The Allure of Ruins by Santa Montefiore
2013/07/18  |  By:   |  Features  |  

High up on the cliffs, overlooking the Irish Sea, is an old stone castle. Its empty eyes stare vacantly out at a horizon that is always the same yet forever changing in colour and cloud. One of the towers stands hollow but proud while the other has long since crumbled into the ocean. Sea gulls build nests where once the garrison stood. The wind sweeps in off the water, damp and cold, and slips through holes in the walls to touch the grassy spaces where long ago carpets were laid, fires were lit and banquets served. I’m sucked in by my curiosity and swallowed into the mystery of the past.  I wander enraptured by thoughts of what it must have been like centuries ago when those rooms reverberated with voices and the patter of feet, and those windows were full of faces, scanning the same unchanging horizon for ships.

Ruins have always fascinated me. I want to be left alone to feast on the possibilities, to soak up the sense of history, to feel the vibrations of the past in those silent and chilly walls. But what is it about ruins that makes them so compelling? Do they perhaps resonate with the deepest part of us that knows that one day our bodies, too, will be empty shells, and our own lives relegated to history? Is our curiosity propelled by the mystery of our own mortality? Do they focus our minds on the transience of our lives and the inevitability of our deaths?

When I gaze up at those ancient walls I like to imagine the people who once dwelt there.  Their lives were perhaps long and vital and full of adventure.  They, like us, believed they were immortal. But where are they now? What is left of them? Those who kept them alive in their memories are also dead. Unless they were important historical figures, they will be lost forever like foam on the sea.  Ruins make me question my purpose here. If I am to leave the earth without a trace of ever having lived, what is it all for?

I wonder what those windows have witnessed. If only those walls could speak. But they’re not sharing their stories and neither is the wind that moans around the corners like ghosts of the dead, desperate not to be forgotten.  It fills me with a melancholy that is somehow pleasurable and I wallow in it as my imagination expands and I begin to weave a story of my own.

My new novel, Secrets of the Lighthouse, is a tale that unravels the mystery of a ruined lighthouse as well as a castle which has been boarded up and abandoned.  I chose Connemara as my setting because Ireland is intrinsically enigmatic and hauntingly beautiful. Every morning I hurried to my desk to indulge my love of ruins and nostalgia with greedy delight, and did what ruins always compel me to do – breathe life back into them again.