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Lovely Ballymoney

by Nika K.


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I’ve never met such friendly, welcoming, and chatty people in the world as the Irish! This story is about two wonderful days in Ballymoney Co. Wexford, the Irish Sea and the hospitality of the Irish people. I’d like to thank our hosts Christopher and Suzanne Burke and their family for accepting me into their beautiful home and allowing me to learn and re-evaluate life. I want to say a great thank you to Marie and Barry for the opportunity to go to the sea and for graciously letting us into their family circle. You are also welcomed guests in our homes after the end of the war. Spontaneous solutions are the best. This story began when my friend from UCD, Katya, invited me to keep her company and go to the sea, so I immediately agreed, because I hadn’t swum in the Irish Sea since I arrived, and it was the warmest summer in many years. I packed up and cycled to Katya, from where we went to see Conor - the son of my friend’s hosts - Marie and Barry. On the way, Katya told me about the whole family. There were a lot of Irish names that were difficult for me to remember, but I realised that they had a great family, so I couldn’t wait to meet them all. Dinner There were six of us in the car, three adults and three of Conor’s little daughters. On the way to Ballymoney, I couldn’t stop looking at the hulking mountains on the horizon. Emily couldn’t wait to see her grandparents, so when we arrived, she said, “Fiiinallyy,” with relief. Barry and Marie were waiting for us on the porch of the house with its large windows and flowers and plants. Marie looked gorgeous. I remember her exquisite gold jewellery combined with simple clothes. But her best beauty was her smile. Barry was also dressed for the summer; on his head he had a cap from his golf club. I extended my hand to greet them, but they immediately embraced me and graciously invited me into their home. The house seemed even bigger from the inside. Glass doors, stairs, unusual layout of rooms, paintings on the walls reflected the exquisite taste of the owners. Emily led us to the table, which stood in the garden on the terrace, and she ran to help serve the dishes. “She’s so small, but already so proactive and independent,” I said in surprise. “Yes, she’s the best of all the almost grown-up girls,” answered Marie and threw a warm look at her. Emily is a very responsible child. It seemed she could give advice to everyone. I was moved by her desire to support Ukrainian children with her letter. How can such a big heart fit in a little girl? She has more consciousness than most adults. I thoughtfully listened to Marie’s stories. Big trees grew around and flowers bloomed and swelled, it seemed as if we were in a fairy tale. The table was covered with various delicious dishes, like meat, fish, vegetable salad, baked corn that melted in the mouth, soup, and what really surprised me was the Kyiv cutlet. Marie said that we were special guests, so she’d decided to cook something for us that would remind us of our home. But in fact, she has the talent to raise the mood of everyone around her, as if in some magical way she made the atmosphere sublime. She was genuinely interested in our impressions of Ireland, our families, and the situation in Ukraine. “We travel a lot, but we have never been to Kyiv.” She raised her glass and said, “I wish that next year there will be peace in Ukraine, that the war will finally end. To keep our families safe. And for us to come to you for the holidays. Cheers!”

Ballymoney Beach Marie insisted we go to the beach. I thought we’d go for a walk, but she insisted on a swim, “It’s gonna be unforgettable, trust me.” And she was right, but I still couldn’t get it into my head, “How can they swim in the cold sea...? Irish people are brave to go there...”

We descended from the rocky slope on which was the house of a famous writer. The landscape was unreal. The sea was calm. People were walking with their dogs. I thought about my mother... because she loves the sea more than me. I wished she could be here. Marie gave us clear instructions on how to dive into the water, “The sea is not cold, it is your illusion. Go in and quickly dive into the water, count to forty and the water will be warm. It feels like a million dollars, trust me.” She immediately left without any fear, and Emily ran after her. Marie always spoke with confidence, so how could she not be trusted? Katya and I looked at each other. We held hands and accelerated, decided that it would be somehow easier together. “Один, два, три, чотири, п’ять,” I started to quickly count aloud in Ukrainian to forty. Conor looked at me with a surprised expression on his face and asked, “What are you praying for?” “I’m not, I’m counting.” “Ah, I thought you were praying!” Feelings of joy overwhelmed me. We got used to the water temperature. Everyone was splashing until Emily’s lips turned blue.

Family Party The next day began with a commotion. Marie wanted everything to go perfectly. Barry brought more food. It was important for them that only the best dishes were on the table, that there were the most delicious fruits, and that there was drink for every taste. Thank God, the chef came, and he helped with the cooking. We helped with preparing the food and setting the table. It was decorated with fresh flowers, the walls were decorated with artwork by their younger son Ronan. I saw his paintings in the Devlin in Ranelagh. The first guests arrived. Marie and Barry welcomed everyone. People flew in from all over the world, from America, Europe and even Australia. It was difficult to imagine that these were all relatives. In total, about forty people and children and dogs came.

There were so many children of different ages, they could not be counted. However, Marie was very upset that “so few guests came” because before Covid it was an annual tradition, so the parties were even bigger. Everyone was eager to talk to us. It was like we were from another planet for them because they were meeting Ukrainians for the first time. I still think about how someone who lives across the ocean, who is separated by thousands of kilometres from Ukraine, can be interested in helping and concerned about the fate of our country. Honestly, I did not expect their huge support. In the afternoon, we all went to the beach, Marie never let pass an opportunity to swim. Katya and I were like counsellors in the camp because we looked after the children. That day there were high waves, and we were afraid for them, but all the parents didn’t really worry. They knew their children could take care of themselves. In the evening, everyone returned home to continue the celebration in the garden. People hugged, exchanged the latest news, ate the most delicious food, and drank wine. Everyone told interesting life stories, it was interesting to observe how one language can sound differently due to accents. Someone began to sing, and immediately the whole family stood in a friendly circle and picked up the song. I got to go to a Ukrainian evening, only in Ireland. Marie raised her glass and spoke sincere words of love to her family. I thought, “They are lucky to have such wonderful people around them. And we were lucky enough to be a part of something wonderful.” Marie wanted us to stay but we decided to go home. To say goodbye, they gave us the most delicious chocolate from Butlers. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. On the way home, I remembered every moment, trying to stretch the feeling of that exalted atmosphere. “Katya, do you believe what you saw?” “No, it was a movie. It was a great movie!”

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