Growing up in 1990’s Ireland meant that I grew up in a country that was on the periphery of economic explosion, the infamous ‘Celtic Tiger.’
I was born on a summers day in 1989, the ‘baby’ of the family, I always asked questions and always at the most inappropriate times.
I like to think I had a budding journalist within me, even as a four-year old.
Summer vacation in my house usually entailed a trip abroad and extended weekends in Ireland’s coastal counties.
One recurring vacation that sticks out in my mind now as a 25-year-old is the horrendous car sickness en route to my mother’s aunt's holiday cottage in Rosscarbery in West Cork.
My mother’s aunt had been a nurse during World War II and traveled as far off as India during her career.
I always wondered how she came to own a holiday home in West Cork? I asked my mother in my later teenage years and was told that, while she never really lived there, it had always been her dream.
That’s the thing about dreams, sometimes the fantasy is in fact better than the reality.
It wasn’t something I thought about too much at the time, as I was usually too busy asking my parents a million and one questions as we traveled the windy coastal road to Rosscarbery. They were usually ridiculous questions that only a four and five-year-old would consider, mostly the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ of life.
Also, the car would have to be stopped on several occasions for my ‘car sickness,’ which thankfully I grew out of.
Now I wonder was it all in my imagination? Perhaps it was from refusing to put down my copy of ‘The Famous Five’ and continuing to read the whole way that made me sick as I turned six and seven.
I was fascinated by the adventures in these book and wanted to recreate them in West Cork.
Arriving in the west always fascinated me. Thinking back now it's the obvious it was the allure of the ocean and boats, as I am a midlands boy at heart, growing up in Co Laois far from the seashore.
West Cork represented a haven of beauty, with its rugged coastline and surrounding countryside. How could it not capture a child’s imagination?
Arriving at the cottage I still remember asking my father after the long journey, "When are we going home?" It really does just take a child to test a parent's patience, but my father always smiled and said with a wink, "You are home son."
My brother, who was almost six-years older than me, was at the ‘cooler’ stage where he liked to be outside cycling on his own and meeting the other children on the road.
The West Corkies always greeted us with the ‘Hi Boy’ in the strongest accent. Of course, we were a like foreign species arriving in from Co Laois to the house where only family members showed up a couple of times a year.
The house had all the mystery and allure of an old woman’s holiday home. Strange pictures hung on the walls and the bedrooms fascinated me. Trinkets from far off places my great aunt had traveled to lay on book shelves and, of course, as the youngest I was always warned not to touch or to break anything.
In reality, it was my older brother they had to worry about as he always swung a hurl on his way out the door.
My fondest memories of the long weekends we spent in West Cork, are of the playground down the road from the house.
It had the most magnificent slide I had ever seen, so tall and daring. Of course I was told I was too small to go on it, but always one to love a challenge when my Dad wasn’t looking I wandered over to the ladder and climbed up and with a swish down I went. I would not be outdone by my older brother’s stunts.
That was the thing – I was daring and willing to explore. It seemed to be a safer Ireland then, where adults let their children out into strangers' gardens to play without worrying about anything sinister lurking.
When we weren’t killing each other my brother and I would play outside the house and run down the steps that led to the house. One mysterious wall we never dared to cross was the one that separated our great aunt's house from her neighbor.
I can’t remember her name, but the distinct smell of perfume still lingers.
Looking back now she was a sweet old lady who had never married. She was a ‘spinster,’ a term I learned later in life from my Grandmother.
She would invite my parents in for a glass of sherry, from the best glasses of course.
She instilled fear into us children because that’s we were told to never to talk to strangers, especially if they are offering sweets.As I recount tales of my West Cork adventures, sitting in a cafe in Greenwich Village in New York, I suddenly realized that I had so many questions about those holidays and that house. So I picked up the phone and rang Ireland to ask my parents more questions.
My mother laughed, "20 years later and you’re still looking for the answers just as you did on those long journeys to Rosscarbery."
I was told I loved running through the playground, that I was a small, energetic child who never got tired.
Sadly, with the passing of my great aunt, the property was sold and so ended a tradition in our family of cousins running amuck in the streets of West Cork.
When I make my way back to Ireland this summer I plan to take a trip to a place that holds so many memories for my family. I want to see what happened to the old houses and to see if, perhaps, that magnificent slide is still standing there, all shiny and bright.