Category Archives: Holidays

Endings……………..

 

Reaching an end signifies a beginning, and I have witnessed and been present at many wonderful beginnings with people that I have loved.

I reached an ending recently that was more than my words can ever fully express. I went to Ballyheigue in Kerry to lay the ashes of my Dad, my Mam and my sister Annie in a place that is beautiful, and was visited and loved by them when they were alive. I began there as a child where I enjoyed the freedom of explored fields and ditches without parental supervision. We began there as a family on our annual summer holidays. My little sister Annie began to walk there as she enjoyed playing on a sandy clean beach as a toddler. Ballyheigue is real, but it is like a mystical place where I can close my eyes and revisit at any time. It is a place where happy memories flourish.

 
I have no idea why my Dad choose this sleepy sea side village in Kerry to take our annual summer holidays in, but I am so glad that he did. I have nothing but happy recollections of times spent there.

 
We first went there in 1966 or 1967. We roomed in a house on the main street that was owned by the Hartnett family. We brought my grandparents and my grand uncle Leo that first year and we all squashed happily inside the house next door to Willy O Leary’s Butcher shop.
I remember the freedom.

 
In Dublin I had to be home at a particular time and I was closely supervised while outside playing, but in Ballyheigue there were no time constraints and no obvious regulation. This was freedom like I had never known before, but it was also during a time when places were safer and parents didn’t worry as much. I remember introducing myself precociously to local people, and being accepted in a sweet way that was completely different to the city ways that I was more familiar with.

 
I remember the Roche family. Elderly brothers, Timmy, Tommy, Mike and Sonny, and their sister Mary. They lived nearby, and my older sister Bernice and I were always welcome in the house from that very first year. Sonny rambled with us along the beach and climbed the ramparts of the old castle on Kerry Head. He laughed with us, watched over us and spent time us. We felt safe with him, and our parents allowed us to spend time with this family without the fear that is so prevalent today. We wandered in and out of his house and watched Mary baking bread daily. We fed the chickens and the pigs during the day, and we sat up against the range as we piled turf into it during those long summer evenings. The range had to stay hot to keep the kettle boiling for the endless pots of tea that were constantly being brewed and drunk. This simple country family accepted us city children, chatted away with us and never took advantage in any way. I remember the embroidered cushions on the soft chairs in the parlour, and the hard chairs that we sat on in the other small room as we watched TV while the brothers smoked their pipes silently after a long day in the fields. They regularly took us to the local creamery on their donkey and cart with a milk churn of unpasteurised milk. We were witness to the old fashioned traditions of an Ireland that is reminiscent of post cards and storytelling. But I know it and remember it well.

 
Summertime seemed to have a glow about it back then, and Ballyheigue was a place that was always sunny and happy. I am sure that there were rainy days and times of boredom, but I cannot recall them. I remember the annual fancy dress parade that took place, when everyone gathered outside Casey’s Ballroom on the main street. I remember dressing Annie up when she was a toddler and being so thrilled when she won the ‘Bonny Baby’ competition. We led the parade down the main street and I was so proud of her. She was the prettiest baby ever.

 
The Carnival was always present when we arrived on our annual holidays, so as a child I believed that it was permanently there, outside the ‘Castle Gates’. I remember the smell of the dodgems as the cars connected to the electrified grid overhead, and how the sparks spilled out into the darkness on summer evenings. This was a truly magical place where pennies were pushed into slot machines in the hope of winning, and where the dexterity of throwing bamboo hoops over empty jam jars showcased your skills in the rubbishy gee-gaws that were won and proudly brought home night after night. Revisiting again as an adult in later years, I was dismayed to see a vacant space with litter blowing around in the place that had held such a dreamlike quality for me as a child.

 
Looking back on those lovely innocent days and nights I feel so fortunate to have grown up in a time where I was cherished by the lovely people of Kerry who only saw our family for two weeks out of fifty two. I remember feeling jealous when thinking about ‘other’ kids that were holidaying when we were not there, and that the locals might like them more than they did us!

 
Summer days spent on the beach, running into the waves and playing endless games in the sand dunes with my siblings were picture perfect, and nothing can spoil the memories. Aunties and Uncles, cousins and pals came to Kerry with us over the years that we visited to share the magic that we knew was unique.

 
Revisiting Ballyheigue recently was an ending as my family finally let the ashes of our loved ones go. We could think of no better, happier and a more beautiful place to remember them, and the moment that we let them go on the slipway curling into the waves will be etched on my heart and in my mind forever. The ebb and flow of life was momentarily captured in the movement of the ocean as their ashes were gently eased into the water of the outgoing tide….

 
Endings can be heart-breaking, but the beautiful, wonderful, memorable moments between the beginning and the end are what makes life so precious.

 

Destiny can be realising that to love, and to remember that love is simply all that there is…

The Irish Gaeltacht – Triple Bunk Beds and Fridge Freezers…..

“Going to the Gaeltacht” is a great Irish tradition. It is the first rite of passage for many teenagers in Ireland and it has been happily in existence since the early 1970’s. Leaving your parents for a month to go away as a boarding student to “Irish College” in the West of Ireland in the middle of the summer holidays in order to encourage a fluency of the Irish language is how the deal is sold….How it is perceived by the students who go there is entirely another matter. I was that teenager back in 1970 something, and the idea of getting away to a remote rural location, far away from my parents for a whole month was better than winning the modern day lottery. I think that I would have willingly taken on Japanese lessons if it meant that I could get away, unshackled from home for a four week period.

My older sister Bernice and I were willingly dispatched to County Cork during the summer of 1972. She was 14 years of age and I was 12. Already an experienced veteran, (as she had been there the summer before and loved it) the pair of us were packed off to Ballingeary, County Cork for the month of June. Although we were staying with a host family, and we attended Irish language classes during the day, there was a huge amount of independence and autonomy where adults were not looking over and monitoring us and our time. We were allowed to make our own choices about what to do and where to go.

This was rural Ireland back in a particular time, and to be honest there really was very little to do. We were in a village with a couple of shops, a river, and lots of fields. But freedom from parental shackles, and making decisions about how to spend ones time was a heady combination that made this experience very special. I remember the Céilís (Irish dances) with great affection. These gatherings took place every night in the local school and every student was obliged to go. Being an urban city child, this was my first ‘live’ interactive experience with traditional Irish music, where local people came to play their instruments and enjoy communal dancing with no fee expected. I absolutely loved it.

Part of the nightly experience was losing the teenaged self-consciousness that hung around me like a boulder, and (eventually) learning to abandon myself to the joy of the music and dance every night. There were set Irish dances, for two people, for four, and for more. We learned them and practiced during the days, so that we would be better again the following evening. There was an element of competition about it all, so it wasn’t unusual to see gangs of teenagers ‘dancing’ inanely together during the days on the local tennis courts and on the small roads of the village.

There were no mobile phones back in those days, and the house that my sister and I were staying in had no land line telephone either. We used to queue to phone home every Friday night from the local phone box on the street and assure our parents that we were well and happy (as we undeniably were). Our spending money was restricted, so we received “tuck boxes” and letters from home during our time there. The excitement of receiving a registered parcel from the postman, filled with goodies to be shared, ensured that you were the most popular person in your house that day…

Our “houses” were gendered back in those days. There were “girl” houses and “boy” houses and they were separated by geographical distance. The organisers obviously knew a thing or two about raging teenage hormones and kept a strict segregation rule. This may also have had something to do with the Catholic religious ethos that was a predominant feature in Ireland at the time.

I happily look back on that halcyon summer remembering it with vividness and colour. Nothing bad happened to me, although I experimented with cigarette smoking, seances and ouija boards in my naïve attempts to raise the spirits of the dead. I survived (with the subsequent occasional nightmare about dead people crawling all over me in the dark) and the end of the month came all too soon.

Returning home to Dublin via train I remember looking forward to seeing my family as I had missed them more than I thought I would. My dad had written to tell me of the changes that had occurred at home while I was away. There were a couple of new additions. A new fridge freezer had been installed as had new bunk beds for myself and my two sisters.

We were collected from the train station by a neighbour whose daughter was also with us in Cork and we all fell out of their car excitedly and into our respective houses. My mam opened the door to greet us, and my older sisters first words out of her mouth were to ‘snitch’ on me for smoking while we were away… Never mind that she had also smoked, I got a slap before I had time to defend myself. When I replied that “She had been smoking too” I got another slap and was told “not to tell lies about your sister” as she smugly stood by knowing that as the oldest and most precious child she would be believed regardless of what I said about her. Grrrrrrrr…….I never won that that war, and many years later my Mam still didn’t believe me when I told her that Bernice stitched me up as she was smoking too.

We eventually got into the kitchen and admired the brand new Fridge Freezer…. This was such a rare commodity that it still had a wonderful “exotic” feel to it. We opened and closed the door watching the internal light go on and off and felt the wonderfully cold milk bottles, and wondered at the frozen ice cubes in the freezer section. Our milk bottles had previously been stored on the “cold shelf” over the stone sink in the kitchen and frequently went sour in the summer heat.

My dad then excitedly carried our cases up the stairs to our bedroom so that we could view his newly built wooden bunk beds for his three daughters. Unlike traditional bunks, instead of two beds, this set had three. One box unit was at floor level for my two year old sister Annie, who up to then had been sleeping in a cot in my parent’s room. Another was in the middle about chest high for me, and the highest was at forehead height for my older sister Bernice.

I had never had a “WOW” moment like it before in my life. They were the most ‘avant-garde’ beds that I had ever seen, and I was so proud that my Dad had made them. (They were the talking point in our neighbourhood for years). I tumbled into my new bed that night and thought about how lucky I was to have been away having had the holiday of a lifetime, coming back to all these wonderful new changes. A new bed AND a new Fridge Freezer. Crikey – but I was easily pleased.

I remember many nights whispering to both Annie and Bernice as we lay in those triple bunks. We had great fun sharing as sisters although the room was cramped. I left that bunk bed eight short years later as I married and moved out, and Annie who was 10 at the time, moved into my bed. Bernice also left her top bunk to marry shortly afterwards.

Dad later carved them up and left the middle one (my one) as a single bed that Annie slept in until she too left number 33 to move to Mullingar with her husband Mark….

I was reminded of the bunks tonight by Joanne, Annie’s childhood pal as she posted on Facebook her memories of times past remembering the triple beds as being ‘soooo cool’. They were crafted by my dad in order to give his girl’s individual space to sleep and grow. As an experiment it worked, yet I have never seen triple bunks since. They may be gone, but they are certainly not forgotten. Memories of that particular summer include- Irish language, dancing, and music, being away from home, the wonder of refrigeration and three new beds for three sisters.

Destiny is shaped by experience, but it can also be complimented by outside influences and talents that make our lives better. Thanks Dad.

Intimate conversations between strangers.

My husband and I decided to go away for a few days holidays this week to briefly escape the dirt and mess in our home as we are currently undertaking some renovation work. We chose a hotel from the Internet completely randomly and with no real knowledge of what it offered, left for our destination in County Mayo. We holiday in Ireland quite a lot but usually stick to coastal villages and towns. This hotel was situated inland on a lakeshore, and in a region that we hadn’t explored with great depth in the past.

 
On checking in we were told our room wasn’t quite ready, so while we waited we went into the hotel bar and had lunch overlooking the beautiful lake. After an hour, we made our way up to the bedroom to find a middle aged housekeeper bustling around apologetically as the room wasn’t quite ready. My husband left the room to get something from the car and I sat on the bed chatting to her as she vacuumed around the room. We started chatting about the weather, the hotel, and life in general.

 
I mentioned that I would have liked to book a particular suite but on checking in found that it had already been reserved. She told me with a smile that she had just let two women into it and said that she had “opened her big mouth too quickly” when she told them that it only had one bed. I asked her what she meant and she replied “sure you never know these days what people are about”. Realising that she was possibly making reference to the women’s sexual orientation, I smilingly suggested that in modern Irish society people could get on with their lives in their own way, and that no one need make any remarks about what they choose to do or how they choose to live.

 
She agreed wholeheartedly and told me about the guest that they regularly had, who ‘came up the stairs dressed as a man, but who came down the stairs dressed as a woman’. She believed in ‘letting live and minding her own business and letting people get on with their own lives without prejudice’. She continued cleaning the room as all this chat was going on and was starting to dust the surfaces on the window sills when she stopped and looked me in the eye as she told me that her husband had attempted suicide a year before.

 
I looked straight back at her and asked how he was now both physically and mentally. She told me of how he had held a shotgun to his heart and pulled the trigger, but that somehow he had missed that vital organ, and the bullet had passed it without damage and emerged under his shoulder. The physical healing had only taken a few weeks, but the mental healing was still on going. She spoke about the lack of local services for people who are suffering with mental health issues and how the monthly appointments that her husband had were not doing him as much good as she had hoped. I asked her how she was coping and she was in the middle of telling me about the support that she had, when my husband walked back into the room.With a swish of her duster and a smile for me, she was off as she wished us a pleasant stay and a restful holiday.

 
When she left I looked at my watch. The conversation had lasted only about four or five minutes, yet she managed to convey so much of herself to me, a total stranger during that time. I learnt about her acceptance of same sex relationships, of possible transgendered men or of cross dressers, and I also learned that her life had been profoundly affected by her husband’s attempt to take his own life. These revelations took place in a hotel room between two people from two different generations, from two different places yet who shared five minutes of incredible intimacy together.

 
I will never know what made her disclose these details of her life, but I am glad that she felt that she could share them with me. I believe that honest encounters between people can be a part of what is lacking in this fast paced world that we live in, and in that intimate exchange in an anonymous hotel room in the West of Ireland we were two women who briefly and cosmically connected with each other.

 
Destiny can be about short encounters that remind us of the fragile nature of human life and how we respond to it.

My sister’s birthday is approaching…..

I was born in 1960, the 2nd child in a family of five children. I don’t remember the  births of my two younger brothers but I do remember with absolute clarity the night that my baby sister Annie was born when I was ten years of age. She was born on November 7th 1970.

That particular summer, my mam didn’t want to go to Kerry in August on holidays as we had done previously. I remember being disgusted that I wasn’t going to see my friends in Ballyheigue that year because my Uncle Paddy, my mams brother, had offered us his caravan in nearby Clogherhead instead.

Looking back I realise that my mam didn’t want to be too far away from her doctor when she was in her advanced stage of pregnancy, but as a ten year old child I had no idea that a baby was on the way and that this was the rationale for the location of the family holiday that year.

That summer was very hot, and we had a great holiday in Clogherhead but it just wasn’t Kerry. Although I enjoyed the caravan holiday, I remember the time as being strange and disruptive. Mum was just different and I didn’t quite know why. Pregnancy was not talked about as openly as it is now, and as a child I had no idea that my mother was shortly to give birth although I had asked her about why she was ‘getting fat’ without getting a satisfactory answer. She brushed those questions aside that summer and I never suspected anything until I was back in school in September. I vaguely remember asking her if she was going to have a baby with no real idea of why I was asking the question, and mam telling me that her ‘bump’ was wind!

By the time October rolled around, she did tell me that she was going to have a baby but that I wasn’t to tell anybody! News like that was too much for a curious ten year old and I constantly bombarded her with questions about the new baby although I hadn’t a clue that this event was linked to her growing tummy! (I was a very innocent child at the time).

Anyway….. She had an elective delivery and was well prepared in advance.

Her gynaecologist had booked a room for her in a private nursing home on a particular day in November assuring her that he would ‘induce’ her and that her baby would be born that day. A-la-carte delivery days were all the fashion back then…

I remember being packed off to my grandparents’ house with my older sister and my two younger brothers…. It was a weekend, but we had never all stayed away from home together without one of my parents being present. I didn’t settle well in the double bed that I was sharing with my older sister that night.

My dad’s car at the time had a broken exhaust and it was very loud. You could hear the car coming before you saw it.

That night on November 7th 1970 I lay awake beside my sister Bernice in a strange bed in the darkness, listening to the different street sounds outside my grandparents’ house on the canal in Dublin city. At some stage during that long night I heard a noise in the distance and listened carefully as it grew louder and louder. I knew the sound of dad’s car (and the broken exhaust) and as it got closer I got out of bed knowing absolutely that it was my dad approaching and I crept down the stairs while the rest of the house slept.

I clearly remember the moment I opened the front door in my pyjamas, and saw my smiling dad as he walked up the garden path in the darkness towards the steps of the house. He leaned his arm against the door frame, grinning at me and said “you have a new little sister”.

This story is part of the landscape of my life.

When my darling sister Annie was old enough to listen, she loved to hear me recounting each special moment that I remembered of that particular night as she grew up. It was called ‘her story”. As she became an adult and a friend in my life, it was a ‘thing’ a ‘routine’ between us that would happen on her birthday. She would wait in anticipation that day for a phone call from me recounting faithfully my memories of the ‘day of her birth’, and she would suspend whatever it was she was doing at the time in order to hear the story. If lunchtime arrived and I hadn’t called, she would be on the phone indignantly demanding to hear it. It was and still is like a script in my head that contains colour, sound and texture of one of the most memorable nights of my life. This was one of the most precious things that we shared.

That first birthday – November 7th 2009 after her death was dreadfully sad for me as I couldn’t phone her and do the thing that we had done for so many years … No one will ever know or understand the simplicity and joy contained in that story and what it meant to us as sisters every year it was retold.

Her birthday approaches yet again…. I miss her constantly and my life is bereft without her.

November 7th 1970 is the day my darling sister Annmarie Patricia O’Neill was born. I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful and beautiful relationship with this lovely girl, and I will gladly recount the story of the night of her birth to anyone who cares to listen because sadly she is not here to hear it anymore…..

My destiny lies in our past and my future without her……

Health and Safety and the good old days…..

We are surrounded by Health and Safety notices, laws and restrictions. It can feel like autonomy has been taken from us as the Health and Safety Police decide on what is safe for us and what is not. Making a car journey recently, my husband and I had to take two cars to facilitate the transportation of our three small nephews who all have to sit in separate seats that are fitted into the back of a car. They wouldn’t all fit in one car, so we had to take two. Not factoring in the cost of petrol, and the damage to the environment, I shudder to think of the expense that parents have to go through transporting families that contain more than three or four children. Sometimes it feels like common sense has left the building as we all rely on instructions and laws to guide our movements and decision making.

Health and Safety is a new concept and one that was thankfully not around in the 70’s when I was growing up.

The first mode of transportation that I remember as a child was my Dads Bedford Van. It had double doors that opened at the back and on Sundays my Dad would regularly lift two arm chairs from our living room, depositing them in the back of the van for my Grandparents to sit in. We enjoyed excursions up the Dublin Mountains to go blackberry picking and general days out to the seaside. My older sister and I used to sit on the wheel arches in the back of this van and my mother sat up front with a baby in her arms.

We never crashed, we never got hurt and we all laughed as we rounded a corner too steeply sending myself and my sister skittering off our “seats” as the chairs also slid around the interior of the van with two old people clutching on for dear life laughing at my Dad telling him to slow down. The Health and Safety Police would take a dim view of that kind of travel I think.

I grew up in a family of five children and all my siblings had been born by 1970. My father had an Austen Cambridge Estate car back in those days and our family of seven fitted quite comfortably inside it.

One memorable summer in 1972 when I was twelve, we were packing up for a month’s long holiday to Ballyheigue in Kerry where we always took a house. Our family of seven were going, along with my grandparents and my granduncle Leo. That was ten people all making the journey in one Austen Cambridge car. My youngest sister Annie was only a toddler at the time and came with a lot of baggage. Amongst the luggage was a play pen, a pram and a cot for starters, not to mention all the clothes for a family of seven that had to be transported, along with games and other vital accessories like my father’s blue frying pan, his cooking knives and bread board.

Logistically my father worked out that ten people and all their worldly possessions were not going to fit into one car, so being a skilled carpenter he built a long wooden rectangular box that bolted onto the roof rack of the car and we all helped him pack our clothes, pram, cot etc. into the box. When it was full, my Dad then began the mammoth task of getting the humans packed up as well.

In this car the front set was a bit like a sofa. There was no division between the driver and passenger seats and the gear shift was almost under the dash. The handbrake was on the driver’s side alongside the door. Having this wide seat meant that ostensibly five people could travel in the front and five could also travel in the back.

As my grandparents and my Uncle good-humouredly squeezed themselves into the back and my father began to push the smaller kids in beside them, I realised that I was either going to be stuck with my smaller brothers in the back alongside my chain smoking grandparents and uncle, or else I was going to be up front with my mother and the baby squashed up with my older sister and my driver dad. Neither option was appealing.

I asked my dad if I could travel in the box. He laughed at first as he refused, but I persuaded him that I would love it. I suggested that he could put something soft in it for me to lie on and this would allow for much more room in the car.

I remember dragging the Eiderdown cover from my parent’s bed and making a space in the back of that box and climbing inside with my favourite book at the time. I felt like the heroine in an Enid Blyton story as I prepared for my greatest adventure ever.

My father nailed a clear plastic tarpaulin over the whole box assuring me that I would have plenty of air to breath as he would leave a corner up for me. I wasn’t a bit worried, I was just thankful that I was alone in this box and not stuffed in the car with the rest of the family.

Throughout that journey my dad stopped frequently for toilet stops and to check that I was ok. Back in the 70’s driving to Kerry took about 7 or 8 hours and it was a journey that I will never forget. We all arrived safely and had a wonderful holiday, but alas my grandparents and Uncle Leo departed to Dublin after two weeks taking a train from Tralee. On the return journey back to Dublin, there was ample room for all of us in the car so I wasn’t allowed back in the box.

Life was certainly simpler back in those times and to even contemplate putting ten people in one car today would be enough for the Health and Safety Police to lock up my poor father and throw away the key never mind allowing someone to travel on the top of the car in a wooden box.

That was the sum total of my adventure and it was one that I will never forget, although my mother still says that I dreamt it up. She says that my Dad was too sensible to ever let one of his precious children travel perilously on the roof of a car. Memories like this are really cherished, as the freedom to make decisions was based on something that resembled common sense, and a young teenagers knowledge that she could wind her dad around her little finger.

Destiny can be about recognising how good the good old days actually were.