Cobh’s Iron Fence

With the gray, stormy sea surging toward Eliza and Grace at Cobh harbor, (AKA-Queenstown, Ireland) and darker gray clouds above them, the two women were reluctant to exit their rented mini-van.

Grace stared at the wind, and the wet, spattered window. “Are you sure we can only see the museum today? What’s next on our itinerary?”

“This is today’s excursion. You wanted to see where the Titanic and the Lusitania sailed from. And you said you loved ‘Titanic.’ Or was it Leonardo?” Eliza opened the driver’s door to escape before Grace answered her. When she shut the door, the wind slammed it, and caught her scarf. The momentum yanked her backwards. “Ugh!” Grace tugged the material loose and re-wrapped her wool scarf tighter around her head and neck. Her raincoat flapped in the stiff breeze. “Whoa!” Eliza dashed toward the covered entrance. She turned and glanced back at Grace.

Grace struggled next to the auto with her attempts to hang onto her umbrella. A gust blew it inside out. Grace tossed the bent umbrella into the van and threw up her hands.

Poor thing. She relinquished her hopes of being Mary Poppins.

Holding her hood up over her head and face, Grace scurried up to Eliza. “We should have waited until tomorrow. All this messy rain! Will it never stop?” Grace removed her coat and shook it. Nearby people scattered to avoid the droplets. “Oh, sorry!” She cringed. “Does it always rain here?”

Eliza shrugged. “When I was here in July of ’82, it was pretty sunny and warm—part of the time. But we’re in the middle of the North Atlantic, not the South Pacific.”

***

After the tour ended, Grace sat on a bench and read aloud about Ireland’s Potato Famine in the 1840s. She scooted over for Eliza to sit. “Had you ever heard that three quarters of Ireland’s population left for Australia and America?”

“I did. My dad said my great grandfather’s sister left on a coffin ship during the famine for America and died on it. Then, my great grandfather left for America years later. But I don’t know when. I need to research it someday.” Eliza stood. “The rain seems to have stopped. Let’s visit St. Colman’s Cathedral. I need something to lighten my mood, don’t you?”

***

The massive gray stone St. Colman’s cathedral was a Gothic architectural design. It boasted colorful stained-glass windows on every wall and inside its dome. Eliza expected nothing less from her experience with European cathedrals, but Grace remained in awe throughout her first visit to one.

Eliza left the mesmerized Grace studying the window in the dome, to explore for souvenirs, maps, or books.

A tour group of six had a guide who approached Eliza, “Pardon me, miss, were you in need of something?”

“Yes, I’d like a book about the cathedral’s history. Do you know where I could get one?”

“Surely. Go out that door there. You’ll see the building whilst you walk down the path. Turn right, and you’ll find the shop.” The red-haired woman smiled and returned to her group.

Grace rejoined Eliza. “What did that woman say to you?”

“How to find the souvenir shop. Ready? They might sell better photos than what we took. The lighting is a bit dim without the sunshine.” Eliza led Grace through to the exit in search of the gift shop. The heavy door took both women to push it open. “Don’t you feel like an ant? And we need super strength to just open a door—” A wind gust slammed the door shut behind them. “Or wind power.”

“Look!” Grace touched the black, wrought-iron fence bordering the path and leading up to the street. “Don’t you just love all the ironwork in Ireland? The craftsmanship is exceptional. I always loved the combination of stone and iron. I wonder why there’s so much of it?”

“I don’t recall many wood fences here.”

The women reached the street, and the iron fence border continued along both sides of the street. The wind pushed against the women from behind. They turned right and spied the shop the tour guide mentioned. As they approached it, they read a sign posted on the door—CLOSED for Lunch ‘Til 1:00.

Eliza sighed. “Should we walk around for a while? It’s only sprinkling.” She glanced up the street, and then down. “But where could we go? It’s only houses that way, and the sea that way.” Eliza turned to face the cathedral. “Maybe we should go back inside? It’s warmer.” She headed down the hill for the pathway. When she reached it, a blast of wind blew her backwards into the street. Eliza leaned into it, grabbing for the iron fence. She hung on tight with both fists as her coat and scarf flapped around her. She glanced back in search of Grace.

“Oh, my!” Grace guffawed at first, then yelled. “Hang on!” She snatched her camera and took a few shots.

“Really?” Must look hysterical. Eliza opened her mouth in a silent scream and leaned back for emphasis.

Deep booming laughter rang out over the wind.

Eliza let go of the fence and turned toward the sound.

Two men stood together across the street, and each held a bucket of thick, black stuff, with a brush. They tipped their heads toward the women and smiled. “Mornin’ to you,” the elder one called out. “You enjoying Ireland, then?”

Eliza and Grace crossed the road to say hello. Eliza stared at the men’s buckets, while the younger man dipped his brush into a tar-like substance, and glommed it onto the iron bars as the rain increased. “That’s paint? You’re painting the fence. In the rain?”

The elder man grinned. “Ah, darlin’ if we waited for the rain to stop, we’d never get anything done in Ireland.”

There it was. All the women’s tourist speculations and questions were answered in a single comment by an Irishman.

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