Sunday, June 13, 2010

Memories of Mammy on a Childhood Beach

Yesterday, around lunchtime, myself and a visiting friend in need of some cheering up decided to go for a short drive out of the city to the coast. He had never been to Portmarnock and I had spent many summers on the beach there as a child - so off we went.

Portmarnock is a long, quiet beach just north of Dublin and my mother and I used to spend the long summer school holidays out there together in a little caravan that my father had built with his own hands in our back garden in Ballyfermot. He did it as a special wedding anniversary present for Mammy who of course was the love of his life and whose eventual passing away nearly twenty years later had caused Daddy to entirely lose his mind.

It was decided that Portmarnock was the ideal spot to semi-permanently park the caravan. It was the village where Mammy had grown up as a child and young woman. It had the perfect beach, upon which Daddy [on a day-trip out from 'dirty Dublin'] had met my mother and wooed her with the offer of a Jersey Cream biscuit and a killer 1930s movie-smile.

The beach at Portmarnock also has the most gorgeous view of Ireland's Eye, an enormous rock/small island, and the place Daddy chose to propose marriage during a romantic picnic on a large comfy blanket while As Time Goes By played on the transistor radio.

Actually the shape of its silhouette against the silvery horizon has come to be forever etched on my own mind. Having sat on that beach as a child with Mammy for what seems to have been a thousand sunny days; Ireland's Eye, being the main thing to look at out to sea, hypnotically left its imprint. As I looked out at its comforting, familiar shape yesterday with my friend-in-need-of-space-and-time by my side chatting, I recalled an afternoon in the 1970s when a beautiful, dark, young man's dead body was laid out on the beach. He and a macho mate had dared eachother to swim out to the island for a bet, and he had tragically lost everything - his friend had to drag his lifeless body back to shore [I remember how he howled his grief into the wind and vomitted pints of bottled Guinness into the sand by his best buddy's corpse].

Then a stream of memories began to flood into my mind. Many happy times featuring myself as a young boy and my mother in her early 50s.
I vividly remembered one day when Mammy took me into the water's edge to get me used to splashing about and trying to swim a bit too. I had a very clear image of lying in the shallow waves kicking my legs while Mammy pulled me along by the hands, our eyes locked in a reassuring gaze.
I remembered that there had been many many such days spent together, just the two of us in the caravan because Daddy worked in Dublin from Monday to Friday and only joined us at the weekends.
I also remembered happy night-time walks - all three of us - from the caravan, along the seafront, up to the Martello Tower, and back again to our little nest where we devoured beans on toast and cups of tea before bed-time.
I even recalled the three of us singing songs to eachother from our beds through the darkness before falling fast asleep.

Just then, while still sitting with my friend overlooking the long stretch of Portmarnock Strand before us, I suddenly realised it was June 12th.
It was my mother's anniversary and she had been dead exactly 23 years - the same number of years I had shared my life with her before she passed away in 1987.

On our way home, we drove back through Portmarnock village, now quite a built-up suburb of modern Dublin. I pointed up the little laneway off the main road to where Mammy had lived as a young girl. The old bungalow, called Suncroft, of course long gone to make way for something bigger and better with all 'mod cons'.

Then I went to pay homage at the patch of land where all the caravans used to be and although it was sad not to find any there, I rejoiced at walking across what is now a natural habitat and nature conservation zone, complete with protected birds strolling about and an outrageously festive carpet of wild flowers.

It was like the whole universe was conspiring in that one instant to celebrate my mother's life in a blissfully vibrant chorus of Happy Anniversary, Kathleen! You really knew how to love and cherish your young son ... And he you.