Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Strawberries and Cream in a Writer's Dream Venue.
All my childhood memories of Enniscorthy revolve round fruit and flowers. My grandmother’s house there was built on a hill. I remember roses in the garden, and tall lilies on thick stems, with ivory petals like curled pollen-powdered vellum. Tattered, golden irises, called flags, grew near a row of tumbledown stone sheds. There was a broad, scrubbed step outside the kitchen door and a path ran down the garden to an orchard of apple trees and fruit bushes.
Granny was frail by the time I remember her. There was a starched cloth on the polished table where we had tea when we visited; the cups were her own mother’s sky blue and white china, patterned with flowers. I remember gooseberry and blackcurrant jams made with fruit from the garden, and ‘country butter’ served on slices of her own brown soda bread. The strong taste of the salty butter was almost like cheese.
Each year in June we’d take the train down from Dublin for Enniscorthy’s Strawberry Festival. Bowls and baskets of the locally-grown berries were everywhere.
The steep streets of the town were crowded with locals and visitors. People would take picnics down to the water meadows by the broad river Slaney. And sometimes we did too. Cows grazed there, and I loved the humming of bees in the buttercups.
Coming back from the riverside, we’d climb the steep streets of the town, past the grey stone castle. The castle was closed to the public in those days, but I remember being taken up a winding staircase once, to the top of a tower, and emerging onto the flat roof to watch a golden sunset.
Last year, in Enniscorthy on a book signing tour, I visited the castle again, now beautifully restored and home to a fine museum. It was a hurried visit, tucked in at the end of a busy day, so I didn’t see half of what’s housed there.
And then this year I received an invitation from the Words In Wexford Literary Trail, to speak about my memoir The House on an Irish Hillside at an Afternoon Tea there. What writer could ask for a better venue? At one point in its history, back in the 1500s, it was leased by the poet Edmund Spencer. And, besides, the event is part of this year’s Strawberry Festival. Already I’m fantasizing about scones and whipped cream topped with rich, red Enniscorthy strawberries.