Monday, March 8
My first day at North Great George’s Street, a grand Georgian house built in 1774 and a few houses down from the James Joyce Centre. Entering the foyer felt like entering a movie set, a huge entrance, 30 foot ceilings, and a grand staircase at the end- on the right, the door to my flat. Inside, brochures on a table in the small entryway described the house’s history with invitations for guided tours. Like many Georgian mansions in Dublin, it had been a tenement, each room rented out to a large family.
My flat was by no means a tenement. Usually my stays are in small apartments or rooms, not luxurious digs but this location was within walking distance of the Irish Writer’s Centre where I planned to spend most of my time. Large shuttered windows looked out on a garden, a sofa faced a wood burning fireplace, an elegant dining table sat along it’s right side, and a four poster bed with expensive linens fitted out the bedroom, 13 foot ceilings adding to it’s grandeur.
North Great George’s Street
As it was already late in the afternoon, I needed to purchase groceries for the next few days. The closest supermarket was Tesco’s a half mile along Parnell Street. Once I left North Great George’s Street, the charm began to wear off. This part of Parnell was lined with inexpensive “ethnic” restaurants, unsavory drinking establishments, and small shops that had seen better days.
Tesco’s had everything I needed. As I hadn’t eaten since the day before, I stopped at The Parnell Heritage Bar and Grill on my way home- a real tourist trap. I didn’t care: I just wanted a Guinness and some grub.
Parnell Heritage Bar and Grill
Almost every night my grandmother ate the same thing for dinner, an Americanized version of Colcannon, the traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage. She used spinach. I ordered the version with cabbage and Irish bacon. A huge mound of mash and cabbage with thick pieces of bacon, more like ham than American bacon, covered in parsley sauce, a rich béchamel infused with parsley, presented itself. Surprisingly, it was delicious and enough to feed five: I was forced to leave most behind but it eliminated the need for dinner.
Tuesday, March 9.
I haven’t lived in a flat while traveling these past three years, so settling in was a treat. I was right at home perhaps because I had a home. After a leisurely breakfast, I spent the day at the Irish Writer’s Centre.
Irish Writers Centre
As a member, I am entitled to free coffee and biscuits and a room for writing. One was available on the third floor with windows overlooking Parnell Square.
The doubts, the ennui that had been dogging me, evaporated. Two ingredients contributed to this improved state of mind- my own home and a separate place to write. I vowed that when I returned to the states, I would write away from my house. There seems to be a quickening of the blood away from domesticity.
As I worked, a memory surfaced. Perhaps, it was the Colconnan from yesterday’s dinner. When I was 9 years old, my closest friend was a second generation Irish girl named Mary Ellen. Her name appealed to me: it was my grandmother’s name and a name she had vowed I would have even if she had me baptized behind my mother’s back. Yet she was never called “Mary Ellen” but always Molly. When I wanted to name my daughter, Molly, she dismissed my choice- “Ah, it’s a only a washer woman’s name.”
Mary Ellen lived next to a vacant lot where we played after school or in the early evenings as spring wore on. The game was always the same- living on a farm in Ireland. Most likely, these pantomimes were based on our grandmothers’s stories. We constructed a small fireplace, a circle of stones around which we sat and planned our meals. Potatoes over the open fire and tea of course. Each day, the narrative took up from the day before. Much of it had to do with housekeeping and our version of animal husbandry. I assured Mary Ellen that during cold weather, the animals stayed in the house for that was what my grandmother had told me. We also had versions of itinerants who sat by the fire in the evening telling stories in exchange for a meal. Our stories included our relatives and neighbors just they would have when travelers spun tales around my great grandmother Mary Kearns’ hearth on Upper Kilnamanagh Road in Roscommon. We gave them appropriate Irish names taken from our extended family: Mary, Bridget, Patrick, Michael and last names, Beirne, Daly, Kearns, McGann.
Upper Kilnamanagh Road, Roscommon, Ireland
That night, as I had the makings of a quick dinner with dessert, I invited my friend and her male acquaintance to dinner. Another perk to having a home. We ate in front of the fire, drank wine, and made plans for lunch at the Michelin starred restaurant, Chapter One, next to the Irish Writer’s Center. An ideal day, writing in the morning, a celebration with food and drink afterwards.
The flat, North Great George’s Street, Dublin