I’ve been around the world a couple of times and definitely more and, while my home is most certainly among the Australian gum trees these days, there are some vivid memories of my ‘home town’ I will never forget – and one in particular I wanted to share with you.
This story revolves around a quintessential Irish square-tower castle called Ardtrammond.
With majestic views over the river Slaney, it stood erect in the middle of a meadow and was used for nothing more majestic than sheltering cattle. Consequently its ground floor, with two large door openings on opposite sides, was hoofmarked and mostly covered in not-so-dry cowpats.
But the ground floor was of no interest to us as kids. Up the narrow stone, broken stairs lay the greatest adventure of all. The room on what would have been the second floor (the third, being made of timber, was long gone) was always bright and airy. We imagined ourselves as kings and queens and courtiers gathered round a roaring fire with massive banquets spread before us.
We never lit a fire in the fireplace though, because, although we were sure it would work, we were also sure it would draw the attention of the landowner whom we had never seen but were none-the-less convinced was a gargoyle of hideous proportions and would dispatch us to hell for trespassing on his estate, if he found us.
On we went, upwards, past the missing third floor and eventually to the roof. The roof had a large hole in the middle through which you could see our magnificent dining hall below.
We never felt a sense of danger up there – or at least we never admitted to it – but at the same time we never ventured higher than hands and knees. Whether this was through a fear of heights (to which I now admit) or whether we wished to keep heads low lest we be seen by the gargoyle, I can’t say with honesty.
But the roof of that castle was a truly magical place to while away a mid-summer’s evening, especially if you had the forethought to bring a pocket full of wheat to mix with the blackberries growing up there.
Twenty-five years later (and more than 15 years ago, when it was still an empty shell – because the Celtic Tiger saw a roof and proper windows go in) I returned to Ardtrammond Castle to show my two daughters my favourite childhood haunt.
As a parent showing an 11- and a 6-year-old around this place, I was terrified – especially when the youngest ran hither and thither, gasping, “Aw, cool!” in her Aussie accent.
We did venture to the roof for a quick look but my latter-year fear of heights combined with a fear for my kids brought us back to lower levels quickly.
After exploring every nook and cranny, we eventually returned to terra firma as the evening light dimmed.
As we were about to leave, a blur of movement caught my eye out through one of the doors, followed by a muffled little thump.
As we went closer, another blur and another muffled thump.
“What was that, daddy?” Because daddies are supposed to know everything.
I went outside and looked up. Nothing.
But wait, a speck.
And then this little duckling, with legs splayed and stubby wings flapping at a million miles an hour hurtles down and … thump in the long grass, gets up and scurries away to hide.
“Aw, how cute. Is it hurt? Can I catch it?”
And then another and another.
Then, finally, with 12 ducklings now safely on the ground, mother duck rounded them up and set off in the direction of the river Slaney, quite some distance away over meadow and bog and fence and ditch.
And so it was, after traveling 12,000 miles from Australia for a family holiday in ‘the old country’ and choosing this day, this hour, this minute to show my kids a place that held special childhood memories for me, the magic of life itself now lives in that small stone castle for my wee bairns.