Now if you’re searching for your great grandmother’s cottage in the country, you can follow the map to a certain extent but in the end, you just have to ask someone. So, after driving a crooked mile up a crooked mucky roadeen, searching for the dot beside the ‘S’ of Newtown Springfield, we ground to a halt outside the house of kindly Mrs. Sweeney.
Up there on the windswept peninsula of Fanad, in Co. Donegal, she assured us that we had come to the right place. We had only to don our wellies, climb a steel gate and clamber down to the ‘clachan’ that was huddling amongst the trees by a little stream – and there we would find the remains of the cottage where Emily McGloughlin, half-sister of Patrick Pearse the Irish Revolutionary, once lived.
A ‘clachan’, by the way, is a cluster of little stone cottages, not quite a village, often situated in a hollow in the landscape to protect from Atlantic gales. Mrs. Sweeney told us that the house on the right was the McGarvey homestead and the one on the left was Nurse McGloughlin’s… My great grandmother was a nurse/midwife from Dublin. My, but she was a long way from home.
It had taken us six hours by modern motorcar to get here. My art exhibition entitled: “Tinteáin” was opening at the weekend in An Gailearaí in Gaoth Dobhair, with paintings of old fireplaces in derelict houses so, as you can imagine, I am well used to clambering over old stone walls and wrestling with clinging brambles and stinging nettles but, it was different this time. It was very nice to be there. I think we could feel the gentle spirit of Emily smiling on us. Who knows now but I think that this must’ve been a happy gathering in the hills of Donegal… and there was an ancient old apple tree growing outside of Emily’s house!
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