I have a tendency to pick up accents. Let me chat on the phone with someone from Cork and it’ll take hours for the lilt to leave me. I’ve been mistaken for American, South African, and English, depending on whom I’ve been keeping company with. That may suggest that I have a musical ear, but my dismal efforts to master Hungarian tell otherwise.
For the first time in years, I found myself ‘up North’ recently. My geography, even of Ireland, is appallingly bad so it took a while to get my head around where exactly we were driving. Our target was a christening in Saul, a little place about two miles outside Downpatrick in Co. Down. And our route was anything but direct.
I’d managed to hold off and avoid the fla’ tones of Dundalk and waited instead until we hit Carlingford Lough and up into Co Down where everything is wee. The wee church was at the end of a wee road that was signposted by a wee sign after a wee bridge. The hotel had a wee room, with a wee breakfast served from 8am and a lovely wee view. Had I stayed another 24 hours I’d have been wee’ing with the best of them.
Driving along the coast was magical. I’d never given much thought to Co. Louth and to my shame, hadn’t realised it had such water frontage. The beach at Annagassan was wintry and bleak and all the lovelier for it. The town of Carlingford looked like it would be a nice place to live, what we could see of it though the rain. Warrenpoint, on the opposite side of the lough, struck a chord because I’ve been hearing about it for years in weather forecasts. And when the sun did actually show its face, the Mountains of Mourne looked like a painter’s palette. The song of the same name is an old favourite of mine and yet this was the first time I’ve registered seeing them. Am sure I’ve been up this way before – I just can’t recall.
Driving the coast road from Ballynahinch to Newcastle, the views were amazing. I was surprised though to see that some of the kerbstones are still painted with their signature colours – red, while and blue, if a Protestant town or housing estate, and green, white and orange, if Catholic. I know it’s been a while since I’ve lived in Ireland but I had thought that such outward displays of fealty had long since disappeared. I was even more surprised when a conversation with a couple of northern boys wandered down the road of sizing up Ballynahinch as to whether we’d be ‘alright’ or not… In their opinion, it was much better these days. Still enough angst there for us to be careful about which pub we visited, but overall, safe enough. It was as if the clocks had turned back for me and it was the 1980s all over again. Not for the first time I found myself wondering at how some things never seem to change.
US diplomat Richard Haass has been in Ireland over the holidays trying to sort out differences over parades, flags and the legacy of the Troubles and failed to get the five main parties to agree, with flags and symbols being one of the toughest areas to negotiate. The mind boggles. It’s something I don’t think I will ever understand.