I have spent a lot of time at airports this summer, on journeys with hours to spare between flights. Edinburgh was one, and now Dublin. I remember Dublin airport when there was practically only the control tower; this is still standing, a familiar and welcoming shape, almost swallowed up by the new glittering buildings around it. The airport itself is familiar too, from going home, visiting my parents, later going on holiday en famille. But this time I was not racing for the coach into town but waiting for another flight, to the new airport in Donegal, where I would stay with a cousin on the west coast, then go on to the small church in Glenalla, near Lough Swilly, where we would be adding my brother’s ashes to those of my parents in the family grave.
It is the grave of my grandfather, who was drowned together with two of his sons in 1928; they lived in Dublin but are buried in Donegal, where they died and where the family originally came from. So this was the third time we have made the journey to the little church, which was built by the wife of a 19th century Hart with the royalties from her books. There is a plaque in the church, which I have now read three times, which states that the church was built ‘through her exertions and liberality combined with those of her husband’.
It is a beautiful place, on a winding country road, and always slightly further to drive than you think. Our two graves (Uncle Henry is there too) are at the top of the graveyard and behind them is a thick hedge with a stream behind; you can’t see it but you can hear it. Only now does it occur to me that this must be the Glenalla River, which runs down to Lough Swilly at a place called Ray, where the bridge is our sign for the turn-off to the church.
Both my parents died in Ireland, so bringing their ashes to the church was not complicated. They were buried in the grave after an ordinary Sunday service, of which there are one or two every month. We had arranged this for my brother, also for a plaque with his name to be made, and the only other thing to be done was to bring the ashes to Glenalla. I had them, much heavier than I had expected, in my suitcase, and this had arrived safely in Dublin airport and now had to be sent on to Donegal. I hadn’t even considered having my case sent straight through, perhaps it would not even have been possible.
Arriving in Ireland has its own rituals, one of which is buying a copy of the Irish Times. The very first article I saw that morning was titled ‘Memorial service set to go ahead after missing ashes finally make it home (…) ‘Aer Lingus apologises after urn lost on route from Australia’. It was accompanied by a photo of four glum looking people who had, on arrival in Dublin, ‘made the grim discovery’ that their urn and ashes were lost in transit.
My brother’s ashes were by this time somewhere in Dublin airport, waiting for the flight to Donegal several hours later; Aer Lingus blamed baggage handlers in Milan for the loss of that other urn but I could easily see their own baggage handlers losing ours. Waiting for my flight I had plenty of time to worry about it, and to read the Irish Times from cover to cover. There was an article, with a colour picture, about the ‘massive numbers’ of painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) arriving in Ireland after an ‘epic’ journey from north Africa. Particularly in Donegal, it said, usually only once every ten years but recently more often.
The ashes got there of course, perfectly all right, and there was no photo in the paper of me looking glum. And wherever we went near my cousin’s house there were painted ladies all around, everywhere you looked, in every hedgerow in Donegal.