My father was a civil servant in Dublin and on summer holidays he wanted to get as far away as possible from his boss who lived on our estate, in case he was called back to work over the break. We loaded everything into the car and drove the mammoth day-long journey to the other end of the country, arriving exhausted in the dead of night, waking to the mystery of new surroundings in the morning.
In the cottage in Skibbereen, my father slept in on Sunday mornings while we children got up and ran about by ourselves. He sent us into the village to buy the paper. When we came back, he grabbed us and rubbed his itchy-scratchy face against ours. It was great, we loved it. Ugh! Then we had a cooked breakfast.
One morning we got up early and left the cottage. My mother came out shortly afterwards searching for us up and down the lane but we were gone. The next thing was, she looked out at the lake and saw the three of us out on the fishing boat in the middle of the lake with Bob, the farmer who rented us the cottage!
She must have had a heart attack seeing us on the lake with no life jackets or anything. We were very young at the time; my youngest sister must have been about two or three. Bob might have had a drink problem because the next year he wasn’t around. Maybe that was why we were so bold when we returned the following year because we missed him.
We sat in the dirt for hours gorging on the strawberries in the fields then we couldn’t eat our tea. We threw stones in the barrel for the potato spray by a wall at the back of the farm. The new farmer complained to our mother who gave out to us for throwing stones in the spray.
I enjoyed throwing the rocks in the barrel competing with my middle sister, to see who could make the biggest splash.
I used to wonder why the farmer complained to my mother or ‘ratted’ on us, as I would call it later, but we were wasting the spray – it was no big mystery.
We didn’t bother coming back the next year.
The place wasn’t as well kept and my mother didn’t want us around the ‘bad influence’ of a drinker.
Dad must have liked West Cork. He probably visited when he moved to Cobh with Una after they got married. The MOD transferred him from Dublin to the naval base on Haulbowline Island, which was how I ended up being born in Cobh general hospital and baptised in Saint Colman’s cathedral, although we returned to settle in Dublin six months later.
On hot days, we drove to the seaside in Dad’s powder blue Vauxhall Viva, the hot leatherette of the car seats uncomfortably sticky on our bare legs, hurtling past the blooming hedgerows of ivy, fuchsia and lilies, bustling with vibrant avian life.
The grassed-over potato beds and hard-working gorse on the hillsides, testified to our troubled past.
Swallows swooped and darted as we followed the track to the beach, deserted except for German tourists horse-racing in the surf.
There we set up camp for the day, swimming in the sea or hunting in the rock pools for fish abandoned by the departing tide and other marvels wonders of that underwater world.