Memories of Clontarf. The Beach by Maeve Edwards

30 Oct 2013

Thank you to Maeve Edwards for submitting this lovely story of nostalgia. Maeve writes "Memory pieces" (from the 1960s) on Clontarf for Ireland's Own magazine and is presently in the process of compiling them into a complete work.

The Beach

The two most beautiful words in the English language, according to Henry James, are “summer afternoon”,  and spending a summer afternoon in your favourite place, must surely rate as one of life’s greatest pleasures. 

It is also said that when you get older you should go to places where your history is,  where you know every pebble along the roadside,  every tree along the way;  be with people who know you and where you come from.

I am lucky, for I’ve never moved very far from the place where I grew up and the friends I had then are the friends I have now.

Not four miles from O’Connell Street on the Northside of Dublin lies Bull Island,  with its famous wooden bridge, its pristine white sand, its dunes of marram grass, its spectacular views of Howth Head and Killiney.

It was here on this jewel of a beach that is called Dollymount Strand that I spent all of my childhood summers.

Back then on a summer Sunday, the whole of Dublin seemed to head  for the coast.  Convoys of Morris Minors, Vauxhall Vivas, Volkswagon Beatles, or  Ford Anglias  would trundle across the wooden bridge and come to a halt close to the sand dunes.   Then, all four car doors would open simultaneously and out would pour a medley of children, a mother and father, a baby in a bonnet, and a family dog.  The mother of the family would spread a rug on the side of the car facing the sun and settle herself down with the Sunday papers and a few cushions taken from the armchairs at home; the father would take up pride of place in his deck chair near the car radio on the driver’s side so he could hear Micheal O’Hehir’s commentary on the All Ireland.  Up and down the beach, other families were setting up home in a similar fashion.

We children would change into our elasticated swimming togs, blow up our rubber rings and run at top speed for the sea.

Tentative steps were taken at the edge as we guaged its coldness, but on Dollymount, the tide went out so far and took so long to come back in again that on a summer afternoon, it was nearly always warm.  Joy then when the tide was due in around 5.00 o’clock and we’d spend hours playing ball at the edge of the waves as it made its slow progress forward, teaching younger siblings to swim and digging large holes for the baby to sit in.

After an hour or two, the cry would go up from the children. “When are we having our picnic?” and eventually the primus stove would be lifted out from its cardboard box and pumped energetically to get it going.  Soon the tea would be made and we’d clear the rug of sand and set out the plastic beakers, the bottle of milk, two large parcels of sandwiches wrapped in sliced pan wrapping, hard boiled eggs, cold sausages and, for afters, a jam swiss roll.

Nothing tasted so good as that first bite into a moist, slightly soggy, tomato and onion sandwich washed down with a beaker of warm sugary tea.  To this day, the taste of tomatoes and onions brings me right back to those sunny Sundays sitting on the red tartan rug, with my mother leaning against the car door, my father in his sandals  a knotted handkerchief on his head, my brothers and sisters so young and browned with the sun, and all of us filled with the delight of a day out on the beach.

As the sun set in the west, and we’d tired of leaping off the dunes, burying each other up to the neck in sand and had eaten up every fragment of picnic, our mother would call us for the journey home.  We’d rub the sand off our bare feet and pile back into the car, grumbling that we weren’t ready to go home just yet.  The baby, his cheeks flushed from the heat of the day, his small hands sticky with jam and engrained sand, would nod off on our laps, as we headed home.  The dog, pleasurably exhausted, would lie under our feet contented with a life that allowed him run free.

My memory always plays tricks on me nowadays as I walk along Dollymount, which today proudly flies a Blue Flag.  Is that my sister at the tide line digging a sandcastle just like the ones we used build,  a seagull feather gracing its turrets?.  And that golden brown baby splashing in the warm shallows, is he my brother?  I can hear the cries of the children leaping from the dunes as I walk, and all of it warms my heart.

Copyright:  Maeve Edwards