A Thousand Welcomes

On a certain section of the Connecticut Post Road in a town called Westport, a row of neat but nondescript stores sit quietly amid the frenzy of traffic and rhythm of life.

One storefront stands out.

An Irish flag positioned aside an American one guards the entrance and on certain days if the breeze from the nearby Long Island Sound kicks in, its tricolours of green, white and orange wave gently – a tribute to the owners, Brian Ellard and Margaret Kirby who hail from Tipperary. I can’t recall the first time I visited Peggy’s Cottage, but I do know it was that Irish flag that beckoned and once I stepped foot inside, there was no going back.Growing up, my life encompassed all things Irish. My mother was Irish born and my Irish/Scottish father managed a well-known Irish pub called Rosie O’Grady’s in New York City. A few charmed summers we visited Ireland and rented a house for two weeks, memories I will always cherish. We owned a huge but gentle Irish Wolfhound we brought back one trip who was the talk of our neighborhood. There was no getting away from my Irish heritage and my love for the country and people. And then in later years after moving from the city to Connecticut, life became a wee bit grander when I discovered Peggy’s Cottage.

A warm and welcoming refuge, modeled after an authentic thatched Irish cottage, Peggy’s offered all the magical treats of my youth. The lovely, light pork sausages my dad so loved, served with fried tomatoes and steak sauce on Sundays mornings. The many varieties of Cadbury delights (the Flake bars undoubtedly being my favorite). The “drinking chocolate” my mother made for us on chilled winter mornings before school and the Bird’s Custard she would use in her famous Irish Trifle. It was not just the foods of my childhood that brought comfort but the many authentic touches displayed throughout the store: the “himself/herself” set of Irish mugs I use daily, the gorgeous handmade knit sweaters and tweed caps and my absolute favorite find in Peggy’s Cottage – the Irish Worry Stone, a smooth, emerald stone carved from Connemara marble you could tuck into your pocket and gently hold when worry or anxiety struck. My mother always brought worry stones home from Ireland as souvenirs. The day I discovered them at Peggy’s was no doubt a nod from my mother that she too approved of this special place.

Although I loved the many Irish offerings, the real reason I returned was Peggy herself. Margaret, Peggy, Peg or the name I chose to call her “Mag,” was my calm in the storm. Her quiet presence seemed to right everything. Each time I came through the front door I would spot her, a slight, pretty woman sitting contentedly behind the glass display case in the rear of the store. She would greet me warmly and we would talk of life. My son had just entered college in Dublin and was struggling with the isolation of being in a country so far from home. Each visit, Mag remembering my worries would question “How is Owen getting on?” and I would tell her of his ups and downs. One day while in the shop, I FaceTimed Owen to introduce him to Mag. The three of us enjoyed a good laugh as I showed him around the store, knowing he too would find the comfort which Mag and her cottage so effortlessly offered.

But as is often the case in life, I never really knew of her own struggles. And when I learned that she had died last month after a long illness of which she never spoke, I felt such a profound sadness it took my breath away. Sadness in never getting the chance to say goodbye. Sadness for her lifelong partner Brian and son Darren who she left behind and a sadness in knowing when I return to Peggy’s Cottage my greeting from Mag will be only in memory.

There is a line from an Irish song, which tells of a deep love for a place, no matter how far away you roam, “It’s a long, long way to Tipperary but my heart lies there.” I imagine a part of Mag’s heart will always be in Tipperary and the other right here in Connecticut, in the little shop bearing her name which she loved so well.

Published by Kathy Simmons

I am an ex New Yorker who still misses the vibrancy of the city. I seek out the humor in every day life and relay it through my stories in the hope others will appreciate as well. I love to write about growing up with my fantastically unique Irish mother whose memory inspires me every day. Although she is no longer with us, her antics are an endless staple for my tales. I currently live in Connecticut with my husband, two sons and toy fox terrier Anabel.

14 thoughts on “A Thousand Welcomes

  1. What gorgeous imagery – I felt like I was walking through the store! A beautiful tribute to a well-loved business woman.

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  2. Your beautiful description of the place almost made me visit the place. But times are tough, COVID 19 is a worry. I went to a school where we had Irish nuns. They were strict but they taught us things which we cannot learn in Public Schools.
    I learned the song ,”In Derry Vale beside the singing river. I loved it when I was a child and can still remember the lyrics.

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    1. Thank you kindly dear Ranu. You are a special person. The Irish nuns taught us many songs as well. Recall one called “On the Bridge of Avignon…” oh the dancing! I love that you remember the lyrics of your song xxo

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  3. A lovely tribute to Peggy/Mag. I find it interesting that many of the ‘Irish’ treats you mention are actually standard UK fare too. I grew up on Birds custard (my mother too made her trifles with it, as well as serving it hot poured over every pudding) and of course Cadbury’s chocolate is a British staple. It’s not really one to my taste, as I prefer properly dark chocolate, but a flake is a must in a 99 ice cream cornet!

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    1. Thank you as always for your kind words Toonsarah. Yes I have found as well the crossover in products in both the Rep of Ireland and the UK. I recently read an article involving where the name 99 actually came from. Apparently back in the days of the Italian Monarch the king had an elite guard of 99 men and anything excellent or special was referred to as “99.” When Cadbury launched the flake in 1930 the UK ice cream industry was dominated by many ex-pat Italians. The 99 was a nod to them. 🙂 or so says the story. Another involving how the flake was created goes back to Scotland where it was said an Italian storekeeper who ran a popular ice cream shop would break his flake in half and stick in his ice cream cone and alas a legend was born! a fun fact for your next cocktail party 🙂

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  4. Such a wonderful story. So sorry you never got to tell Peggy goodbye. I have never been to Ireland, but I have Irish blood in my veins. My brother Jack and I always loved everything Irish. The Irish music and dancing was two of our favorite things. I always wanted to travel to Ireland, but never managed to fulfill that dream. You have a wonderfi; way of telling a story. I would loved to have met your friend and visited her store.

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    1. Hi Peggy, thank you for your lovely comment. Maybe you can grab Jack for a trip to Ireland still? Great prices off season. Maybe late October? Even a trip to Dublin for 2 nights then a day trip to Cliffs of Moher would be memorable. Maybe not to late to fulfill your dream☘️

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  5. Loved reading this. Sometimes there are places that just feel like home. Love that you FaceTimed your son and he got to meet her and a place you really liked. I’ll have to remember to try that. My dad lives far (8 hours) from me and sometimes I wish he could see some places we go. Now, he can. Thank you for sharing that! Lovely story. I’m sorry for your loss. I remember worry stone souvenirs from when I was a kid. Loved those.

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