We Live in the Past Here

By Carleton Varney

In 1903, the home became part living space for the family and part pub for those folks amongst the once-upon-a-time landscape of Ireland who enjoyed folk music, literature, poetry, and happy times. 

Carleton Varney

In these complicated days of now, I have many friends who prefer living in the past and truly manage to do just that!  It is very possible indeed to live in a world where cell phones are nonexistent, where the typewriter with carbon paper still exists, and where hoovers are replaced with brooms and where television flat screens do not clutter the walls of every room in the house.  Why should every child in the family not have his or her own?

I have friends in many countries around the world who continue to live a lifestyle reminiscent of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents that they enjoy and on which they thrive.  Ann and Gerald Fennell live in Rathkeale, Ireland, in a home on the River Deel that goes back some 400 years.  A home filled with old, old, old world charm that I find enchanting in its look and in its way of life!

Ann and Gerald Fennell

Ann and Gerald, a couple in their senior years, enjoy their garden, simplicity, and their music and art.  Ann, born in Killaloe, Ireland, and Gerald, a gentleman from Cork, have traveled extensively around the world.  Ann was a flight attendant for Ansett Airways, a company that services Australia, and also worked for De Beers (a diamond dealer), while Gerald served in the Irish Army Medical Corp in Australia.  Later he was a quality controller for industrial firms.  Together they embrace a family tradition of strong work ethics.  A family who once fought for freedom in the Irish Army, appropriately enough in a military sense.  The Rathkeale Home in which the Fennell family lives was built as part of a British barracks where cannon portholes can still be seen in the garden walls.

The Rathkeale Home History
In 1903, the home became part living space for the family and part pub for those folks amongst the once-upon-a-time landscape of Ireland who enjoyed folk music, literature, poetry, and happy times. In 1945, it was Elizabeth Fennell, Gerald’s grandmother, who served wine and brew to those enjoying the River Deel landscape and who called this Rathkeale home and pub An Seabhac, Gaelic for ‘The Hawk.’

For Gerald’s father, Morris, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, home on the River Deel was his life.  Now his son and daughter-in-law continue on the spirit of Irish music, pub food, and spirit for 16 years.  The Bishop of Ireland stopped in for a lunch and many a joyous wedding party was held here. In fact, 40 people could be seated at the wine bar. Musicians playing the guitar and the Irish bouzouki were an every day and every night event.

The home no longer serves the gentry, but it continues to be occupied by the Fennell family as it has done for generations.  A landmark property in artistry, the stonewalled home continues to be a loving home of yesterday and of Irish living.

The Charming Life of the Fennells
The Fennells continue to live in the past while accepting the inevitable, that time marches on.  Ann now is the keeper of an antique shop in the village of Glin on the River Shannon, traveling each day from the family homestead to her shop.  Gerald keeps guard over the family fortress, albeit on the market, looking for another family that loves the sounds of the rippling waters of the Deel River.  Ann’s love of textiles, antiques, and all things beautiful are on view in the home as are Gerald’s many sculptures.  One sculpture by Gerald is titled “Casualties,” where a young boy is reading a newspaper that lists the names of the men killed in the first World War.

While the Irish book club no longer meets in An Seabhac, the spirit of the Fennell family continues on.  Son Jack earned a doctorate in literature at the University of Limerick and has written a book of Irish science fiction.  Family talents continue.

While visiting An Seabhac, one is taken by the creative works of the Fennell family.  Stained glass windows and tapestry hangings by Ann, collections of blue and white porcelain in the family heirloom pine Irish dresser.  Sculptures by Gerald, antique glass bottles on the bar, collections of basketry, and of course paintings and lithographies by Irish artists from the 1920s to the present.

When visiting Ireland perhaps in the forthcoming Carnegie Museum’s tour of the country next July, you must visit Rathkeale and visit my friends.

For information on the Carnegie Museum tour, call Barbara Tucker at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, 412-578-2618.

We Live in the Past Here