There’s a streak of curiosity that runs through me, activated to varying degrees depending on the stimulus present. When I was passed from class to class in primary school, the teacher who was getting rid of me would warn the one that would have the pleasure of teaching me for the next twelve months that I asked questions. Lots of questions. And it was said in such a tone that it wasn’t the brilliantly amazing phenomenon I thought it was.
So if, in the Creed, God says that He will come to judge the living and the dead, does that mean that there will be some people alive at the end of the world? And if the priest is a pioneer (a teetotaller in Ireland), why is he allowed drink wine during mass? And if Jesus came back from the dead, why is the Catholic Church so against reincarnation? And this was just religion.
My curiosity peaks at the sight of a high wall. I simply have to see what’s on the other side. And even if I’ve seen photos of whatever lies beyond, I have to see it for myself.
I’d passed through Strokestown in Co. Roscommon on a number of occasions. And I’d noticed the high wall and the stone-arched gateway in the middle of the town. But I’d never ventured inside. Someone else had always been driving – and driving with a mission – so I’d never felt that I could ask to make a detour. On Sunday, I didn’t have to ask. All I had to do was wonder aloud what lay behind the wall. Enough said.
Sometimes, when I venture past these walls, I’m disappointed. Other times, I’m gobsmacked. I’m convinced that in a previous life, I was Elizabeth Bennett or of her ilk. I have such an affinity with these big country houses that I’m sure I spent time in one – upstairs rather than downstairs. I have little difficulty imagining life as it was and even less imagining life as it might be.
Strokestown House was far from disappointing. Built in second half of the seventeenth century by one Thomas Mahon, it remained the family home until 1979. Back in 1847, at the height of the Great Famine, the landlord, Major Denis Mahon, was assassinated so perhaps there’s a certain poetry to the Famine museum that was established here in 1994. Worth a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Another detour and this time confronted by a high hedge, we stopped so I could get a look beyond and see Slane Castle. The last time I was here, I was burnt to bits. In the heat of the sun, having lost my mates, I sat for hours without sunscreen at a Bruce Springsteen concert. That night, they coated me in a mixture of camomile lotion and yoghurt. When I woke the next morning, I was mummified. It was as if I was in a full body cast – and a pink one at that. My eyes still water at the remembered pain.
Little wonder then that I had no recollection of what Slane Castle looked like. The place can host up to 80 000 people in the grounds, and is often used as a wedding venue by those in the dough. Owned by Henry Mount Charles, 8th Marquess Conyngham, it, too, is worth a gander. I believe that U2 are playing there later this year… not that this would entice me back … but it might be of interest to you.
And loosely connected though perhaps not at all relevant to this post, I remember reading somewhere that we often put up walls not to keep people out but to see who cares enough to break them down. I doubt that’s what the masters of Strokestown House had in mind, and they did have the good grace to leave the gates open.