The House on an Irish Hillside: When you know where youve come from, you can see where youre going

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Vast shoals of fish, five feet long. Cod as big as a grown child.

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In , a moratorium was called on cod fishing and those modest wooden houses started to empty and fall — in a way that is almost picturesque — back into the water. Many of these redundant fishermen had names like Doyle, or Walsh, or Ryan — some of them descendants of men who worked the Grand Bank, centuries before. When boats set out from the West Country of England, they stopped along the south coast of Ireland to take on extra crew — and some of these Irishmen jumped ship on the other side, and stayed.

The Irish talk like they came from Dungarvan. Their accents were preserved by the salt Atlantic air, in tiny isolated communities along the shore. It was a long time before they got roads. These days, the highway is long and the traffic serene: everyone drives like a lady or like a Canadian. Those trees are spruce and fir. It may all look the same to an outsider, but as you travel through the vast beauty of the landscape, you begin to lose yourself in the fractal variation of one bay or inlet that is crucially different to the inlet or bay before it, and the names you pass are more a story than a map: Random Island, Come by Chance, Witless Bay.

And, of course, Tilting is not the same as any of these other villages, because Tilting is not a patchwork community of Irish and West Country English — Tilting is straight Irish. Tilting is Irish on the rocks. The grave of Michael Greene Winds rake the island of Fogo, icebergs float past in the early summer and whales blow. The first Irish settler, Thomas Burke, arrived here in The first known grave of an Irish emigrant is up on the hillside: Michael Greene from Carrick-on-Suir. The headstone gets all the spellings right and says he was buried in He has a magnificent view.

There is a faded wreath and a prayer, written on a piece of paper and protected by a plastic bag, propped up against the stone.

The House On an Irish Hillside

And it certainly is freakish and lovely to hear these clear and yearning accents of a people who, after centuries, still look over the Atlantic towards home. Being Irish, she says, the people are very focused on education, and the children of the community often work as professionals, far afield. What is the permanent population of Tilting? That is hard to say. Maureen tries for but another woman says There are no young people to be seen. The pain of emigration is repeated here, almost as a race memory, and the songs of sorrow and loss are put to new use for the generations gone since the fisheries closed.

It was just before she turned Cobb, who went on to make a fortune in fibre optics, came back to Fogo some years ago and started an island regeneration scheme, which is part international arts foundation and part internationally expensive hotel. The hotel, just opened in June, is a remarkable postmodern building, one end propped up on stilts that are two stories high. They went back to Toronto or, some of them, home for a while to Ireland. Ah, authenticity. Outside, the weather shifts as fast as Irish weather — only much bigger.

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In this part of the world, the storms can kill you, the wilderness can still swallow you, and it starts 10ft outside your door. The people of Tilting, as elsewhere in remote parts of Canada, look out for each other in a constant and material way. The hospitality is astonishing, the values so communal they seem almost Scandinavian. These people consider the best part of themselves to be Irish — who am I to suggest that it might actually be Canadian?

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    The House On an Irish Hillside by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

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