I’M a merry class of a man by nature and inclination. It takes a lot to bring me down. It happens very seldom.
I have maybe one genuinely sad bad day every two years. When it comes, it is very bad indeed.
There is no sun and there are no stars and no bright light anywhere. I am deeply down. And when that sad day comes, I get into my car as soon as I can and drive to the sea alone.
The bad day came on Monday morning, and I drove away out to Loop Head on the Clare coast and arrived there in Kilbaha at the end of lunchtime.
There was a grey shower of rain when I parked. There was mist on the face of the Atlantic. Keating’s Bar and the houses around it had their gables hunched against the wind. You could not see the sky.
What happened was I had a phone call from Dublin to tell me that one of my best friends had dropped dead the evening before. He was only in his fifties, still the life and soul of all the parties, healthy as a trout before it happened.
I was shocked in body and soul. It was as if a bit of my own self had died. It was that bad.
You make a few friends in your late teens and early twenties, friends forever, that you do not ever make again. They are a select band, those with whom you scatter your wildest oats and deepest dreams.
In later years you meet up again only rarely, but take up the thread exactly where you left off, maybe two or three years before. They are special those friends, and this one was very special indeed. He was a wild boy who grew up into a great and settled man, husband and father, model citizen and workmate.
On the way to Loop Head the windscreen was wet with rain, and most of the way my face was wet too.
We Celts are a strange breed. I think our capacity to love and celebrate and hate too is matched only by our capacity to grieve for those lost. Is it very Irish or just an individual kink that all of my painful memories came back on top of me on the road to the sea?
I sorely missed my mother, my father, my late wife Ann, my sister Maura, all that I had loved and lost. I grieved for them again.
I wanted, like a child, to be hugged and comforted by my own mammy. I grieved for my lost youth, for all the merry wild nights I'd spent with my friend, for just about everything that was great in the past.
When you are normally merry in nature maybe the sad day hits you harder. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Ireland has such a frighteningly high male suicide rate, one of the highest in the world. I was nowhere near there last week, but ye know what I mean.
I learned years ago that my serenity can be regained if I go to the sea and sit on the shore and just switch off and tune in to the unending tides of all our lives. And that is why I put on my coat and hat, even though it was still raining a little, and went out and sat looking over Kilbaha Bay.
And I wept freely for my friend and for myself and probably for all the pains of the world as the gulls screamed over my head, buffeted by the wild airs, and the Black Paddies streaked thin quick lines over the incoming waves, and the surf shushed in the rounded stones around my shoes, and Kilbaha endured another hardy day with all the stoicism that hangs around coastal towns on the west coast like a gabardine coat.
An elderly couple came walking from the direction of the pier, leaning against the wind. As they came beside me the man looked sharply at me, stopped, and asked, "Are you alright my friend?"
I nodded my head and said I was. He still hesitated and I added, "I'm just grieving for a good friend". He nodded back, satisfied I was not a hung over drunk I suppose, and said, “Okay my son. Keep safe," and went on his way.
He had an English accent. As they walked away the rain stopped and my first non-selfish thought of the day was that he was a gentleman. Imagine that just that brief exchange broke my dark mood. Indeed we are a strange race.
I looked at the sea for 15 minutes, mind nearly blanked out, and the waves came in and the waves went out as they have for a million years, as they did on the day I was born, as they will on the day I die myself.
The stones groaned or whispered. The tide was going out. I thought of the Little Ark in the chapel behind me and the enduring force of the mighty man that inspired it against all the odds.
I told ye that story before, didn't I, about the Kilbaha parish priest called Michael Meehan back in penal times, and how he defeated the cruel local landlord Marcus Keane, a Protestant proselytizer who would not allow a Catholic church be built on Loop Head.
But Father Meehan commissioned local carpenter, Owen Collins, to build a box on wheels which became the Little Ark. Each Sunday from 1852 onwards it was wheeled out on to the No Mans Land created on the strand by low tide, and there the mighty priest said his Mass, and baptized them, and married them, and said their requiem Masses.
That Little Ark is still preserved in the chapel behind me, sitting there at a low tide in my own life.
Yes, it stopped raining, the sea soothed me, you still could not see far out to sea but there was more light, a soft glowing light in a peaceful place that slowly infused my spirit and brought me back to a better place.
I swear that one lark rose straight up from near me, despite the breeze, and I could hear her sing. I felt simultaneously that my backside was getting sore and that I could do with a hot coffee and maybe even (taking a small chance) a ball of malt to fortify me for the trip home.
As I stood up the scales of that sad day fell away from my shoulders into the sand. It might sound cracked, but that is the way it was.
I was as sound as a pound for the rest of the day...