The Grotto

It was built before my gran-aunt could remember
Two and a bit fields in off the road
Freshly white-washed now in late September
And readied for what winter might offload

The woman in the window stands depleted
Flakes of sky blue paint pooled at her feet
Offering her hands as if defeated
The mercy in her smile is bittersweet

Canvassing a preference for her mooring
The buchalawns and whins, the rocks and weeds
As pitiful as it might be alluring
And all the while deprived of all it needs

The woman in the window guards the white thorn
If only so that we might not forget
That even for the penitent or lowborn
You might have to make do with what you get




Grottos to Our lady are a common enough site across Ireland. The one in this poem is one of two that I’m aware of within a couple of mile of each other on one particular back road in Longford. The story goes that my late Gran Aunt couldn’t say when it was build because it was always there in her memory. This would take us back to the 1930’s and before the Marian year of 1954 when a large proportion of these were erected.

She passed away some years ago and her house has had two owners since but is empty and on the market now again. So aware that there would be nobody around I went up to it one early morning last year to refresh my memory of a place I visited regularly as a child. While up there I decided to see if firstly the grotto was even there and if it was, what state of ill repair had it fallen into.

It was there alright, but to my surprise it was in pristine condition. My gran aunt had looked after it well in her day and it was being looked after well still.

I suppose I could understand the purpose it held back in the day but got it a little harder to understand why it was still maintained today. Was it a novelty, a relic or hardly still fulfilling its original purpose?

It might be you know.

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