Welcome to the Middle of Everywhere.
Welcome to Tormay House.
When you see the history that unfolds like a tapestry in front of Tormay House, much of it long before even Anna Cottage stood here, you feel the place was in a fixed position while life and events moved about it. A stone’s throw from the sea, the house is at anchor.
Here, before there was a wall with a window, before there was even a person who knew how to bake a brick or build a wall, this spot was a window on the world.
It looked on as druids parlayed the shape and nature of the forest around them into a cryptic alphabet of ogham. It looked on as, a thousand years ago, the Battle of Clontarf raged from sunrise to sunset and the fields ran with the blood of thousands; including most of the leaders of both Gaels and Vikings. It looked on as highwaymen terrorised the road from the city.
As in 1785, a Hot-air Balloon crashed on the sands; an early aviation disaster. As the soon-to-be author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, strode past the house into the city at twilight, late for the theatre.
And as 17 year-old Eva Tormay lay down to sleep upstairs on Census night 1901, the house looked across Clontarf to where, just two kilometres away on Royal Terrace, a 19 year-old James Joyce would also be counted as he slept at home. Before three Christmases had passed both Eva Tormay and James Joyce would be in Paris, both arriving when they were just 20. And like Joyce, Eva would have her own story to tell.
The Tormay Family Timeline
Eva left, she adventured and she grew in a way that only she might have done in the turmoil of Europe in the early twentieth century. Yet through it all this steadfast house, looking across the sea to the world beyond, remained her centre, her anchor, her omphalos.
According to Greek myth, Zeus wanted to find the centre of the earth and launched two eagles in opposite directions. Wherever they crossed would be the centre. Zeus threw a stone into the sky from where their flights crossed and watched where it landed; it fell at Delphi, from then considered by the Greeks to be the centre of the world; “the navel of the Earth”. The Omphalos became the symbol of Delphi, of Apollo. Now in a literary sense, an Omphalos can be anyone’s centre.
And so Tormay House was Eva Tormay’s Omphalos. She left it, found and lost the love of her life and returned with his remains to her Omphalos, her anchor.
She was someone who knew her centre—and this is a description we often give to the distinctive among us who we look to for leadership. We say they are ‘centred’, they are ‘grounded’. They have a moral compass. They have gravitas. They stand on their own two feet. They are independent. They are unswayed.
I would begin with the Greek word, omphalos, meaning the navel, and hence the stone that marked the centre of the world, and repeat it, omphalos, omphalos, omphalos, until its blunt and falling music becomes the music of somebody pumping water at the pump outside our back door.
— Seamus Heaney, “Mossbawn”