Coal A Rare Substance
We booked a 300 year old cottage in Kilgarvan for a week. When we arrived the owner apologized about how cold the cottage was and promised that it would warm up during the night. He said there was a boiler behind the fireplace and the water would heat up and run through pipes in the walls to heat up the rooms. I had a hard time believing they had that technology 300 years ago. Radiant heating is now popular in the United States but 300 years ago in Ireland? Perhaps it was added later. I never really asked. They said that normally they would have started the fire earlier in the day to warm the place but they weren’t sure when we would arrive. There were six bedrooms in the house and as the night became colder we took the blankets from all of the rooms, plus we slept in our clothes. We were so cold. Morning came and we knew we needed coal. The walls of the cottage were three feet thick.
We were 2.5 miles from the village but we knew we desperately needed coal. We would have preferred turf but on several trips to Ireland we had not been able to acquire any. You had to know someone who had access to the bog - it seems. It was October and the temperature dropped rapidly as the sun went down. That morning we went to the store in Kilgarvin and when we asked how much the bags of coal were, we were told that they were all taken. The coal was ordered in advance and there was none available. We told them of our situation of not having any coal and having spent the night in a very cold cottage. He looked at me for a long moment and quietly told me to go to a door down the road, three doors past the pub. Maybe they can help you? Back out on the street we carefully counted the doors past the pub and knocked several times. A lady in curlers and a housecoat pulled tight by her hands in the front, answered the door. I told her the man in the store said we could buy some coal here, since we had none in the cottage and nearly froze to death last night. She said did I want the large or the small bag. Not knowing how much it would cost or what size the bag would be I told her I wanted the larger bag. The door abruptly closed and not long afterwards a bag of coal appeared. I wasn't used to doing business like that but I didn't object. That night it was like being in a Kiva. We could not get cool enough.
We put all the blankets back on their original beds and sat for hours watching the coal burn thinking - who discovered that coal would burn. The fireplace heated the boiler up behind the fireplace and the heat was sent throughout the house as boiling water in pipes just as the man said. How wonderfully effective. I'll never forget that woman, how she looked and how business-like she was for someone in curlers and a house robe. The next morning I was washing dishes at the sink and remember the sun beams lighting up the trees, bushes and grass like a kaleidoscope up on the ridge to the south. The clouds were moving quickly and the sunbeams moved along at a quick pace as well. Up on the ridge I could just make out a pitch where they were playing Irish football – tiny little figures really, but you could see them moving about smaller than Argentina ants. While I was watching I was washing the dishes with a lemon scented dish soap. Even today when I wash the dishes with that lemon scent, I am taken back immediately to that window, that ridge and that cottage.
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