I like being in the company of experts, they being passionate about what they do. There is a fascination in hearing them talk their trade – revealing curious nooks and crannies as they go.
My doctor once asked me if I had Munchausen’s disorder, so engaged was I in the detail of how the vocal chords can get injured.
I chose to take it as a rhetorical question.
I met my friend, Martin, in Youghal the other night.
My google maps voice-lady calls it Yole. My English friend calls it Yoggle. We know it as Ya’ll.
Immediately, Marty was into it…
‘Did you know Youghal was a more important port than Dublin in the 16th century?’
‘Did you know Sir Walter Raleigh had a house here?’
‘Did you know Cromwell left Ireland through an arch down by the harbour?’
I knew none of this, and Marty was on a roll. He lectures on interior design in Cork, and his passion is social history as seen through buildings.
We grabbed some food, caught up on our lives, then, in the dusk of a warm summer’s evening, walked the town.
Youghal by the sea is languishing on hard times in 2013. Property prices have collapsed, unemployment is high, and the old railway line which used to bring Corkonians on their day trips to take the air remains disused.
And yet, there is a proud beauty about the place which will not yield. Small, tightly packed homes remain house-proud, their gay coloured doors and walls laughing out, irrespective of the troubles within.
We first observed the towering cathedral – outsized for Youghal’s modest presence – and then some of the smaller, very old buildings scattered casually amid side-streets, as though history had stifled memory.
Marty pointed out the striking stone mullion which gave the windows structure, regimenting their size in a sort of cold, filigreed beauty. Glazing back then was for the rich and, even at that, not yet perfected. Fully flat glass could only be crafted in small pieces; the mullion provided the frame.
Mullion, I repeated. There was something delicious in the word. Mullion.
Sir Walter Raleigh’s house was set in from the road and protected by walls. It is now privately owned. A lodge house juts out from this enclosure, a glorious bay window protruding from the first floor, but not reaching the ground.
Look at that beautiful oriel, he remarked, casually. I did, and also thought anew about the word. Oriel.
We returned through the town and walked under Cromwell’s arch.
‘That bastard finally left Ireland through there. Straight onto a boat’.
We smiled, and continued our walk among near empty streets, the air thickening as the light retreated.
This cycling trip I’m doing around Ireland is chiefly a natural experience – about what I see, smell, touch. In Youghal by the sea, it became richer.
Close to my hotel, we came by more 16th century mullion, its glazing long since withered and replaced.
Glass sags with time, Marty said. An old piece of glass is thicker at the bottom than the top. Time does that.
He smiled wistfully at the thought of something like glass, so impervious to change, changing all the same.
Brian McIntyre. July 2013.
About Rothar Republic
My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).
In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.
I figure this is a 28 day-long expedition covering about 2,500km.
All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.
If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.