By Liam Nolan
We started school on the same day, two nervous little boys at the end of a sunny summer. We remained friends into manhood. The friendship ended in 1968, when Patrick was killed in the mysterious Aer Lingus Viscount crash in the Irish Sea.
But all through the long sun-filled summers of boyhood, when the tar used to melt on the hilly roads of the terraced town as well as on its sea level main street, we wanted June, July and August to last forever.
The scoops of ice cream in Dick Nick’s glass dishes had ‘razza’ (raspberry cordial) running in red rivulets over the whiteness. For us they were the best treat in town.
We went on walking picnics to Cuskinny and Whitepoint, and occasionally to the Bush Field. There we played cowboys and Indians around the spiky yellow-as-dandelions clumps of furze bushes.
At the marsh in Cuskinny we lay on our bellies and pushed our model yachts out from the bank of the stream as we tried to get them to actually sail. We never succeeded. The summer breeze was always too mild, and the hulls were too heavy.
For boat picnics we rowed to the strand at the sea end of The Valley, and boiled kettles on a small fire hemmed in by big stones. Sometimes we rowed to Paddy’s Block in the narrow channel behind Haulbowline, or all the way out to Crosshaven where Pipers swinging boats and bumpers and merry-go-rounds sparkled and belted and blared out recorded music into every pale summer evening. Searching for sea life in the tide pools around French’s and Black Point gave us wondrous innocent hours of discovery, and sunburn on the arms and legs and face and shoulders.
Sometimes Patrick and I would climb over the street wall of Pres College’s garden, or the decaying house called The Anchorage, and slock (steal) apples off the trees, and hairy-skinned gooseberries (goosegogs) off the bushes. “We must remember to tell that in Confession on Saturday,” Patrick said one day. “But the Anchorage apples are owned by a Protestant. Surely stealing them isn’t much of a sin.”
When the shoals of mackerel came into the harbour, chasing the sprats leaping and swirling against the quay walls, we’d get bamboo rods, or brush handles, and fishing line and hooks, and drop the baited hooks into the feeding frenzy. We pulled wriggling fish after wriggling fish out of the water. The town smelled of frying mackerel for days, and in the end you couldn’t give them away.
When the regatta was held in August, the trains brought hundreds, maybe thousands of people from Cork into the town. Shawlies sold fruit and bars of Cadburys chocolate and bottles of red lemonade off makeshift tables along the seafront. Three-card-tricksters bamboozled gullible gamblers.
The Butter Exchange Band oompahed along The Beach to the Pier Head, and the Number 2 Army Band performed in the bandstand in the Prom.
And later there were the fireworks sending great gouts of colour and brilliance cracking and swooshing into the night sky. It was magical.
As the pop song of later years said: “Those were the days my friend/We thought they’d never end…”
But one June evening Patrick gave me the biggest fright of my life. The red navigation buoy in the channel halfway between the slip at White Point and the western tip of Haulbowline was a constant challenge to him. A few of the fellows from the town rugby team had been known to swim out to it, climb up on the deck, and rest before swimming back. Patrick determined to copy them.
“There’s a riptide out there, Patrick,” I said. “And those fellows are older and bigger and stronger than you.”
“Feck it,” he said. “I could do that.”
And so one calm evening he put on his black swimming trunks and made a racing dive into the water. I watched nervously as he began to swim straight toward the buoy. An ebb tide was rushing down the harbour. The further out from the shore Patrick went, the stronger the current, and it was soon pushing him off course.
“Patrick! Patrick! Can you hear me? Come back. Come back, Patrick!”
He kept going. His head and kick splash and arms became harder to see, made smaller by distance. Eventually I couldn’t look any longer. I sat down, head in hands, and prayed, and cried.
When I finally looked up, there he was, away out in mid channel climbing up on the buoy! When he arrived back at the slip and came up the steps on wobbly legs, he said, “There you are, langer, I told you I could do it.”
When I think back on it now, a song Sully taught us in 6th class comes to me. Patrick loved that song. It was, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’.