American Couple Follow Internet Trail To Youghal – By Christy Parker
A RETIRED AMERICAN COUPLE are considering settling in Youghal after discovering the town during their internet research for a place to live in Ireland. A combination of lower house rents and a chance encounter with the work of photographer Bob Rock inspired Peter and Rindy O’Brien to spend two weeks on holiday here and experience personally what the town has to offer. The couple, who stayed in Harvey’s Dock during their trip, endured atrocious weather during their visit but say they are returning home with the warmest of memories amidst deep consideration of returning permanently.
The O’Brien’s have ancestral ties to Ireland and hope to establish a base here from which to explore Europe. Having married in their late teens, they both spent time in southwest Germany during the late 1960’s where Peter was during a three year army stint. He spent the third year in Vietnam. They have returned to northern Europe several times and have also on four occasions visited Ireland where, Rindy says, “we feel very comfortable; very much at home.”
Both native New Yorkers, Peter was a car mechanic by trade, while Rindy worked most of her live as a secretary and accountant. After the couple settled first in Boston and then Maine, Rindy opened a yarn store, which she closed in 2009 as their travelling began. She still teaches spinning, knitting and crochet, lending further endearment towards Ireland.
During 18 months of trawling property site daft.ie, the O’Brien’s found Youghal repeatedly offering more homes and cheaper rent than most places. Further research confirmed their thoughts that a building and industry collapse –as had occurred in the States- had combined produce a situation that, from their perspective held something of a silver lining.
Delving deeper they were soon immersed in the messages of youghalonline.com as they became increasingly interested in the town. It was slightly surreal last week to find two such visitors refer nonchalantly to the local garda reports and the on-goings of Youghal 4 All with such a sense of familiarity!
Then Rindy clicked on the advertisement for Bob Rock’s photo gallery. Quick as a flash, so to speak, she was transported to Youghal as presented by the enchanting interpretations of the veteran photographer. It happens also, that Peter is a very keen amateur photographer and Rindy depicted a strong resonance. “Though Bob predominantly features seascapes, they both have a very similar approach and style,” she says. “I told Peter he simply had to see those pictures.” Peter, having been reared on the New York coastline, was smitten “I felt he was seeing what I was seeing,” he enthuses “I thoroughly enjoyed his work; the way he captured the atmosphere of early morning, the manner in which he shoots low over the waves and brings in detail from the margins. It’s wonderful.”
Not ones to let an opportunity fade, the O’Briens wrote to Bob and his wife Terese. The Rocks replied, correspondence flowed and the affinity was strengthened when finally they met in person a fortnight ago. If Youghal in reality measured up to the photos, Bob and Teresa’s company no less matched the warmth of their letters. “We had a lovely, lovely time. They are wonderful people,” says Peter emphatically.
The empathy was to extend to a near incredible proportions. Peter –who has dual US/Irish citizenship- traces his maternal ancestry to the Duignan’s in Roscommon. It transpired that Bob Rock’s ancestry has an identical connection, suggesting that it isn’t impossible that the men are distantly related! (Peter’s paternal forefathers were McNabo’s from Longford and Rindy’s Scots/Irish roots are traceable to Whitty’s in Wexford). It isn’t impossible that the families are distantly relatet unPeter and Rindy’s daughter, Braylyn, 30, more recently began using a camera and was to have a natural propensity for excellence. “Some things are just inherent,” Rindy states
Ireland and Youghal
Having resided in both urban and rural landscapes in America, the O’Brien’s trips to Ireland have mirrored those perspectives with forays to major cities interspersing their coastal and countryside explorations. “Nowhere have I ever seen such varied and unusual topography as that reflected in the Burrenn the Cliffs of Moher and all along the west coast,” observes Rindy. “Then down here you have fantastic scenery with Youghal beach, the cliff walks at Ballycotton and Ardmore and on down towards the Copper Coast. It’s beautiful even in the rain!”
They found disappointment too. “I was very disillusioned to find only acrylic yarn in the Blarney Woollen Mills outlet in Dublin city,” Mindy reveals. “That’s just ridiculous. Also in Youghal,” she continues, “there seems to be only two varieties of local postcard.”
On a positive side, they considered –perhaps surprisingly – Irish roads to “very good” and our drivers “courteous and sharp.” They practically adored Irish roundabouts! “We don’t have them much in America,” Peter reflected, “and most people hate them!” Getting slightly lost on a roundabout on exiting Shannon, they were amused to find another American couple circling in their wake as they sought out the signpost they wanted for a few revolutions! Ah yes, one remembers, Homer Simpson had difficulties too….
Back in the negative zone, the visitors were surprised to find that the assistant in the tourist office had neither an Irish accent nor much by way of local knowledge. “She was very pleasant but couldn’t tell us where to catch the bus!”, Rindy laughs. “I don’t want to prejudge, but do they get trained, or take the heritage trail and such?”
A more enriching encounter concerned Rindy’s visit to the Wednesday morning Youghal Lace workshop in the library. (CLICK HERE for more on Youghal Lace making) “We were made to feel so welcome”, she recalls. “I was at home there, having been a spinner for many years and still teaching it and selling the merchandise. It was a lovely place to be.” Sad that spinning is no longer widely practiced in Ireland and feels it an unnecessary exclusion. “I brought a small spinning wheel to the Beara Peninsula on a previous trip and gave a demonstration in a school,” she relates. “The children had not seen spinning before but were exceptionally polite, interested and asked very intelligent questions about it. It should never be allowed to die out.”
Youghal -its scenery, heritage and “the exceptionally friendly people- wore it’s most welcoming smile as it reached out to the two rain-coated visitors last week. Thinking aloud over a coffee in Moby Dick’s they measure the percentages of moving here. One unexpected “possible deal breaker” emerged. “We’d be a bit concerned about the ambulance being taken away,” Rindy revealed. Some reassurances later, they accepted that should that eventuality evolve, the likelihood of bodies piling high on the street was minimal. They spoke of a highly trained volunteer back-up ambulance system that seems to compensate for deficiencies in the regular service across Maine and, presumably, America. If only James Reilly drank in Moby Dicks.
As the rain spotted them leave the building en route to a drive to Wexford, it took a deep breath and unleashed an even heavier downpour on top of the two already in torrential progress. I bet they can’t wait to return here for good.