Castles in the Air

‘I’ve made that sandcastle. What do I do now?’ I was three years old and sitting on Blackpool beach. Sand got between my toes and I did not like it. Sitting on a beach did not thrill me either. It was summer holiday time and for once, instead of going to Ireland to visit her mum, my mum and dad decided to do what Lancashire folk always did – go to Blackpool.

 

Every summer the working people of Lancashire were given two weeks holiday that they spent beside the sea. They went off in droves by train to Rhyll, Colwyn Bay, Prestatyn, Southport and Blackpool. They had worked beside each other all year in mine, factory and mill, and now they holidayed together in the amusement park and the promenade and the beach, at fish and chip shops and pubs, and local journalists followed them to take photos for the paper which were published when they got back home.

 

My mother often laughed and quoted back to me my disillusioned comment about sandcastles on the beach. That one visit to Blackpool was enough for us. We never went again. We had a far better place to go to and so every year mum saved up the money and come holiday time off we went to Mayo on a great adventure that involved train and boat and train again and which carried us to the far side of Ireland, where to our delight we discovered that we were not in some strange land at all. No. We had come home and the people we met were not strangers but our own beloved cousins.

 

The place itself was a wonderland of mountain, river, lake and moorland. We lived on a farm with animals. We played games out in the wide air all day long and we ate the freshest food I had ever tasted and we smelt the incense fragrance of turf fires burning. Rashers and egg, bacon and cabbage, boxty and tea and warmed by a fire, our days were spent in pure bliss.

 

In adult years I have travelled all the roads of Mayo and seen for myself the cliffs and the beautiful beaches where you can walk for miles at the world’s end. On those beaches there are no promenades or shops or amusement arcades. Who needs them! There is all the beauty of nature in green hills and orange and yellow sand, and rolling waves and the sound of the sea.

 

On that western coast there is a place called Fahy and an old ruined castle called Doona. Spanish soldiers of the Armada came ashore here after running aground in the bay. I visited the place with my mother one time. It was better than any sand castle I ever made on Blackpool beach, and I am eternally grateful for the blessing of my family roots that allowed me to visit the far reaches of Erris in my childhood days.

 

Brian Fahy

14 January 2023

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