alfred Tennyson and the cliffs are similar to the Cliffs of Moher.

I also brought a print-out the first draft of my novel. Reading through it carefully for the first time, I noticed lots of flaws but plenty of good things too. The main problem I saw was that the opening was rather ponderous as it contained plenty of scene setting and backstory (the novel is set in 1961 and also refers to 1940). The novel didn’t seem to really get going until about chapter five. I think this was a result of how I wrote the first draft. I embarked on the story with just two characters and a vague idea of where it was all going. So I decided that the novel had to start with what had been chapter five and began my rewrite. By the end of the holiday, I’d rewritten ten chapters. T had brought books to read and worked on journaling and watercolouring.

On other days we went to Ennistymon and visited the Salmon Bookshop, where my new collection is now stocked, and to Quilty, which has a seaweed factory that exports all around the world. At low tide several fellas could be seen collecting sugar kelp from the beach beside our house. We went to Doonbeg and ate in the magnificent Morrisseys restaurant. They have a fish wholesaling business so the fish are fresh from the boats. They also have a fish shop that is open a couple of days a week, where we bought turbot, brill and mackerel to cook at home. We even swam a little in the sea, but it was certainly cool. The one place we avoided was the Donald Trump Golf Links and Resort. We did walk along Doughmore Strand and glimpsed the place beyond the dunes, but it was off-limits to non-residents.

All in all, we had a great time and the weather was mostly good. One thing that did stick out was the very high level of compliance with Covid regulations, which are much tougher than up here. I didn’t see anyone in a shop without a mask on. And you don’t gain entry to a pub, restaurant and cafĂ© without being able to prove that you have a double vaccination. No wonder that vaccination rates are higher and infection rates are lower there. And when we got back, Minnie and Chip (who had been looked after by neighbours) were waiting for us excitedly. Perhaps they knew we had fish.