Back when I was an innocent teenager, most of my summer was spent down by Digby Bridge. We’d cycle down for a swim and spend hours sitting on the banks of the canal setting the world to rights. I remember being amazed that the people who owned the house by the bridge had a home cinema. When Ron Wood (yes, THE Ron Wood) moved into the locale, Digby became somewhere of note for other reasons. I remember seeing Mick Jagger drive by one day and thinking to myself that the pink cashmere sweater he had knotted over his shoulders didn’t do much for his complexion. Truth be told, I was more impressed by the home cinema.
In COVID times, walking the canal is one of the few things people can do given that for months Ireland has had a 5km lockdown radius. Some enterprising soul has set up a coffee stand by the bridge and the queue for coffees, homebaked pastries, and ice cream was moving slowly the first day I was there. That the Digby Bridge Café has a real address is impressive: Leinster Aquaduct, Aghpaudeen, Sallins, Co. Kildare, W91 K7N8, Ireland.
My Digby Bridge, as opposed to the other one on the canal by the same name down near Tullamore, is on the stretch of water between Sallins and Robertstown. It was built around 1794 and is home to Lock 16.
Both times I was there recently, we went left – towards Sallins. Had we gone right, towards Robertstown, we’d have seen…
…the gate into Landenstown Estate which boasts a Palladian country house and a large farm in much need of renovation. Landenstown House was built for the Digby family around 1740. The Digby family who apart from being landowners in Kildare, at one stage also owned the Aran Islands. The house and grounds were owned and farmed by a German man from the 1940s until the early 2000s. Yeomanstown Stud purchased the vast property in 2017.
Note duly made for next time but hey, who knew that someone actually owned the Aran Islands at one stage.
Barging is a great way to pass the time. I’ve done it a couple of times and loved it. I remember being a dab hand at the three-point turn, much better than I am in a car. As the boats passed by, I had fleeting moments of situational envy. You know, that feeling you get in the minute but then forget just as quickly. For a few seconds, I envied those on the barge. I envied those living in the architecturally redesigned houses that lined the banks. I envied the herons (at least that’s what I think this is) and their freedom to go where they please when they please.
As we walked, I noticed that I was paying more attention than usual, one of the collateral benefits of this pandemic. Having nowhere to go and nothing much to do means that I can take time not doing. I noticed the fishing stand markers and the lock number. I noticed the reflections in the water. I felt both at home and a stranger. That’s what happens isn’t it, when you stumble back into the past.
I tried to remember that Patrick Kavanagh poem we learned at school – The Canal Bank Walk. I could only bring one line to mind: wallow in the habitual, the banal. When I Googled it later, it all came flooding back, particularly the final two lines. How they resonate. How appropriate for these times.
Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven
I’m grateful for companionship on both walks, for the memories, and for the restorative power of water.