My Irish summer memories: 'The benchmark for a successful summer in those times was how much sunburn you could manage to accumulate'
Irish people share their summer memories from the 1950s through to the 1990s
Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30
Swimming in the sea, playing hide-and-seek in the fields, eating vinegary chips followed by dripping ice-cream… We all yearn to return to those endless days of freedom when adventure was afoot and the sun always seemed to shine. Here, some of the Irish Independent’s leading writers share their treasured memories of childhood summer holidays from across Ireland and beyond
It always seemed to be sunny during those childhood summer holidays (although sun cream was unheard of)...
1950s Liam Collins Longford
When I was growing up in the Ireland of the 1950s and 60s there was no such thing as a foreign holiday.
You went to your granny, somewhere in the country.
My father and mother would pack all five of us into the back of his Triumph Herald and, in our case, we'd set off for the townland of Graffogue, near Ardagh in Co. Longford. It was a traditional single-story country farmhouse and where we all fitted, I don't know. As far as I can recall, there were only three small bedrooms and nine of us to be accommodated.
We played with our cousins, the Farrells, who were around the same age as ourselves and lived about a mile away or with the Kellys (pictured, with Liam dead centre) who lived further away near Longford but would come calling when we were in residence.
We'd help, or more likely hinder, the hay-making which was done in the traditional way and made into cocks, which would go from green to golden in a day or two. In the midday heat, we'd sit under a Hazel tree and drink lukewarm tea and eat slices of brown bread and homemade butter, so salty we always called it 'country butter'.
There was another outing on the donkey and cart for a day in the bog.
Every morning we'd be sent to collect the eggs from under the roosting hens. I often tried to milk a cow, but could never get the hang of it. But mostly we amused ourselves, roaming in the fields, playing football, calling on our cousins or making a trip to McKenna's, the shop at the top of the lane.
My granny made Rasp, which was a Longford version of the more famous Boxty, which is a grated raw potatoes fried on a big black pan over smouldering turf embers. We ate well, but there wasn't much meat, except one year when the granny's dog Jack got so excited at our arrival that he killed a hen, which was promptly cooked and eaten.
Even then farms were dangerous places and my grandfather was terrified of me either trying to catch the donkey to ride bare back, or the big plough-horse, easy to catch but impossible to mount he was so big. I'd turn the hay barn into a slide and use the hayforks as spears in imaginary war games.
So eventually I was packed off to my auntie Irene and uncle Tim up in the Slieve Bloom mountains, where they thought I would get up to less devilment. With my cousins, the Bergins, I'd go swimming in the river, cycle off to gather apples from the orchards of the crumbling big houses in the vicinity, try to bait the Verchoyle's big bull down by the church, and ruin the corn by trying to catch the elusive Corncrakes.
It always seemed to be sunny during those childhood summer holidays (although sun cream was unheard of), but I'm sure it wasn't. But isn't that the way we always look back on the idyllic days of childhood, those golden days before the cares of age catch up with us.
Liam Collins is Opinion Editor of the Irish Independent
The benchmark for a successful summer in those times was how much sunburn you could manage to accumulate
1960s Frank Coughlan Cork
I don't do nostalgia and rarely browse through old snaps for the sake if it. But for this exercise I had to and it gave me a bit of a jolt. A bit like being ever so gently rear-ended by an old dear at the traffic lights. There I am. In 1963. So long ago, but only yesterday too.
I was all of seven, immaculately turned out by my mother for what was, if my memory is being honest, a day trip with my family and uncle, a priest home from Bend, Oregon, for the summer. My recollection might be less reliable here, but I think that must be Oyster Haven, not too far from my home in Cork city.
That was a particularly memorable summer. Uncle Bobby - or Fr Leopold, as his Capuchin brethren knew him - was a warm and gentle man home on his first holiday for nearly a decade and lavishing attention on a receptive nephew. Being the youngest of four children by seven years, I was quite adept at manipulating adults.
We didn't go away on a family break that year but when we did it was never far. In much the same way as many Dubliners didn't venture much beyond Bray or Courtown, Corkonians looked fondest on sand and sandals reliables like Crosshaven and Youghal.
I remember Youghal with particular fondness; its majestic prom lined with large, stern Victorian houses and an immaculate strand that stretched for miles all the way to Red Barn.
The benchmark for a successful summer in those less censorious times was how much sunburn you could manage to accumulate. Red raw won you respect, but the bulging blisters I harvested on my unprotected shoulders earned only sympathetic oohs and aahs.
I still remember them vividly. They're about the only painful summer memory I can summon up. Happy days.
Frank Coughlan is editor of Review
For two glorious weeks we threw off the limitations of a suburban childhood and experienced the joyous freedom of the country
1980s Yvonne Hogan Kilkenny
It's the freedom that I remember most. And the long hot days spent playing outside without an adult in sight. Long, hot, feral days that seemed to go on forever, and ended only when the hunger became unbearable and drove us back indoors in search of food. It was heaven.
Every summer for as long as I can remember, my siblings and I went to stay with my parents' best friends Liam and Josephine Burke in Co. Kilkenny.
My parents would drive us up from Cork and drop us off, and for two glorious weeks we threw off all the limitations of a suburban childhood and experienced the joyous freedom of the country with the Burkes. There were two of them and five of us. Catherine (pictured left, with Yvonne far left), the eldest, was the same age as me. Her brother James was the same age as my sister Niamh. There was my older brother Brendan and the two smallies, Mairead and Andrew - my little brother and sister who were seven and eight years younger than me.
Back home, the idea that all us siblings would play together was unthinkable. But in Kilkenny with the Burkes, we were a fast tribe. Like the Secret Seven, we would spend all day wandering through fields, up and down country lanes and, best of all, walk to the local river where we would spend hours playing in the water.
The freedom we enjoyed is unthinkable now, but those summer days are the most beloved and important of my childhood. We were expected to behave responsibly and we did. We looked after each other. And we returned back to our city lives closer and more confident for it. I'd pay any money for my daughter to have such wild, free, magical summer holidays like I had, but there are some things that money just can't buy.
Yvonne Hogan is editor of Health & Living
My granny brought us to the beach for the entire day. Every day
1980s Nicola Anderson, Wicklow
Ireland in the 1980s. The very phrase is supposed to conjure up images of a grey people living in a grey world long before excitement or even colour was ever invented. But, of course, through a child's eyes, it wasn't like that.
Growing up free-range alongside the oysters, the heron and the curlew on the rocky shores of south Co. Galway, our wonderfully patient mother would survive til the summer and then, with a certain relief but missing us already, pack us off to our granny's in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
From one seashore to another - but this one was as exotic as Morocco to us; with its brass ensembles playing on the bandstand, brightly coloured beach balls swaying from the little kiosks, and the heady mingled aromas of pink candy floss and somebody else's vinegary chips - always smelling mysteriously better than your own ever tasted.
My grandmother managed to bring us down to the beach for the entire day, returning for lunch and then back again for the afternoon session. Every day.
From her perch on the strand, she wrote to her children scattered in far-flung places, only interrupted occasionally by her scrambling to her feet with an agonised "Jesus, Mary and Joseph" in fear at our overly spirited antics.
I look at her now at the age of 89 and still only see the resourceful woman of 60, who made fragrant pots of raspberry jam, the most pillowy sponge cakes and who starched the church linens a dazzlingly improbable white. She spoiled us rotten and now she spoils my children. I'm very happy to let her.
Nicola Anderson is a news reporter for the Irish Independent
The spots we marked with an X - Sky Road, Dog's Bay, the Coral Beach, Omey Island - wouldn't seem out of place on a treasure map
1980s Pól Ó Conghaile Connemara
We were halfway up some threadbare mountain, wind pummelling us like punchbags, before my father finally broke out the meatballs.
Lighting a little stove between two flat stones, he stirred our lunch with a stick, taking what seemed like an age to warm it up. The tin cost a couple of pence in a local supermarket, but its contents tasted like Christmas dinner.
Back then, Connemara didn't seem like a revelation. As kids, we were lucky to enjoy home holidays in Cork and Kerry, alongside a few more exotic expeditions - a Brittany campsite, for instance, or the mix of fairytale castles, farm ice-cream and French street names on Jersey Island. All of our summer holidays seemed epic and all laid foundations for my lifelong love of travel.
As we grow older, however, memories shift and change. Big trips can become small. Single days out can become symphonies. And for some reason, Connemara keeps mushrooming as a holiday memory for me. Maybe it was because my parents honeymooned there. Maybe it was that dogfish I found on the beach near Renvyle House, or that kayaking adventure near the Killary fjord.
It wasn't exotic. But it cast a unique, and uniquely Irish, spell. Driving there, in an Ireland devoid of motorways, was a nerve-fraying ordeal - until the suburbs of Galway trickled out and the landscape started to reveal itself through makey-uppy-sounding placenames (Maam Cross, Oughterard, Derroura). The Mamturk Mountains rose up, and black-faced sheep were bosses of the road.
Then, as now, Connemara was as capable of hurling a storm in your face as letting the sun spill down on coves that could be cut from the Caribbean. The spots we marked with an X - Sky Road, Dog's Bay, the Coral Beach, Omey Island - wouldn't seem out of place on a treasure map.
I returned this April with my own wife and kids. We spent four days in Mayo and Galway, paddling at Mannin Bay, fishing with a ghillie at Ballynahinch Castle, kayaking with Delphi Adventure Centre. The weather ranged from spotty rain to whipping wind and the odd hour of dazzling sunshine. Apart from the meatballs, it was like I'd never been away.
Pól Ó Conghaile is Travel Editor of the Irish Independent
We bolted to the airport so our family could be reunited on the banks of the Rhine
1990s Emma Jane Hade Germany
Every summer - as far back as I can remember - my younger brother Gary, my mother and I packed our bags as soon as school closed its doors and we raced to the airport to board a flight to Germany. Ah Germany, the land of beer, rolling green fields, unusual meats… and my father, for a while.
When my brother Gary and I were younger, my lovely dad Luke spent many years in and around Dusseldorf working in the meat industry. We spent as much time as we could there but as soon as we became school-going age, our time became a bit more restricted.
However, as soon as the school bells chimed for the final time at the end of June, I ditched my bottle green pinafore and bolted to the airport so the Hade family could be reunited on the banks of the Rhine. And summers in Germany were almost exactly like you'd expect. Lots of bike rides, Käsebrot (cheese bread) for breakfast, spaghetti, ice-cream in our favourite parlour in town and barbecues in the pleasantly, balmy summer evenings.
A particular favourite was the time we visited Warner Brothers Movie World (pictured), where we saw Batman. The real Batman. That was also the first time we saw a real rollercoaster, and it definitely beat the waltzers in Courtown, which we had been treated to so often before.
And, if we were lucky enough to holiday there in December, Santa came to us twice.
Emma Jane Hade is a news reporter for the Irish Independent
The only real requirement for the hotel was that it had a 'Kids' Club'
1990s Kevin Doyle Around Ireland
Summer holidays meant shorts regardless of the weather, picnic baskets full of ham sandwiches and sharing a room with your family.
It seems funny now in an era when you can be in London within the hour that in the early 1990s a long trip was a drive from Offaly to Sligo or Kerry.
The car journey would go one of two ways: blissfully fine with a stop for ice-cream or blazing rows over the latest miniature version of Connect 4. Back then seatbelts were optional and there was no issue with putting four grown children in the back of a Renault 21.
We never went abroad. My father wouldn't have had the patience for dealing with Ryanair and I suppose looking back, with four kids, that was probably a wise move.
So instead we were like the World Cup - rotating between the Ring of Kerry, Yeats' Country and Bundoran. Never Cork: that was too far. Never the North: things were difficult up there at the time. And never Dublin: being from Offaly, we got enough days out there for visits to Croke Park in the 1990s.
Our family trips were usually in August and lasted three nights at most. The only real requirement for the hotel was that it had a 'Kids' Club' that would inevitably give out a T-shirt saying 'I'm A Winner' or something similar.
The weather didn't matter. The beach was an inevitable pit-stop. Bucket and spade… away you go.
Three days later we were packed back into the car and headed for home. Short and simple, but one heck of a way for a child to get good at Irish geography.
Kevin Doyle is News Editor of the Irish Independent
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