Fixing a moment in time
It was Thursday August 4th 1966, my first full day in Kilkee, County Clare. Those who know me or my blog will know that this small seaside town in the west of Ireland has a special part in my heart – but, until that August day it didn’t.
I had arrived there for the first time the day before. My mother, a widow, put great store by good holidays for her only child; in the previous half dozen years we had been to Spain, Holland, France, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal – I was well travelled for a fourteen year old, especially in the 6os.
Unfortunately, our Wednesday afternoon arrival in the town was not auspicious. Clearly my mother had felt I was ready to enjoy an Irish holiday, but frankly, I doubted it. Looking out into the evening from the dining room of the Hydro Hotel, peering through the rain lashing the windows, I could see that the tide was out, and the crescent shaped Moore Bay was a flat desert of mud and seaweed. I wondered what we had come to.
However, next morning the sun was shining and after an amazing Irish breakfast, my mother settled with a book in the Hydro grounds and suggested I go off ‘exploring’.
Later, I would realize that part of the joy of these holidays would be the almost complete freedom I had, to go where I wanted, and do what I wished.
This first morning I headed down to the sea wall and looked over at the strand. With a blue sky and a high tide, the bay looked magnificent. There was a game of racquets going on below me on the flat sand, the white painted seawall providing an alley. For the first time I inhaled what is probably the most redolent scent of my lifetime: seaweed drying below, the aroma drafted upwards by the heat and the onshore breeze. I can smell it as I write.
Over the years, I have recognized there are two types of good Kilkee days. One has high blue skies, a stiff breeze and leaves you exhilarated with salt on your lips and skin. The other, as that Thursday was, is altogether warmer, and the heat rises off the beach, the sea wall, and the pavement, and acts like a warm bath. I turned left and headed towards the corner where the road and the seawall swung sharply to the left.
As the road climbed through the west end of the town, the sandy beach below was replaced by rocks, and at the corner, the rocks stretched out into the bay for about 30 yards. Fascinated, I climbed over the low wall and started to investigate the rocks, the pools, the plants and the bay ahead of me. I was following in the steps of thousands before me, becoming fascinated by Kilkee’s symbiotic relationship with the marine life around it.
I didn’t know then that writer Ryder Haggard had carved his initials on one of the nearby rocks when he had visited Kilkee. I didn’t know that Tennnyson had stayed at the Hydro when it was Moore’s Hotel, nor did I know that Charlotte Bronte had honeymooned in the West End Hotel, just behind where I was ferreting about in the rock pools.
Indeed I knew virtually nothing about Kilkee, and especially, I had no knowledge that the area where I was exploring was called Edmond Point, and that it was called thus because of the wreck of an emigrant ship, the Edmond, on these rocks in a foul storm on November 19th 1850, with the loss of 98 lives.
But I did know I was happy.
I’m not sure why I have such perfect recall of that Thursday morning, though it’s possibly because it was my first experience of a town I came to love. For all that, Edmond Point is not one of my ‘special places’ in Kilkee. I doubt I’ve been on those rocks more than a couple of times since. The Diamond Rocks, George’s Head, the wall above the racquets alley or outside the Strand Hotel, Egan’s old Bar, the Arcadia cinema and the old Hydro Ballroom would certainly be higher on my list of favouriite spots and memories.
However, what the memory of that morning does bring me is a strange ability to re-capture my 14 year old self. In my mind’s eye I can see myself, intent on the rocks and pools, squinting in bright sunlight, self absorbed in a way that perhaps an only child can ever really achieve. I can recall the thoughts, the wonderment at the teeming life of the rock pools, the tranquility of hot sun and sea air; the equilibrium offered by a life yet to experience adult concerns and worries.
It is somehow comforting to recapture, if only fleetingly, the calm and happiness of that morning when life was still very much ahead of me. I imagine many people can use holidays in this way: an opportunity to date and capture a moment in time, your familiar self set against an unfamiliar, promising and exciting background.
It’s not nostalgia – I don’t want to be that boy again, but the ability to recall how he was – his demeanour, his approach to the world, how he felt about himself and his life – is reassuring and provides a kind of continuity.
I think many people use childhood holidays in this manner. Certainly reading the Kilkee Moments album (https://www.facebook.com/KilkeeMoments) and seeing so many family pictures, suggests that for so many people, Kilkee certainly fulfills that need: fixing a moment in time, building on it, and using it for perspective.
I suspect, and I hope, that boy is still somewhere inside of me. I know he probably still haunts the rocks and pools of Edmond Point, and I’m pleased to report the happiness he experienced then has been maintained. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge the gifts that life has given you – and one of them, for me, is Kilkee.
It was 46 years ago today…….