Kilbaha, County Clare, Ireland, 1871
It was one of those perfect mid-summer days in July. The balmy air was full of the sounds of summer – the hum of bees, the song of the larks as they soared high above, the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore of Kilbaha Bay, and in the distance the voices of the people gathering hay in the surrounding fields.
Anna Keane Pilkington shifted her large bulk in the chair, and rearranged her voluminous black skirts. She was enjoying the warmth of the sun against the wall of the house behind her, while in front on the lawn her grandchildren played. They had all come for the annual family holiday at Kiltrellig, the lodge her husband Thomas had built for her forty years ago.
Around her, with much jostling and rearranging of positions, her extended family gathered for a group photograph. The photographer had come from Limerick, and Anna wasn’t sure what she thought about this new-fangled contraption which would reproduce her image on paper. She wished they would just get on with it and leave her to enjoy the sunshine in peace.
Finally everyone was in place, and with an admonition to all to stay still, the photographer disappeared under the black drape of his camera and took the picture. The resulting image showed Anna staring rigidly out of the centre of the picture, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews.
Family group Kilbaha 1871
To the extended family group – Pilkington, Haughton, Griffin and Keane – this was a special place. They had spent summers here in West Clare for years; long, lazy days spent exploring the rocky coastline, swimming and fishing in the Shannon, boating trips and endless picnics. At night time they gathered in one or other of the homes for a musical evening, each taking turns to perform a song or play a piece.
The children were off exploring all day, with a freedom not known to them in their ordinary lives. Holiday friendships with the local children were renewed each year and reinforced by shared interests and activity. The boys would help with the ricking or other farming chores, and the girls try their hand at the spinning, or baking a soda loaf over the fire in a nearby cabin.
As the years passed, those children grew up, their lives leading them on different paths around the world, taking the memories of those halcyon days in the West with them.
|Kilbaha & Kiltrellig, co Clare, Ireland 2014|
One hundred and forty-two years later, in another sea-side location on the other side of the world, I sat at the kitchen bench in a rustic holiday cottage. With me were my sisters and several cousins of varying degrees of kinship. Just back from an invigorating walk along the beach, the hot cup of tea in my hand was welcome in the cool of the late afternoon. In a frame on the wall behind us hung a faded old sepia photograph in which a large group of people posed in front of the wall of a house. A stern-looking old lady dressed in black glared out from the centre of the picture, surrounded by bearded men, women holding babies, and children of all ages.
Among those children were four small boys who grew up and journeyed half a world away to make homes and raise families in this special place.
There was much about Sandy Point to remind those men of their home in Ireland. The sea and the wild isolation of the place in all its seasons drew them and kept them here. They worked the land, battling the tides and the encroaching scrub to make a life for themselves which they could not have had in Ireland. The families supported each other through good times and bad, their children cousins and playmates. In time, the children grew up, and they too moved out into the world to follow their destinies.
Throughout the years, Sandy Point remained the focal point which drew everyone together. Families returned every year, holiday homes were built, and summers were spent swimming, fishing and boating, with picnics in favourite locations. The next generation roamed the beach and the bush without restriction. City kids joined their country cousins for the hay-making and other farm chores, while evenings were spent at one or other of the homes for barbecues or games nights. The link with the west of Clare is reflected in the names of the family homes – Ennisvale, Kiltrellig, Kilbaha.
Times have changed and Sandy Point is no longer the isolated place it was fifty years ago. Others have discovered its secrets and in summer now it becomes a bustling, crowded holiday centre. The freedom we had as children is no more. But still, our children have established their own traditions and Sandy Point continues to be the place to go to relax, refresh and recharge.
On this weekend, descendants of the four Irish men had travelled from all over Australia for a family reunion on one of the original Sandy Point farms. The autumn weather was perfect and the weekend had been full of camaraderie and reminiscence, renewing connections and celebrating the lives and traditions of all those who came before. Displayed on a large table, precious items of family memorabilia told us the tales of yesteryear - the diary of ‘Aunt Charlotte’, Anna’s youngest sister, was written in beautiful copperplate writing and was full of family adventures in West Clare.
Within the cosy warmth of ‘Kilbaha’ cottage, the ghosts of long ago mingled among us giving their blessings to this family occasion. The smell of wood smoke from the open fire replaced the salty tang of the air outside as the evening sea mist closed in. Two little girls, Anna’s four-times-great grandchildren, played quietly together on the rug, while the room echoed with the laughter and conversation of the adults. As Anna Keane Pilkington and her four small grandsons watched silently from their place on the wall, I could almost imagine a nod of her head and a softening of her gaze.
©Katrina Vincent 2016. Written for Writing the Family Saga unit, University of Tasmania.
Anna Pilkington nee Keane 1802-1875
my 2x great grandmother