Down the Isle of Innisfree

I walked in with lots of questions and walked out with two plums in my pocket. That’s how they roll. I quiz Paddy and Mary Kate when I can because I love hearing honest, funny stories of the past.

I remember when I first met Mary Kate (the most adorable, chatty, wee women you’ll ever find), she was out in the garden hauling around a shovel that seemed twice her weight and size. She was disposing of deer droppings as was required most mornings. There are only a few things that can stop me in the middle of a run and these are sheer exhaustion, a beautiful dog and an invitation to sit in the sun from Mary Kate.

Her husband Paddy (a tall, thin, handsome gentleman) joined us for a chat that day. Never mind the fact that I was puffing and panting from stopping mid run, I had a big red, sweaty head on me too. I felt so welcome and accepted, they were like friends.

They were of course in the same class in primary school, hitting all the milestones like communion and confirmation together. Paddy told a story of getting slapped by a teacher in school. “I kicked the duster and sent calk dust everywhere. No sooner had the teacher said ‘Who?’ than Mary Kate had stood up and said “Paddy was kicking the duster!”. Mary bursts out laughing and gives me a big nod.

Poor Paddy said the teacher would bring him over and give him four big slaps with a thick wooden stick. Mary’s still laughing at this point and agrees with him boasting “Yep four big slaps he got, two on each hand”. Not the least bit sorry she is. Paddy gets his own back by saying “She was a terrible woman, so I took pity on her and married her”. ‘Treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen’… always works.

It wasn’t until they were both twenty years old, both having lost a parent, that they got together. Mary Kate worked as a nurse and Paddy struggled as a labourer in Sligo. They emigrated to England in the 60’s on a boat with many others including cattle. “The smell was awful with the cows looing themselves on the bottom level, but that was the only way over to England in those days” said Mary Kate.

I don’t know what it is about old photos that I love, maybe it’s the rough quality of them or the honesty in them. Everyone always looks so cool and the men usually look like they could’ve been models for an Old Spice advert, with their strong jaw lines and clean shaven faces. Paddy sent Mary looking for a photo of his father and when I saw it I could tell why he was so proud. Then the competition started and Mary went looking for her family photos.

Living in Eaton Wick, Berkshire they had four wonderful children. Paddy worked as a bus driver for the next twenty years. Facial expression turned solemn as they spoke of a tension due to a perception of the Irish throughout the troubles. Paddy admitted to having received abuse on occasion, generally at work, for being an Irishman in England.

After twenty years in England Paddy lost a lot of weight. The doctor couldn’t give him a reason why except that it was as if he was pining for something. He says he was – Ireland.

After twenty years they uprooted and came back to their home in the 1980’s. This is when the fun started!! They settled for good in a place that had only three rooms, no running water and no toilets. Nonetheless, Mary Kate opened up her home as a tea stop shop for visitors to the Lake Isle of Innisfree. They must love a challenge this pair.

The majority of visitors were English or American. Paddy started working for the council and Mary Kate took care of the tourists. She sold bread, jam and eggs. Mary Kate thought the Americans were hilarious in what they expected. When they asked for the restroom, she told them it was at the end of the road besie the lake. And MINERAL water, she never heard the likes of it. So she went to the kitchen and filled a glass with river water and a dash of 7up. Still laughing she said “Where were they going with their ‘mineral water’?”.

A group of Americans tourists were certain that the six immobile ducks in the garden were dead. Mary Kate assured them they weren’t but they wouldn’t listen. She said this made her vexed so when they asked about her thatched hen shed she convinced them it was where W.B.Yates wrote his poetry. I can just see her rolling her eyes as they all gasped and took photos of her hen shed. When the ducks in her garden started walking around, the tourists shouted ‘They’re alive!!” and Mary the divil said “Yes, they were as dead as W.B. Yates wrote in that shed”.

Mary over worked herself when taking care of the tourists and took ill. When she came back from hospital her son had removed all the guest tables and chairs, and it broke her heart. She still gets emotional when talking about it, which would make anyone with a heart listening well up too.

Both Paddy and Mary Kate are still living in this beautiful house happily surrounded by family and friends. Winding each other up at every opportunity for a laugh. It just goes to show real love can last forever no matter where you live or what you do.
People always say “There’s plenty more fish in the sea” when talking about finding true love. I’m beginning to think some of the best fish in the world may be here in the lakes of Sligo!!! I just hope I can be as happy and looking as good as the legendary Mary Kate and Paddy are to this day.


Written by Niamh Marron