by Sheila Connolly
Just back from a trip to West Cork in Ireland, where (in case you haven’t heard it seventeen times already) I own a small cottage, on a small plot of land. From anywhere on my quarter-acre property I can see a total of four houses, and one of those is a mile away. The ruined church up the hill where several generations of my ancestors married is almost exactly a mile, and I can see it out the back.
Coming back to “civilization” is hard after spending over two weeks in Ireland. The first thing you notice out in the country in Ireland is the absence of noise. It is quiet in my part of West Cork. By my rough estimate, based on agricultural reports, there are 542,000 people in County Cork, and 1,719,500 cattle. The cows don’t make noise at night. Most people don’t go gadding about at night because they’re exhausted from tending all those cattle.
Traffic past my cottage amounts to one or two vehicles per hour, including deliveries, milk and oil trucks, and school buses, as well as individual cars. There are no planes flying overhead. There are birds, of course, and when they squabble (most often various kinds of crows), their caws echo off the trees.
The peace is lovely. You can feel your blood pressure dropping day by day.
Then there’s the darkness. Across the road in front of my cottage, at night I can’t see a single light anywhere. Turn off the interior lights during the dark of the moon and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. In contrast, during a full moon it seems almost as bright as day, although the light shifts across the sky faster. In winter you’re lucky to have eight hours of sun, dawn to dusk; in summer it’s more than sixteen hours. Those of us who live in suburban places have forgotten those rhythms.
Silence and darkness seem to go together, It begins to make sense, why Simon and Garfunkel began their song, The Sound of Silence, with “hello darkness, my old friend.” Maybe they were depressed young men when they sang that, but that’s not true in Ireland. People have long memories, often stretching back generations. At the same time there’s a real curiosity about newcomers. Who are you? Where do you come from? And often, do you have people here? Their memory for recent events proves it: people I might have met once, a year or more earlier, remember my name and where I’m staying in Ireland. In some ways that’s unsettling, because it’s hard to be anonymous.
I’m not going to argue whether the silence of the countryside or the noise of civilization is better. I enjoy the energy of cities, at least in small doses. I’d seize the opportunity to visit a city I’ve never seen (especially if there’s a group of writers there!). But sometimes I need quiet, and a slower pace, as do most of us, I’m guessing. Would I go stir-crazy if I stayed in Ireland for good? I really can’t say, but it bears thinking about.
There’s another quotation that keeps running through my head, and it fits too: “The World Is Too Much with Us,” a sonnet by William Wordsworth written in 1802. In it Wordsworth criticizes the world of the First Industrial Revolution for being absorbed in materialism and distancing itself from nature. It’s all the more true these days, and living pretty close to nature for the past couple of weeks has been eye-opening for me.
How about you? Does fresh air, sunlight and quiet drive you crazy? Or do you crave a dose of tranquility?
BTW, the sixth book of the County Cork Series, Many a Twist, will be released in January 2018, but things are not exactly quiet in the book. Plus the paperback edition of Cruel Winter will be out in a week, if you’re thinking of a nice holiday gift . . .
I love the way you speak of the quiet and the lack of light pollution, Sheila. I just returned from, not Ireland but a solo retreat on Cape Cod – in a quiet house in a quiet town at a quiet time of year. Most of those days I called home for a fifteen minute chat and that was the only talking I did, so my characters really had the chance to talk over and talk among themselves. It was delightful – and productive! I’m a person who very much needs to be out in nature and would not be able to stand living in a busy city.
It’s gotten even better now that we’ve gotten a bench (a used garden bench with a wonderful cast-iron back and wooden slats), that we put out front facing the sheep. All family members seemed to take turns going out and sitting on it, separately or together, reading or just enjoying.
As a lifelong farm gal, I revel in the quiet of the country. Unfortunately, in my corner of the world, the ruralness has been overtaken by the gas industry, so while I may still have acres and acres of pasture and woods all around, the traffic and its noise has increased tremendously. Also, I do have two nearby neighbors, and one of them moved here from town and is scared of the dark. Hence, my beautiful dark nights are gone, replaced by his outdoor lights blazing from dusk to dawn. I envy your cottage in Ireland.
That seems to be a common problem, sadly. My mother lived in a relatively rural part of Pennsylvania, in Chester County, and when she moved in, there was a dairy farm just over the hill, run by the same family who had owned it for a century or so. After a few years it became . . . QVC headquarters. Not quite the same thing.
The pink of dawn is fading to pearl as the fog lifts into the trees. My friends wonder why I prefer living out in the sticks in a trailer on my half an acre rather than move to an apartment in town. A serious question for a 69-year-old.
We were seriously looking at whether we could live happily in a small cottage a fair distance to almost anything (one could walk to two pubs and the post office which doubles as a general store). But small and simple, with only basic mechanical things that could go wrong, gets more and more appealing.
So beautiful, Sheila. I also grew up in the country, surrounded by sugar cane fields, and on a breezy day, all you could hear was swishing cane. It was a soothing sound, but if you went too near the cane, the sharp leaves could cut you to pieces. Nature is complicated.
I love that, Ramona: “Nature is complicated.”
It is indeed. I heard shotgun fire a couple of times while we were there and asked Dermot the Magnificent what that was about. Rats, he told me, or foxes or weasels or maybe mink (yes, there are wild mink there), all of which are pests which attack other animals. It’s not a Disney fantasy.
I love your stories of your time in Ireland. I can take silence in small doses. Very small doses.
I love the energy of cities–my grandmother lived in the heart of Manhattan when I was growing up, and it was a treat to visit her. You could hear the sound of taxi horns day and night. But I don’t think I could live there full time.
You speak lovingly of alternative advantages in different locations. Yes, “The world is too much with us.” I fully agree. Nice blog.
I love country living. We enjoy visiting big cities on occasion but there’s nothing like turning that curve and seeing HOME approaching. It’s nice to wake up to deer in the yard feeding or an eagle land in the front yard. We do have traffic down by at the highway but really not that much. It’s peaceful and quiet. Having space and distance between neighbors makes country living for me and I can’t imagine ever going back to city living.
Oh, I adore the quiet. There is nothing better than solitude in nature.
That looks amazing. I crave peace and quiet…to reflect, to read, to just be. I long to move away from the hustle and bustle of the NE corridor (PA, NJ, NY) and move someplace south, where people aren’t in such a rush and there is less noise and more nature.
The slower pace of life–and people–is nice too, once you get used to it. People “drop by,” no time specified. You all sit down with a cup of tea and chat for a while. And you learn unexpected things, like the economics of wind farms and how to manage cow herds, just from talking with people. It keeps you thinking.
Oh, I definitely crave a dose of dark silence once in a while. I grew up in a family of four kids and now with my two teenagers it’s something I don’t get often enough.
Thank you for a beautiful description and pictures of your home in Ireland. I’ve lived in big, noisy cities and quiet, small towns. I now live in the suburbs of a medium sized city. It is quiet and reasonably dark at night. A nice compromise. But for 25 years I spent 3 weeks a year in very rural areas of Peru. Now THERE is dark and quiet. The stars were amazing. As I age, I do like the convenience of city life. Looking forward to your new book!
Gorgeous. I like a combo of both. Although I am city dweller at the end of the day. Isolation and silence freak me out. I keep thinking a guy with no teeth and an ax is going to jump out from behind a tree. But you’re surrounding by gorgeous green meadows, so less of a worry for you!
My handyman worries for me–he’s installed motion sensor lights in the back, so I can get to my door and find the keyhole. My neighbor behind, a widow for quite a while, feels comfortable in her home (but she too has motion sensor lights, plus a dog).
My husband and I are city people. I like hustle and bustle, noise and lights, pizza and the New York Times delivered. Country is a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
My grandmother chose New York and lived there from the end of WWII until the end of her life (with periodic stays with her daughter, my mother, in Pennsylvania). She never regretted it.
I love the outdoors. Country and quiet is what i crave.
That sounds so nice right now. In reality, I’d probably be going stir crazy inside of a day, but I’d love to try it. Especially the no light pollution. I love to gaze at the stars, and I haven’t really been able to do that in years.
The stars are impressive. The three of us traded reports on where Orion was at any given time, night or early morning.
Gorgeous, Sheila. Country girl here too – a nod to Annette. When I first moved back to Florida I didn’t think I would sleep at night for the planes overhead. At our property in Maine when planes fly over we get out to look. Road noise is minimal and human noise almost non-existent. I crave the silence. For me, it’s peace and creative time. We live in a rural area of Florida too, but it’s louder. We have planes, cars, snowbirds, population! No deep forest to hide in with Kindle to read or tablet to write. Ah yes, give me the rural retreat. Or a cave.
What a lovely, peaceful place you’ve found for your spirit’s renewal, Sheila. The silence, and the dark, both things I really crave, as well.
Nearly ten years ago we bought a place in rural Kentucky, forty miles from Cincinnati, but with a nearly totally dark nighttime sky. That close to the city we could see a pretty good version of the Milky Way. The very next year streetlights appeared–not many, but enough–within our sightline from the top of the hill. Since then, civilization has crept closer, diminishing the view of the stars, and adding to the noise level, too. But it’s still a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle.
Like Ramona says, nature is complicated. The spring peepers, the whippoorwills, and the cows all conspire to keep us awake some nights!
Nobody seems to expect street lights in rural Ireland–it’s hard enough to keep the roads intact! I looked up how to get to a place nearby (about three miles away as the crow (or rook) flies, and it would take about 25 minutes, and half of the directions from Google were to turn left at “unnamed road.” If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not get there. Takes a bit of getting used to.
I can’t sleep when I’m in San Francisco but the dead quiet in the country takes some getting used to. I’m accustomed to the city sounds in the distance which become notiecable only in their absence. So, Sheila, are you going to start talking like Graham Norton?
Might be fun. Have you read his book? I had conversations with two other people who had (I do have a copy). I’m told he has a home not far away. If I stumble over him, I’ll have something to talk about!
He has a book? I’m going to find it right now.
I found it! And he narrated it too!
What a lovely post, Shelia! Your home in Cork sounds like my idea of a dream come true. We moved to our present location over 20 years ago and back then things were sleepy and quiet, but now lots of folks moving to our area. We still make our before dawn morning walks and can see the stars, but not in a few places where new to the neighborhood folks have outdoor lighting they leave on every night. We are grateful to have a large lot and still get visited by deer and raccoons. The best attitude I think is to love where you are and so far we do still love it here, but the quiet of Cork is tempting, very tempting!
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing about your times in Ireland. Makes me want to go back for a visit. I like a mix of quiet & noise. I think living in the city makes you appreciate those out in the country moments more.
Ireland sounds wonderful. My sister lives in a small town and I like the quiet and tranquility of small town living.
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