As the days lengthen, Tramore Beach draws lots of families with young children for some before-bed play time. Often you just see fathers and sons or maybe it’s just me that sees fathers and sons because when son, Harry, was young, he and his father used to go down to the beach and play hurling until it was beyond dark.
Hurling is a BIG sport in Co. Waterford and the beach is a great place for ‘pucking around.’
The other night I spotted this little chap with his father and I wondered if I will be cheering him on to All-Ireland glory with the rest of Waterford in a few years. Even if he doesn’t make the big time, I’ve no doubt that these nights will give him an enduring love of hurling, sea air and a sense of endless dusk that is part of childhood:
Sunday was special like so many of the Sundays of my childhood. We used to go for walks on country roads, just like the road from Annestown to Dunhill Castle, here in Co. Waterford.
Childhood walks were always fun, but now that I look back on them, I can see that our parents, more subconsciously than anything else, brought us to places that would be educational in all sorts of ways.
Mother had a passion for nature, especially trees and wild wildflowers and Father was very keen on history as well as landscape photography.
I didn’t really mean to go for a walk on Sunday but found myself in the little village of Annestown with swimming on my mind. My eyes were drawn, as always to Dunhill Castle, which is about two miles up the Anne Valley from Annestown. The castle has a long, long history, which is well summarised here. In short, the site stretches back to pre-historic times but the first castle was built by the hugely influential la Poer (Power) family in the 1200s.
The ruin that stands guard over the Anne Valley today is very imposing and it is intriguing to think that the castle and the remains of an old church and graveyard were once centre pieces of a whole village. It is also quite amazing to think that the sea used to flow right up to the Castle whereas now there is but a narrow river.
My walk on Sunday had me thinking of the battles that raged between the Powers of Dunhill and the City of Waterford in the 14th century, but it also brought me back to Summer Sundays when Mother would delight in lifting us up to smell honeysuckle, pick juicy blackberries, play with buttercups and daisies, climb gates, run through bracken, listen to grasshoppers, watch fish jump in the river, blow dandelions, pick long grasses and gently press the seeds to sail in the breeze …..
That road from Annestown to Dunhill has hardly changed since I was a kid and here’s how it was as I walked from the beach at Annestown up to the Castle and the ruins of the old church and back again…..
As a kid, having ‘flu had its attractive sides. The main memory I have is sharing ‘flu and a bedroom with my ‘big’ brother who was about eight. Mother was big into apples and decided to leave a bowl for us to graze on in our bedroom which was about a mile from the kitchen of the massive bank house, that was home then ~ 63 stairs from top to bottom.
We were pretty much on the mend and I offered to get out of bed and get us an apple each. Delighted with my new found energy, I threw an apple across the room to ‘big’ bro. He caught it very deftly and, of course, you know what happened next ~ an apple fight. Apples were flying across the room at a million miles an hour and it wasn’t until they were all behind the beds and wardrobe, that I noticed the holes in the wallpaper. Our room has been re-decorated shortly before and there was a thick foam backing behind the fancy floral wallpaper. I still have no clue what it was there for. Anyway, the stalks of the apples that I had flung with such abandon had left a jigsaw of punch-marks on the wall behind the beds. It was horrific, even to my six-year-old eyes and it all became more and more horrific as our parents arrived up the 63 stairs and saw the mess!
We were both deemed fit to go back to school a lot sooner than we wanted!
Well today, I lay in bed battling a relapse of the ‘flu and realising that wives and mothers don’t get a chance to fling apples. They’re expected to be producing something for supper ~ not just holes in the wallpaper!
The big consolation, though, came with reading this agrammatical poem from Langston Hughes, who is a big favourite of mine. In so many ways the messy grammar reminds me of the look of the wallpaper when we had worn ourselves out that day, way back when.
There is one Holy Thursday that stands so far out in my mind that I just have to write about it.
I was nine and we were living in Drogdeda, Co. Louth at the time. They were days, like now, when walks on the beach were everyday affairs. But that Holy Thursday the walk on the beach had so much more to it. Father was a workaholic, by any definition of that term, and the idea of him ‘knocking off early’ was unheard of. However, that Holy Thursday, at about 4 o’clock, we heard him racing up the stairs of the Bank House ~ it felt like three at a time ~ and he proposed that we all drop everything and go for a walk on Bettystown Beach and bring Beauty.
Beauty was the first dog we ever had. She was a Dalmation, given to us by Mother’s brother, who was a farmer who seemed to collect dogs. He said that Beauty ‘ just wants to be loved,’ and he was right.
Bettystown seemed to be as excited as I was. The sun was shining and casting the most delicious evening light on the rushes on the sand hills. Deep blue sea and the Mourne Mountains were keeping their distance which told me that there was no possibility of rain.
Beauty and I raced along the dunes; Mother and Father were chatting as they walked along the beach. There was a delightful combination of security and freedom. It was a feeling that I knew, as I ran with the soft breeze in my face and sand in my shoes, that I would remember forever.
Baking is in my genes ~ running down the female line ~ and the other evening when the Kenwood Chef finally gave up, I decided to make a sponge cake ‘by hand.’
Beating the eggs, I was back visiting my grandmother in Co. Meath, feeling that rush of excitement at being told to go out and collect eggs. The hens clucking in the haggard and my four-year old hand searching for warm eggs just inside the barn …..
I started school when I was five and Mother used to collect me at lunchtime on her bicycle ~ a big black bicycle that had been part of her life since she was a teenager. She would lift me onto the saddle and wheel me and the bike home. A quick change out of the school pinafore and down to the kitchen to help with the baking for the tea.
Now fold in the flower gently ~ sponge cakes don’t like rough hands.
Cakes rising in the Rayburn, me licking the last bit of creamy mixture from the bowl while Mother brushed down her flowery apron and got ready for ‘the pot-walloping.’
Pressing my finger on the hot, bronzed sponges to check if they sprang back saying they were ready.
Waiting the few essential minutes to allow the cakes to settle before turning them out onto the wire tray to cool.
Sitting on the tall kitchen stool drinking a glass of milk ~ yes, the creamy bit from the top of the bottle and peeling the paper off the two steaming sponge buns that had been made specially for me.