Long long ago, back in a decade of purple shiny leggings and crimped hair, I survived the 90s. As a child. It was tough. But children can be forgiven for 90s fashion. They didn’t know any better really. And photos were less rife then, thank the lord.
As this was before the days of broadband, or even the world wide web via dial up, we had nothing better to do than to frolic about outdoors. We had some good days! But the best would be the ones at the beach. Without a doubt.
Generally the whole of the locality would end up heading over on sunny days. You don’t waste sunny days in the west of Ireland, believe me! Into the baking hot car we would leap, with a 12 pack of Cheese and Onion Tayto and a big bottle of TK Red Lemonade or Country Spring Orange (Once in a blue moon we got coke, but generally that wouldn’t happen unless it was a special occasion). The beach was about 30 minutes away, but if memory serves me correctly the trip to the beach took a minimum of 4 and a half hours, 5 if you were extra excited.
But eventually we would arrive, and jumping from the car while it was still moving, we sprinted off to the sand with a bucket and spade, stripping down to our swimsuits whilst running at top speed. You would fly by the one kid who was hopping about on one foot, tangled up and whimpering whilst tugging without success at the leg of his trousers. Mothers would jog along after their children, catching flying cardigans and shorts as they were thrown off carelessly by the offending urchins, and squirting sunblock at any child they got within 5 foot of. They’d wave briefly to the other mothers they passed on the way, most of whom had deposited their offspring in the water by now and were headed back up toward the dunes to set up the towel and have a rest before, dripping and sunburnt, the monsters would return – hungry, thirsty, sandy, and ready for a 5 minute break with a bag of crisps. Then it was time for the dunes.
Oh the dunes. The best thing was hopping off the sandy banks on the dunes onto other sandy mounds. It was immensely exhilarating for the few seconds right before you jumped. There were different ‘levels’ of sandy banks. The easy ones were about a half metre high to jump off, they gradually got higher as you progressed to the ones that were actually 18 foot high.. They really were. They were! I mean.. Perhaps I’m exaggerating just a tad..But you had to work your way up to those ones anyway. They were guarded. There would be a big kid, towering above the rest of us standing guard, with a boorish face and folded arms, at the little hill that led up to the bigger dunes. He was generally incapable of intelligent speech, hired for his brute strength and ability to grunt threateningly. There were no shortage of these lads around the west of Ireland. But anyway, you couldn’t just go up. There was a password, two secret handshakes and a set of IDs that had to be provided. If you got the password wrong you would be swiftly executed as an example to the other skinny children standing about, trying to catch a glimpse of the legendary ‘level 10’ banks. Those dunes.. those were the dunes dreams were made of. Dreams and broken legs. How I longed to just peek off the edge of one. (Later in life I did climb up to those dunes. It was oddly satisfying to look down from the top and realise that I…I had made it.)
But I digress. The dunes were great, with little kids roaming around and jumping out from behind grassy banks and such. But there were days that you were on a strict dune-related mission. For example, one bright and sunny summers day, some little neighbour children and I decided the most productive thing to do that day would be to dig a hole to Australia. Naturally we were better off starting on top of the dune. Instead, of course, of starting 10 metres lower on the beach and thus probably marginally closer to Australia. So we set off to work with some perfectly flimsy plastic spades measuring about 3×5 inches. We had a mission. We were not to be distracted by kids flying from random banks or running around screaming at the top of their healthy-sounding lungs. Nothing would stop us in our task.
We worked in teams. Whilst one team dug their little hearts out, the other rested quietly on the sand, conserving energy, preparing themselves mentally for the challenge that lay ahead. Then with a shout from the overseeing officer, the resting team would leap to their feet with alacrity, and the active team would lay their tools down and catch their breath. As I remember, and I think we know by now my memory is nothing if not accurate, we dug a hole about 400 metres deep that day. But the parents would call before we made it quite as far as the other continent. Another few hours and I was quite sure we would have been sitting on Bondi beach, chatting to kangaroos and taking to surfing as if it were walking.
When we were not in the dunes we spent most of our time in the water, that cold and glorious uisce. Now the whole layout of the beach has changed in recent years, and waves aren’t great anymore, but back in the day they were bloody massive! We would be lifted right off our feet, basking in the fearlessness of young children and screaming with joy at the pleasantness of it all. One day in particular there were absolutely huge waves and one of the boys kept waving at the waves coming in and shouting ‘Big Wave!’ and having giggling fits. I believe my cousin Amy was present at the time and still remembers the incident with fond bemusement.
When we finally lost the sensation in our legs due to the cold water we would drag ourselves to base camp- a towel or rug on the sand, shivering slightly and famished, to be wrapped up in a slightly sandy but fluffy and warm towel, put sitting down and supplied with some kind of edible substance such as Hang Sangwiches (Ham sandwiches to you non rural folk) and a flimsy plastic cup of orange. What you ate was 60% sand and 10% salt, but that other 30% never tasted so good! And sand is lovely and filling anyway. Occasionally a club milk would magically appear from a deep pocket and you would look into the face of this magical adult with complete gratitude. Often you would be overcome with emotion and unable to voice your thanks, but it was generally understood by mammy or daddy or neighbour mammy or daddy. You’d sit in silence, munching on the best tasting bar of chocolate you’d ever eaten, and prayed that the sun would be back tomorrow, because really you never wanted this to end.
As they day drew to an end and the chill began to set in, you and 4 lb of sand and another half lb of shells collected at some stage during the day and dutifully stored in the trusty bucket would be hustled into the car and you would set off for home and a good warm bath, followed by treatment of 3rd degree sunburn that you would suffer with for days. But snuggled up in your bed that night, unable to move with sunburn, you would drift off to sleep completely content and blissfully happy. Those were the days!