Friday 13 December 2019

Billy Keane: 'I'd love if dad was here with me ... but I'm sure he's still walking on water'

'The meek waves were licking our toes like a puppy. The sea was barely fidgety. Toddlers splashed in the shallow, warm rock pools.'
'The meek waves were licking our toes like a puppy. The sea was barely fidgety. Toddlers splashed in the shallow, warm rock pools.'

The sole topless woman among the thousands on Ballybunion beach was discreet. She togged off at the cliff face, near the Black Rocks. I'd say the topless one must have been at this carry on for a while. She was tanned all over.

Isn't it amazing there was only the one? On continental beaches the women throw off the tops with the abandon of a young lad discarding his schoolbag on the first day of the summer holidays. Could it be the lingering scent of incense and the compulsory dress code of holy orders is still with us? I doubt it. No one takes any notice of strict clergy these days.

Most likely the cover up is down to the fact everyone knows everyone in this land of zero degrees of separation. And you'd be a bit shy baring your boobs to the next door neighbours.

Sunshine, buckets and spades, sandy ham sandwiches, football when the tide was out and the breakers taking the legs out from under you.

That was Ballybunion on Saturday and that was Ballybunion in the long ago when I was a boy.

They came in their thousands. From places as far away as Nenagh. A 70 mile drive with constant are we there yets and 'Dad, stop I think I'm going to get sick.' But it was worth it all.

Poet Brendan Kennelly loves Ballybunion. He took a house on the beach nearly every summer

It must have been about 10 years ago on the last fine day we had in Ireland. I met with Brendan at the water's edge.

The meek waves were licking our toes like a puppy. The sea was barely fidgety.

'Will you look at it?' said St Brendan, pointing westwards. 'And not a furze bush between here and America.'

That's why the inlanders come here. For the infinity.

I met mothers and fathers searching for lost kids in the throng. It's impossible to pick out your own, with the children galloping off madly in every direction and all the kids in the same colour swim suit. But they all came back.

The strong May sun was burning but the cooling sea breeze would fool you.

A Chinese family took shade in a cave.

A new mother pushed a three -wheeled pram through the sands with great effort. It was a workout and a way of getting the baby to sleep for a few minutes.

The toddlers paddled and splashed in the shallow, warm rock pools of The Women's Strand.

There's an eroded metal plate cemented into the cliff face in this place where 20 years ago a father and son were lost. Say a little prayer when you pass their memorial for the McCarthy family from Clare.

The Men's Beach is divided from the Women's by a castle and a cliff. Some mad priest, maybe his name was Ted, ordained men and women should be segregated in the name of decency.

My 95-year-old mentor Maurice Stack told me of those days of cover ups when 'a finely turned ankle would put a man in a bother all day'.

The Nuns' beach was reserved for the nuns. In the old days the nuns were covered from head to toe in layers of heavy black cloth. Catholic purdah. Maurice told me of the shrieks when the waves hit the sister's midriffs as they looked out on The Virgin's Rock.

It's a tricky cliff scramble down to the Nuns' beach. The steps from the convent on the cliff have been washed away by time and tide.

Young lads jumped from five metres into a natural sea pool where the nuns used to bathe. Their good looking girls were wearing bikinis. One of the girls was lifted and thrown into the pool by her friends.

It was home time.

The shop next to the world famous seaweed baths was sold out of ice cream. An old man sat on the steps wearing a cardigan, long black pants, a white shirt and a tie. Latecomers ran in case the weather would change or the water would dry up.

Yes, Bally is still the same.

My first memory of this place is of my father lifting me up on his shoulders and running into the water. I was sure he could gallop across the ocean to Clare and my toes would barely tickle the top of the Atlantic.

Tomorrow will be the tenth anniversary of his passing. I'd love if he was here with me in Ballybunion, but I'm sure he's still walking on water.

I wandered back along to the car, thinking of him. Lost in thought, I took the long cut home, trying to remember Dad as he was in his prime, but I just couldn't bring the pictures up in my head and it made me sad.

Then, on the lawn of a house just in from the cliffs, I was the only spectator at the most beautiful game ever played.

Maura Sean JD was playing croquet with her daughter, Joanne. "How will I describe Joanne?" I asked Maura.

"Just say she's the most special person ever. Loving and caring. My beautiful 37-year-old baby."

Joanne barely moved the croquet ball with the mallet. Then, after many gentle taps, she finally put the ball through the hoop.

Maura embraced Joanne and I knew, for sure, it was my father who sent me this way.

Irish Independent

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