Back to the Future

The grey stone walls still stand, derelict since the roof collapsed in a storm last year. Slate tiles lay abandoned on the floor amongst the fallen debris. Nature had already tried reclaiming the house, nettle, buddleia, bramble and ferns tried to grab space intertwining the broken beams. The auld house is over 100 years old and doesn’t stand alone but huddled between other smaller sheds. One of which is clear at the moment attentive awaiting the plans of my son as he creates a space for himself to work and entertain his friends or to create his music in peace away from heavy foot falls and screaming siblings.


The stonework has no order, stones cast in random alignment, gathered from the fields around. The occasional large white crystal quartz block included amongst the grey flat cards of rock. Two windows on what was the ground floor and one above act as eyes watching the ocean’s tides wash in and out of the bay beyond. The house is raised on an outcrop and gazes over the wall in front. A courtyard contained by three sides. The Montbretia and Bog Willow have claimed the open space before the house and there is watercress and weed clogging the old well sunken out front and forming this lush, soggy swamp. I have cleared some of the vegetation and I intend to do more but I like this natural habitat, there are frogs and leeches, dragonflies and a myriad of creatures sustained by this wet and wild spot and I am not too happy to disturb their ecology.


A couple of weeks ago I found strangers on the drive, we get few visitors and even a half mad GPS wouldn’t consider guiding anyone, even by accident to our remote hideaway. Even so there were two such bods on my drive and when I stopped to ask if I could help I discovered them to be American. I have mixed feelings about Americans, I am constantly bombarded by news from America and through Facebook and even the radio I am left bewildered by what from this distance appears to be a Soap Opera. Individually however I always like meeting new people, especially those from such a different culture. My visitors where on the genealogy journey, a bit of a cliché, hunting for ones roots but they had managed to find themselves exactly where they intended to be as they asked if I knew anything of the family Wilkinson. I didn’t buy the land from the Wilkinsons but I had been told they were the original owners and that the house I now live in was originally built by them with the old grey stone courtyard their original family home over 100 years ago.


Paul and Barbra are not the first of George Wilkinson’s descendents to find us at the end of this road. A good few years ago Ed had turned up on my door. Ed was a big man with a big character and I like to think we became friends for a while as not only did he discover us he also spent time working in the area on the Mizen Head project which became Mizen Vision. Ed and I shared the same birthday. A coincidence but I think we also shared a similar look on life even though our approach was poles apart. His Grandfather George was born in 1833 and died here in 1914 and at least one of his descendents made the long journey to the US. Barbara sent me a photo of the man and he has the wild look of a West Cork man etched into his face. They say I resemble George but that is probably just the erosion of the wind and rain that comes with living on the west coast of the World.

George Wilkinson born 1833

George Wilkinson

I have gone a long way in clearing out the house, I plan to put a clear roof on the building and using it as a greenhouse to bring on early plants, I would like a poly-tunnel but I don’t think one would last long against the winter storms. Clearing out the debris I was surrounded by those grey stone walls, I found myself trying to imagine what it would have been like to live in such a place. Only a stone’s throw from my front door but it would have been very different without the electricity and modern comforts like running hot water. Bringing in supplies by horse and cart or on the back of a donkey. I have been told that this was also a local shop and that there was a track running up to the houses east of us along the bay. It is hard to imagine, the population in 1833 was larger than it is now and there are the barren ruins of many houses which would have been full of children and life may well have been busier then than it is now.

The sea, mountains and rolling fields are still here, the view would have been very much the same but the perception of the world, the culture and the way of life has moved on. I’m not sure what I would have made of George and I am even less sure of what he would have made of me!


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