Maggie T. celebrates new beginnings with family and friends in Rosslare
When one chapter in our lives closes, another one begins. All that we can and should, is to fill them with magical moments the best way we know-how. So very often, it is with the assistance of family members and true friends that we are able to inscribe heart-felt occasions in each chapter.
My late father gave me his Japanese-made Topcon camera when I was in college studying graphic design. The above photos of Mum, as well as my brother Terence and me, must have been taken with that camera. One of the courses I took was photography and although the camera should have been in a museum, the quality it produced was outstanding. It was my old faithful camera that saw me through all three years of my photography assignments. My late Dad's youngest brother, Uncle Ah Ling, as how we fondly called him, was an avid photographer who had a collection of vintage cameras. He was the one I would turn to for guidance and help for all my photography and camera needs. Since then, my passion for photography has grown and I learned to capture more than a beautiful image. A good photograph, above all, has an important task to perform – to tell a story.
Robert Frank, a Swiss photographer and documentary filmmaker once said, “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment”. And through photographs, we are able to look back once again in time and savour those precious moments.
In June 2016, Maggie Territt invited me to her new house-warming party in Rosslare in County Wexford, a town located at the mouth of the River Slaney in the southeast of Ireland.
I first met Maggie about twenty years ago when she was the president of the American Women's Association (AWA) Penang. I helped AWA with its monthly newsletter "Expressions" along with promotional materials for events and dinners. In the span of two decades, AWA became IWA (International Women's Association) and PIA (Penang Irish Association) came into fruition, with Maggie being the president of PIA. Maggie and I have worked on all the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Penang, and also on the "Ireland-Penang: Bridging Friendships" book, co-authored with Barry Leddy, launched in 2015.
We have since then forged not only a firm working relationship but a good friendship as well. Maggie has always been very generous and kind to me and my family. My daughter Jean grew up receiving pretty dresses and lovely gifts from Ireland very often. She would open them with glee, scream with joy and run off to put on the dresses, admiring them in front of a mirror. Maggie is the fairy godmother who makes her life magical. My family has also been pampered with escapades at 5-star hotels and resorts throughout Penang, to relax and unwind. My office is decorated with a beautiful desk, two hand-painted Chinese drum stools, a full-length mirror and two exquisite tapestries of beaded artwork with sequins and jewels, all gifts from Maggie. She has such a big heart and I am deeply grateful not only for her thoughtful gestures but her constant support that enriches my life, as only a true friend would know how.
So many things have happened in the past two decades. In 2016, Maggie needed to embark on writing a new chapter in her life. Thus, when I received the invitation to her new house-warming party, over seven thousand miles away, I said "Yes". I booked my flight tickets and headed for Ireland.
Armed with my camera, I knew I would be able to document this momentous event well for her; in years to come, Maggie can then look at these photographs and fill her heart with warmth. It would be just like the stunning photographs Dad took of Mum above. Mum looked so young and spectacularly fabulous in them, caught in a split second and immortalised for posterity.
On Saturday, 25 June 2016, Maggie held a dinner party at the award-winning Kelly’s Resort Hotel & Spa. The popular hotel has become something of a national treasure and is renowned for its family-friendly hospitality. The evening started off with champagne and a selection of hors d'oeuvres where guests mingled and exchanged stories at the rooftop garden.
We were later ushered into an intimate dining room furnished with two long dining tables. The walls are adorned with modern as well as contemporary Irish art pieces which remain part of the hotel's vast art collection (dotted throughout the hotel).
The food served that evening was exceptionally scrumptious. The menu had a list of options on offer. The starters included smoked salmon with avocado, marinated red onions and baby capers; baked Atlantic prawns with garlic butter and herb crumbs; St. Helen's crabmeat salsa; cream of mushroom soup; bruschetta with smoked chicken and crispy bacon; warm tartlets of goats' cheese and the chef's chicken liver paté. Selecting any of the above would have been a brilliant choice.
For mains, we were also spoiled for choices. Some guests opted for the grilled sirloin steak with king oyster mushrooms and pearl onions, topped with a creamy béarnaise sauce. The juicy tender meat cut like butter.
The grilled Kilmore Quay lobster, with asparagus and a hollandaise sauce, was a popular choice that evening. I selected this for my main course. The sweet lobster flesh complemented the sauce.
The pink roasted rack of Wexford lamb looked equally delectable. It was served with spinach and thyme jus.
On the poultry side, there was chicken or duck. The free-range chicken breast with colcannon was served with a chive and smoked bacon cream. On the other hand, the sliced West Cork duck breast was served with sweet potato puree, rhubarb and a soy sauce infused with ginger.
For fish, there were two options as well – pan-fried monkfish medallions with Spanish chickpeas, chorizo ragout and basil pesto or a baked Hake fillet with braised fennel and a sun-dried tomato sauce. Guests who ordered these items were very pleased with their pick.
Dessert was a sinfully delicious affair! I had the caramel "mille feuille" served with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. Large Wexford strawberries were in season and on offer as well. The strawberries were served with a dollop of whipped vanilla ice cream. Other choices for dessert included a rustic apple tart with cinnamon crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream; white chocolate and apricot cheesecake with blood orange sorbet; dark chocolate torte with passion fruit and mango sorbet as well as warm sticky toffee pudding served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with butterscotch sauce. A selection of Irish farmhouse cheeses with crackers was also brought to the table.
Kudos to the chef and his team for preparing such a satisfying celebratory dinner. It made Maggie's evening all the more special, attended and shared with family members and friends who love her dearly.
The evening continued with lots of dancing at the hotel's Ivy Room. A live band was at hand to provide groovy music that got everyone down to the dance floor. A perfect way to end an unforgettable night of great fun, lots of laughter and cheer!
The next day, just a 5-minute drive from Kelly’s, took us to Maggie's new summer house in Rosslare. The beautiful single-storey bungalow has been tastefully decorated and boasts a spacious garden. Its exclusive countryside neighbourhood is serene and peaceful, minus high-rise buildings and the madding crowd of the city.
There, we had a relaxing lazy summer afternoon with clear blue skies and cool gentle breezes. In the garden, a picnic table was set, laden with Irish stew, pasta, grilled meats, various types of salad, potatoes and mini puffs, drizzled with caramel. We sipped champagne and whiled away time.
We will never know for certain the last words we will pen down at the end of our book. For Femke Ligthart, a good friend of Maggie and mine, she was gone too soon. Three years after the memorable weekend we shared in Rosslare, Fem concluded the final chapter of her book. Only a year younger than me, Fem passed away in 2019. I knew Fem through AWA and over the years of our friendship, Fem did something for me that no one else had ever done.
As a photographer, I am always behind the camera. Fem was the only one who saw the man behind the camera. She would always ask me how I was and would wait for my answer. It was not a rhetorical question to her. She would also check if I had something to eat. Always behind the camera, I never feature in the photographs I take. Fem realised this. We made a pact that, at every function we attended, we would take a photograph together. My photographs with Fem would usually be the few I have with me in them! How many of us would actually have a photograph taken with the cameraman?
Being gorgeous, Fem would make every shot she was in spectacular. Through the years, I have accumulated many happy snaps with Fem. We would also have a dance before the evening was over. Once she asked me to remove my wallet from the front right pocket of my pants as it was a hindrance. Obligingly, I placed it in my back pocket and we continued dancing. I have learned from Fem to removed unimportant hindrances in life and not to sweat the small stuff as well as to conclude every day with a glass of champagne. To me, Fem was not only a brilliant sculpture artist, she was a genuine soul who shared her infectious cheer with all around her. Indeed, she had given me many lovely photographs, filled with fond memories to reflect upon.
The top right photograph was the last one we shared, this with her husband Sjaak.
Like Fem, my Dad also lost his battle with cancer. Then 80, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. He kept reminding his children that he had been blessed with many "bonus" years and refused any treatment. He lived a long and fruitful life, one free from regrets. Dad never stopped giving and providing for the family, filling his days with joyous feasting and laughter. Wishing Dad to have his last hurrah, my family planned my youngest brother Alvin's wedding like a hurricane. Dad by then was already too weak. The morning that he was supposed to go to the goldsmith to pick a wedding gift for Alvin, Dad passed away peacefully in his sleep.
Dad and Fem have taught me that after all the chapters we have written, one day, our book must end. Nevertheless, the beautiful and tragic futility of life gives everyone the opportunity of endless possibilities. Like Maggie, who chooses to celebrate new beginnings, as do I, so should you, when we all still can!
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah © All rights reserved
30 November 2020
PS: Many thanks, Maggie, for the accommodation at Kelly's and above all, for your priceless friendship.