Yesterday Patsington and I decided to yet again prove our geriatric boringness and headed out on a country jaunt. On a whim (oh, how spontaneous and wild we are), we decided to go to Powerscourt House
to look at the gardens
, which are spectacularly pretty. It was all very fancy - it's beautifully landscaped and filled with pseudo-classical statues - and after wandering around in the hazy light for a while, it started really reminding me of E. Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle
. Until, of course, we discovered the pet cemetary, where the family who once owned the house and vast grounds buried their fallen animal comrades. The cemetary - which is surprisingly large - is initially touching, especially if you're an animal-loving pet owner; I understand the love these people had for their pets, and their desire to commemorate their late animal companions. But then, almost against your will, it starts seeming amusingly mawkish (the poems on the gravestones have to be read to be believed). And finally, when you realise that the Powerscourts gave their pets fancier burials than anyone who worked for them ever got, it starts seeming rather distasteful.
In fact, Patsington's and my visits to castles and suchlike seem to produce a strange feeling in our hearts. On one level, we like going to places like Powerscourt because they're lovely and we secretly think that WE should be living in such a house, because it is what we truly deserve and we would really appreciate it. I blame these feelings on a childhood spent reading about the English upper-middle and just-plain-upper classes. I'm afraid that in my subconscious I think that I am much, much posher than I actually am and that somehow I really did grow up in an enormous country house somewhere in Kent rather than a three-bedroomed semi-detached in the north Dublin suburbs. This is perhaps why I like poncing about fancy houses so much. But Patsington's and my pleasure in parading about the ballrooms and terraces of these country retreats is always tempered by a vague discomfort when we remember that we are Catholic muck-savages who would never have been allowed set one foot in the door back when the family were around. Unless we were servants.
Then, of course, our righteous socialist anger is aroused. In fact, if I am prancing about a country estate, all I have to do is think of the way Molly Keane wrote about the Plain People of Ireland, ie anyone who wasn't an upper-middle-class Protestant, ie my grandparents, and I practically want to burn the house down myself*. In the middle of the 19th century, as these terraces were being built, there was a famine going on all around the country and people being chucked into mass pits and meanwhile the Powerscourt family were erecting enormous fancy gravestones for their dead pets. Patsington and I noticed that one of the gravestones in the pet graveyard was covered in sacking, and P suggested that it was one of the servants. "Oh, dear old Seamus, he fell into one of our ten million ornamental ponds. He was almost as dear to us as the cat next to whom he is now buried. Almost, but not quite."
*Joke! JOKE! I really do feel that the wanton destruction of the Big Houses is one of the most shameful elements of the war of independence.