William does 100% of the driving in Dixie, I have never driven as much as a car nevermind a house and that is most likely the way things will stay. But being co-pilot comes with its own pressures, I’m chief cigarette roller for example, which is a full-time position in itself, I’m the entire navigation department and I get to negotiate directly with the Sat Nav lady. She, supposedly technologically advanced but really stubborn as a mule, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge our plans, always making things difficult yet an essential part of the team. My seat in the cockpit is my office, the glove compartment lid my desk. I am the Chief Orange Peeler, the head of the Snacks and Supplies Department, the Chief Accountant and I also document our journey thus far every evening in the logbook and on Facebook… for a passenger that’s a lot of duties! I was also voted most likely to punch the stereo and hence was promoted… to inhouse D.J.
I have mused before about how crowded the East Coast of Ireland is, below Dublin proper one commuter town after another hugs the coastline, its boundaries spilling into the next, built up, overpopulated, concrete. We were on the road to Wexford for almost an hour and were still within the city limits, although thinning out by now the traffic was still dense, slow moving and stressful to navigate. It’s not necessarily the number of cars on the road that makes a difference to rush hour city driving, it’s the hurry everyone is in, the dangerous overtaking, undertaking and cutting each other off that makes Dixie nervous. We often exit the really busy roads and make a pot of tea in the back while the very fast risk everyones safety and drive like the wind just to get to their destination 5 minutes earlier.
The Hook Penninsula at the southernmost tip of Wexford is a wide craggy headland, flanked on both sides by little, isolated beaches with glorious golden sands. We drove the only road on from Kilmore Quay, a very pretty little seaside town known for its traditional thatched roof cottages, not know however for its easy to find free overnight van parking. We had ambled up and down the narrow streets the night before and over to Cullenstown searching for a suitable spot, past the beautifully decorated Shell House, but it seemed due to either newly installed height restriction barriers or the high winds that required we be sheltered there was no room at the inn and we ended up curling up in to sleep in the nearby town of Wellington Bridge, on a vacant boat ramp, overlooking the brown empty bowl of the river estuary on Bannow Bay.
Hook peninsula has a lot of places of interest and recommended sights to visit, and attracted as we always are to the biggest, the fastest, the smallest and the oldest of things, when we learned Hook Head Lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse in the world, first built over 800 years ago and operated continuously since, it was our first port of call. The 36 metre tall buildings origins lie with the monks, they kept a coal fire beacon burning up high here to guide the ships on what is still an important shipping route on the St George’s channel today. The sky was bright and blue that day and the rowdy Celtic Sea played her part with a roaring soundtrack and dramatic bursts of spray as we spent a lovely afternoon walking the grounds of the impressive lighthouse.
“By Hook or by Crook!” a phrase we all use all the time, we came to learn that it was Cromwell who popularised the term, in reference to his planned storming of nearby Waterford City. His New Model Army troops would take the city he vowed, by Hook Peninsula or by Crook, a little town on the opposite headland. Cromwell did take Ireland, again, and which way he came in is hardly of any consequence when faced with the resulting bloodshed and loss of life, wars cause famines and plagues, the effects of which live on forever, in the people and the land.
It is a lovely thing coming from Dublin to drive the empty roads around here, to cruise along at 10mph admiring the views and stopping Dixie dead in her tracks for a photo op. There can’t be any more than a few hundred people living on the peninsula itself, we passed few cars during our whole visit, though every one we did had a friendly waving driver at the wheel, wishing us well on our journey. Not a trait associated with driving in the city either!
I could write a tome detailing the many reasons why I believe modern music on the radio is so awful, with a post script about how Dixies C.D. player is banjaxed beyond hope, the couple of charity shop albums we naively bought way back in Linlithgow trapped indefinitely inside. Chart music is unoriginal, repetitive and almost seizure-inducing, 57 channels and nothing on indeed. In adjusting to this new, slower lifestyle, we find we naturally gravitate towards the quiet, the folky, maybe kinda hippie-ish, definitely music with a more peaceful tune and melody. I’ve been practising my ukeleke a lot, it’s something to do in between peeling oranges really, and I find myself wanting to sing and learn to play the songs I heard in my childhood, the songs hat take me back in time.
In the evening we visited Loftus Hall, supposedly Ireland’s “most haunted house”. Legend has it the building is bothered daily by the spirit of a young woman who lived and died there in the 1700’s. A spooky but a-typical Irish ghost story about a foreign ship wrecking on the peninsula in a storm, a mysterious young man who sought refuge in the manor and a young woman named Anne who became entranced by him. The huge house appeared to be boarded up, we remembered that February here is rather off-season so we settled for lunch in Dixie on the grounds instead of a tour inside. The building, as well as being so very haunted, is on a site steeped in history, originally as a castle it was sieged numerous times in many bloody battles, and in its current incarnation has seen life as a private residence, a religious convent and a hotel. We didn’t get to see the hole in the roof of the kitchen caused when the strange young man apparantly exploded through the ceiling after his cloven foot was uncovered during a card game, nor the famous Tapestry room in which the young lady went slowly insane, sitting by the window waiting for his return, and eventually died in 1675, her body so siezed up they had to bury her in that same upright position. Annes ghost is said to walk the main staircase to this day, and sounds of horses echo in the hallways, in spite of the many exorcisms carried out by both Prodestant and reluctantly, Catholic priests over the years.
Instead we sat outside, watching the setting sun reflect off the golden corn and the sky turning the whole world pink around us, whether the devil was haunting the place or not, there was nothing spooky about Loftus Hall that evening. We slept beside the sea, down a narrow winding road in a cove called Sandeel Bay, well hidden from the whistling wind and listening to the waves lap the shore right outside our door.
Sandeel bay as dawn broke the sky above it was beautiful, another crisp and bright spring day and we saw no reason at all to move along. We lit a campfire and spent a quiet day tending to it, talking and singing and cooking, and I practised a few new tunes, one of which was Que Sera, Sera, the 1956 top hit and Doris Days signature song, words I recall clearly hearing as a very young child:
“Que Sera, Sera
Whatever will be, will be
The futures not ours to see,
Que Sera, Sera.”
What a lovely sentiment, and an easy 5 chord trick for me to learn, a drunken crowd pleaser to add to my repertoire if ever there was one. We returned that night to the peninsulas craggy tip and the sanctuary of the lighthouse carpark seeking isolation and a flat pitch, both we got, and a restless, stormy night outside to boot.
Morning brought more rain, the clouds lined up in the sky ready to burst and stuck inside for a number of hours we read, ate and played games to amuse ourselves. Imagine our excitement to find Dixie and the carpark live on the Hook Head webcam! By early afternoon it became clear the clouds were here to stay, some times in Ireland day light means grey light and indoors is the best place to be. With similiar rain forecast for the next few days, we bid farewell to the lighthouse and the quiet scenic peninsula, and hit the road back to Dublin.
We found no evidence of Cromwell on either Hook or Crook. Some believe instead that Strongbow, Lord of Leinster coined the phrase while navigating the wild waters between the two headlands, others again maintain it came from an old country rule about gathering firewood, if it is obtainable by reach with a walking crook, it is considered yours. How to decide which story to believe I don’t know, perhaps none or a mixture of all three. The past, like the future, is not ours to see. Further reading on Loftus Hall suggests the ghost story was invented entirely by the manors new owners in 1900 in an attempt to draw customers to their hotel and bar, a rather disappointing rumour, I much prefer the haunting. I’d like to return to Loftus Hall when it is open to visitors, to see for myself the damage wreaked by this devil man. Hook Penninsula is definitely worth another visit, maybe we will return one day. Que Sera, Sera 😉