I spend eight months of the year, from October to May, in Charterhouse Square, London. Then every year I fold up my tent like a desert Arab, cross the Irish Sea and take up residence on Coney Island, which from June to September is my summer retreat. It is as big a change as anyone could make.
Coney Island is tiny - a mile long and maybe three-quarters of a mile wide. It lies a mile or so offshore in Sligo Bay in the north-west corner of the Irish coast, and on the mainland all round are the lovely friendly Sligo mountains and to the west we have the open Atlantic stretching unbroken all the way to America, three thousand miles beyond our setting sun.
That is Coney Island on the map. But you won't find us in the advertisements of any tourist agency for we have no telephones, no police, no drains and no shops - except for the pub. Our drinking water comes from the village pump halfway up our only street; and no one every dreams of using our smart green pillar box as for years it has housed a colony of slugs who would eat the address off any envelope. So our letters are collected from the cottages and ferried over to the mainland by boat and if the sea is so wild - which can and does happen - that no one can make the crossing, our good postman just, waits for better luck next day. Not that there are many letters these times. For our tiny island community is now only fourteen strong - all that remains from the twenty odd families of only a hundred years ago when the population of the Island mustered a good two hundred. Cottages, long empty and in ruins, are everywhere, and even the village schoolhouse has long since been abandoned and is falling down. For there are now no children to go there.
My cottage is at the very end of Our Street, as we call it. You go straight into the kitchen, where I cook on an oil-stove. There too I eat; but I work in my living room alongside, which I keep warm and dry with lovely smelling turf. And leading off the other side of the kitchen are two other rooms, though they aren't bigger than ship's cabins. In one I sleep and the other has become a grand glory-hole for anything and everything.
Behind all these at the back are my two star turns - the bathroom and the scullery. The bathroom has a fine tin Victorian slipper bath and a tap feeds it from the rain-water tank outside. And alongside is the scullery which boasts another tap and a tiny sink for the washing-up. Of course as I've said we have no drains. So the scullery sink empties into a bucket underneath, which, when I remember in time and it doesn't overflow, I empty out of the back door. But the bath has no escape hole at all. So I have to bale it out with a jug and then the water goes the way of the water from the sink - out of the back door with a grand splash. But it all works beautifully and the cottage itself is wonderfully bright and snug and warm and homely. And the hens eat all my garbage and pick all my dirty saucepans and my frying pans clean - especially after eggs and bacon. And incidentally Coney Island hens lay grand eggs.
My food is easy. For my good neighbours up the street provide the eggs, milk, potatoes, carrots and cabbage; so all I have to get from the mainland are sugar, tea and paraffin, and on baking days, the flour and the extra bits and pieces I want for my own cookery specialty - Economy Buns.
And so day succeeds day. But the best time of every day is when the sun goes down over the Atlantic and the Island settles in for the night. The cries of the seagulls are stilled; the horses slowly plod home from the day's work; the cows have been milked and swing back placidly to their fields; and the hens and the ducks and the geese and the turkeys gossip quietly on their nightly way home. And in the stillness I can hear from my cottage the rush of the tide swirling through Shroonamoille - the channel of a thousand springs; and from away in the west comes the deep rumble of the great Atlantic rollers as they crash their way up Carty's Strand.Our day is over and so to bed.
Dear Coney Island Good luck to you and to all my good friends along Our Street until - all being well - I get back next June.
Owen Tweedy (1888 - 1960) was the son of Henry C. Tweedy, M.D. by his wife, Alice Maude Meredith, who was the daughter of Thomas J. Meredith (1823-1868) and granddaughter of Joseph Meredith, both of Cloonamahon and Coney Island. Born in Dublin and educated at Cambridge, Owen served with the Connaught Rangers in the First World War. Thereafter, he spent much of his life in the Middle East first as a political journalist, then press officer with the Palestine Government and finally, during World War II as an adviser on Middle East affairs. He retired in 1948 and from then until his death in 1960 was an annual visitor to Coney Island. He was the author of: The Dublin Tweedys - a family chronicle compiled for the most part during his sojourns on the Island.
Back to Coney Island