Michael Harding: I finally made it inside the big house
I began to feel not so much like a lord of the manor as a monkey in heaven
Farnham Estate in Cavan
I stayed at Farnham Estate Resort recently because I grew up not far away, on the edge of Cavan town. I spent hours of my boyhood on the shoreline of lakes near the big house dreaming of what it might be like inside.
In those days the lord and lady were often in residence. I knew this for certain because there was a cabin at the gate where a garda drank tea from his flask in the long winter nights during the Troubles, keeping watch for intruders. I would see the lamp in his cabin as I drove home from dances, and I would slow down to make sure I didn’t appear drunk while in charge of my beautiful Austin A40.
The estate and the big house were always a kind of heaven that someone like me didn’t get into. Although having some kind of heaven made me happy. The fact that there was a palace behind the rhododendrons where exotic beings paced the floors of glittering rooms decked with sofas, card tables and whatnots was strangely comforting. And the little light in the security cabin at the gate was reassuring.
So it was a thrill to finally see what I had once imagined, and to sit on those same sofas, and lie down in a four-poster bed in the Deerpark Suite of the hotel, and walk barefoot across the enormous bathroom to scrub myself in a big, white bathtub the size of a small boat.
Although, as I gazed out on the magnificent lawns, I felt not so much like a lord of the manor but more like a monkey in heaven.
I went down to the bar and started acting the monkey with a woman who was enjoying an enormous burger at the counter while other guests settled themselves down with pints to watch a football match.
The woman with the burger had a book, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, by Rousseau, on the counter beside her plate.
“Is it good?” I wondered.
“Best burger in Cavan,” she said. And she looked like the kind of person who ate burgers instead of black puddings for breakfast.
“And Rousseau?” I wondered. “Is he good?
“Like all men, he has his moments,” she replied.
I flicked through the pages. “Ah,” I declared, “this is French?”
“Un classique,” she said pronouncing classique as boutique, in a mock French accent, and eyeballing me over the rim of her wine glass.
The football didn’t impress her. In order to distance myself from the brutish masculinity of the collective, I decided to talk about my cat.
“My cat swallowed a chicken bone,” I declared. “He chewed all the meat off a drumstick, gnawed bits of gristle from the joint, and then sucked the bare bone like it was – how shall I say – like a train entering a tunnel.”
I was doing well, also in a mock French accent, until I got carried away and offered her a little too much information.
“The vet had to give the cat an enema,” I continued. “He said that the bone would eventually turn to mush inside.”
The lady gripped her Rousseau, but I persisted.
“In fact,” I continued, “the enema got only half of it out. The rest would come later, the vet assured me. Otherwise I was to bring the cat back, the vet said, for more intensive irrigation.”
Such was the woman’s fascination with my story that her face had taken on the astonished aspect of a visionary staring at an apparition.
“Eventually, of course, the bowel opened,” I concluded, “though what emerged was far from mush; it was more like wet cement. And the smell was nasty.”
Why this information had such a troubling effect on the woman with the book by Rousseau I’ll never know, because she simply upped suddenly and fled from the bar, muttering something about the volume on the television not being loud enough.
Later I went to my room alone, which was not disappointing because the room was elegant and the fresh sheets on the four-poster bed were soothing, and I longed to fall instantly asleep.
But I’m always amazed in hindsight at how deluded my perceptions can be. For example, it finally dawned on me that the garda in his cabin long ago might not have been guarding the estate when the lord and lady were in situ. Rather he might have been minding the gaff on those occasions when they were absent.
All the time, heaven might have been empty when I had thought it was occupied.