May 30, 2005
Ballybunion, Mens to the left Ladies to the right. Castle in the middle.
Every summer from way before I was born until I got to about 12 my family summer holidays were a month in a rented house in Ballybunion.
Ballybunion, BallyB as we called it must have been quite a fashionable resort in the fifties.
It had two magnificent (if not exactly swimmer friendly) beaches ; “Mens” and “Ladies”, a world famous golf course situated among the dunes, an amusement arcade to cater for the non golfers, a cinema, a terrific and scary cliff walk, a nearby fishing village called The Cashen where you could buy fresh fish, in fact it had everything and more that a summer holiday needed in the fifties.
This was you must remember before the days of cheap travel to the continent. My parents had gone to Rome in ‘53 by liner from Cobh, a trip that took them several days and involved them in things like Deck Chairs and Quoits.
Not having any comparisons to make we didn’t realise how the miserable the weather was and were contented, well reasonably contented, with the Irish version of summer. It was often cold and wet.
Shivering on the beach aged about 6
I have a very clear remembrance of reaching the end of a month in BallyB and realising that we had not had one sunny day for the entire month.
Not that that stopped us doing the usual summery things.
A Seaside image (also about 6)
We swam every day. In Ballybunion of course it wasn’t exactly swimming. The waves came directly from the Atlantic and, to my under 10 year old size, were enormous. You went into the water (“Don’t go out over your knees”!) and waited for the next wave which went right over your head. This meant no agonizing inching into deeper colder water, acclimatizing each bit slowly as you went, it also meant that as long as you were in the water, ducking and leaping the waves your very energy kept you from freezing over as the icy Atlantic breakers enveloped you.
Over time of course we developed various strategies for dealing with the immersions.
We were, let me immediately admit a privileged bunch.
The whole trip to Kerry itself was only made comfortable by tapping into this privilege.
Rental houses in seaside villages in Fifties Ireland wouldn’t have been fitted out as our comfortable homes were.
My Father was director of a large manufacturing /wholesale warehouse called Dwyer’s in Cork. Consequently he was able to commandeer various things to make our lives comfortable.
A day before our departure to Ballybunion a large truck from “the warehouse” arrived at our door. This would be manned by a workman who would regard it as a mini holiday and always entered into the spirit of the occasion. This truck would be piled high with those Sine qua non which might be unavailable in the summer house. I remember a fridge being packed, huge quantities of tinned foods which mightn’t be available in the provinces, and presumably extra beds as we always brought several friends with us this is as well as my 6 siblings and my parents and Eileen our house keeper and at least one further maid. Possible rarely fewer than 12 or 14 of us. Now my parents would drive down in their cars but the real treat for the journey would be to get to go down in the van. This was definitely where the most fun happened. This was the conveyance of choice of the maids, who could and did flirt with the van drivers all the way down, and this was also the conveyance of choice of the children because we knew that we be allowed to sing our Ballybunion song all the way down.
We rented, for most of the holidays, the same house in Ballybunion.
This was Number Five Clarks Lodges. The song which we sang incessantly was the name of this house followed by Ballybunion County Kerry. We went through the whole alphabet chanting this monotonously by changing the first letter as we went. As in “Aumber Aive Alarks Alodges”, etc and on to “Bumber Bive Barks Bodges” etc etc. The dear lord knows how any adult retained their sanity listening to this tribal chanting during the several hours it took us to get down there in the van.
But furthermore I remember both Eileen and the van driver (the name Dan comes to mind?) chanting along with us on the trip and that was of course why we fought hard for the privilege for being in the van.
Once we arrived in BallyB there were the friends to meet again. There were other families like ourselves who came down for a month every year.
My older brothers and sisters remember the Bincheys from Dublin, one of whom was later to immortalise the place in “Echoes”. We were especially friendly with the Kellehers, who ran a private school in Kanturk, so friendly that my eldest sister ended up marrying one of them. I also remember the Nash’s from Limerick and then of course there were our own cousins the Staveacres from Derbyshire who brought some public school glamour into our lives.
As I say we were a privileged bunch. As I also intimated we also found ways and means of surviving the cold of the compulsory daily swims.
I must confess to a slight blush as I remember this but our indulgent families used to permit us to get into our “Togs” in the house. Then, wrapped in our towelling beach wraps, they would drive us to the beach.
There, leaping and hollering, we would run towards the water, discarding towels and wraps as we ran, plunge into the waves, and, having made the necessary and healthful ozone immersions, run back to the cars , gathering wraps as we ran only to head home for hot baths to get the blood re-circulating and the sand off our feet.
Do I remember this? Just about. I don’t think it struck me for an instant what a spectacle we must have made of ourselves.
Years afterwards I met someone who told that they remembered me from that time. They remembered huddling in the cold on the beach when we would make our triumphalist onslaught on the strand.
By this time they could no longer remember if envy or loathing was the principal emotion they felt watching us.
I think loathing would have been the fairest.
When I got to twelve or so our family holidays would have been coming to a close. I was after all the youngest of seven and by that time the majority of the family would have been at or near school leaving age.
I didn’t go back to BallyB until a few years ago when I made a brief sentimental voyage. The weather was just as I remembered it. Grim.
The town had certainly disimproved but probably by less than most resorts which were fashionable in the fifties, due no doubt to the effect of the famous golf course which been at this stage matched by a second similar one nearby.
I can’t say I felt any temptation to stay longer than a few hours.
The memories are however very sweet, I can still draw great nostalgic sighs from any of my family by crooning, “Cumber cive clarks clodges Cally cunion county Cerry”>