The sign for Yvonne’s Cottage appeared at Rosturk like a shimmering mirage. We had set off for Mulranny from Clew Bay Cycle Hire in Newport with the children behind us in trailers to travel part of the beautiful Greenway cycle route which runs from Westport to Achill. The beaming children were stocked up with bottles of water and bananas. As we cycled off I remember thinking we were like an advert for “Superior Parenting” magazine. It was one of the hottest days of the year.
"I'm not sure we'll make it all that way with them in the trailers," my co-cyclist had observed as we planned the 18km trip through Mayo countryside. "You and your Nordy pessimism," I huffed. Halfway into the cycle I began to sense it might not have been Nordy pessimism but Nordy intuition. The trailers, which seemed to weigh nothing as we set off, now felt like tanks behind us. And from all the squawking in the back we deduced the occupants were not happy soldiers.
We carried on, slowly baking, until the volume of the mutiny became embarrassing. Suddenly the shrieks from behind grew louder and my wheels seemed to stick. I turned around to see my little soldier out of the trailer being dragged along the ground screaming. I hadn’t strapped her in properly and she’d made a bid to escape. The other girl in the other trailer began screaming in solidarity. As we stood there, a seething mass of blood, sweat and tears, I remember thinking we were like an advert for “You Need A Licence to Have a Dog Magazine”.
Then we saw the sign. Yvonne’s Traditional Cottage promised “cold drinks and ice creams” in the middle of nowhere. “Cold drinks!” we yelled in a bid to soothe the screaming troops. “Ice creams!” “Is it strawberry?” the injured one, the one with bloody, gravelly knees, took a break from her convulsions to ask. We wheeled the bikes and trailers down a steep gravel path and parked them at the bottom. “Yvonne, thanks a million, you saved our lives,” I called in to the cool air of the cottage.
The girls sat in "granny's chair" and a man called Kevin Moran brought us tear-quelling ice creams and ice-clinking drinks. We looked around. It was like stepping back into the 19th century. All kinds of memorabilia covered the walls. And then I saw something else hanging there. A framed memorial to a pretty dark-haired young girl who had died and I somehow knew that this was Yvonne and that Kevin must be her father.
We got talking. Yvonne, who was a garda in Co Sligo, was home for the weekend nearly five years ago. Father and daughter usually went for a drink and a chat on a Sunday whenever she was home. Kevin was driving them to the pub when a French tourist’s car came hurtling around the corner on the wrong side of the road. Yvonne, who was 25, died the next day and Kevin was seriously injured. There was a good long while there when he didn’t really care much about getting better.
Not long before she died Yvonne had taken out a small mortgage to do up the cottage which was derelict since the 1960s. She wanted to live there one day and Kevin said they would do it up together. It had been in Kevin’s family since the 1890s when his grandparents reared 10 children there including Kevin’s father, Tom. Most of the children emigrated and Tom went on to raise 10 children in the cottage before building a new house on the land. The cottage lay derelict until Kevin began to supervise the renovation of his childhood home four years ago.
He says most of his family thought he was mad. But now they love what he has done. They feel close to Yvonne here and given the name of the cottage visitors bring her up in conversation which means Kevin is always talking about his “bubbly homebird” his “pet”, something that used to be difficult. I wasn’t the only one who came in addressing Yvonne. It happens almost every day since the cottage opened as a cafe a few weeks ago. One man came in recently wanting to talk to Yvonne and Kevin told him that he’d quite like to talk to her himself. It was funny, he says. He still cries but now he can also smile. He likes knowing when he is dead and gone the cottage will still be here. You should go if you get the chance: Yvonne’s Traditional Cottage, Rosturk, between Tiernaur and Mulranny.