Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

I grew up on the Rush Road in Skerries. I remember our first address was 113 Rush Road until the council changed the address to Holmpatrick, some time in the seventies. Michael still refers to our estate as the ‘new estate’ because that’s what the Holmpatrick estate was called when it was being built in the early 70s. Before it became the ‘new estate’ it was known as the ‘Twelve Acre Field’ and originally ‘Dick Derham’s Field’.  I have a very old photograph, taken from the late 1920s or early 30s of my grandfather, Barney Duignan (on my mother’s side) standing beside a pilot in an old light aircraft in the ‘Twelve  Acre Field’. My grandfather was a young police officer in the early days of the Free State and he spent some years as sergeant in Skerries. He married my grandmother, Rita Larkin from Balbriggan in 1935. My mother told me how her mother remembered her and her family hiding in a ditch when Balbriggan was burned by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence in 1920. Little did my grandfather know, that some day into the future, a daughter of his would rear her family around the very spot where he was standing.   

White Wall beach at Holmpatrick

I have great childhood memories growing up on the Rush Road (or the ‘Twelve Acre Field’). Particularly of the Summers where we spent endless hours on the beach across the road. The beach and the cliffs were our playground. We made boats out of sand and sat in them until the tide came in and undid our all our hard work. But that was the fun bit. Or castles decorated with shells and feathers.  The moment just before their demise was always great because the moats we had dug were filled with water and the castles looked amazing. There were mud ball fights and even jellyfish fights (the little purple non stingers). And then there was the pursuit of the perfect mud ball. If you got the darker wetter sand further up the beach at the ‘sinky sand’, for the center of the mud ball and then layered it gradually, topping if off with the light golden sand, you could create the perfect spherical mud ball. As well as aesthetics, the mud ball had to undergo some tests such as surviving being rolled down the sloped bit of the sea wall. It was important that it performed as well as it looked.   My older brother Alan seemed to have the art perfected. (the artist in him I suspect).  

Our father was an expert whistler.  When we heard his whistle it meant it was time for lunch/dinner or just time to come home as it was probably getting late. We would often bury our prize mud balls for safe keeping. We would dig them up later or even the next day and with a bit of touching up they were as good as new.

One time we discovered that the sea had eroded under the concrete sloped part of the White Wall and you could squeeze in underneath.  According to my brother and his friend it was like a giant cave inside. I was too afraid to go in and much to my older brothers’ annoyance I blurted out about it over the dinner table. I could see the look of alarm on my parents’ faces at the thoughts of the wall collapsing on the little boys. The Council were brought in and they duly arrived with their cement to fill it in. It was a bit of a patch job because some years later a large hole appeared in the road in front of the house and you could see the sea water when you looked in. We were even on the 9 o’clock news! A much bigger job was required and the large boulders from the quarry were brought in at that stage along with the new footpath and the steps. I preferred the muddy bank but I was a realist. I didn’t fancy our house falling into the sea.

I also remember the foghorn from the Rockabill lighthouse. The fog could arrive on a very hot day and clear up as swiftly as it arrived. One day I went swimming with my friend and the fog came down suddenly. The tide was half -way out and much to our shock a large seal came up out of the water right beside us, looked at us and gave a loud snort out of his nose. I remember us screaming and running frantically only to find that the water was getting deeper, not shallower.  It took us a while get our bearings and make our way back to the beach in the fog. I still remember the seal and the feeling of panic to this day.  But I really miss the sound of the foghorn.

The cliffs also provided hours of entertainment. One Summer my older brothers and their friends had a gang which they called ‘The Wallys’. (don’t ask- it must have meant something else in the 70s!). At first it wasn’t open to female members but obviously the boys were forward thinking and they allowed a few of us in once we passed certain tests. Myself and two of the girls managed to pass these pretty grueling tests, which was no mean feat. Tests included climbing up a steep part of the cliff and also jumping off and sliding down. There was also the test where you were tied up with ropes that were staked into the ground. You had to escape in a certain time. I think it was a minute. Not everyone passed but once you were in there were benefits to being a Wally! The kudos for one. Also we had influence. Cyril and Clare McGloughlin, our neighbours, owned the delicitessan in Skerries and their kids were proud Wally members too. They kindly provided French baguettes one day when we were having a picnic in our front garden. We had set up a couple of tents for the occasion. It was the first time I had ever eaten or even  seen a French baguette. It was the real deal. It even had poppy seeds on it.

When we got a bit older my siblings along with our friends would venture further afield. We would go to the island and climb the Martello tower. Or we would walk along the beach as far as the waterfall (it wasn’t much of a waterfall really) or to the Devil’s Chair.  Do you know that if you go around the Devil’s Chair three times at midnight the Devil will appear to you? We weren’t brave enough to try that one out. But it’s true. We went to the Smuggler’s Cave of course and I remember squeezing myself through the loop you could do inside. That was scary enough but when I think about the time (on one of our rare trips inland), we walked along the top wall of the tower of Baldungan Castle, I still feel weak at the thought. One wrong move and we were gone. I knew better not to tell my parents about that one at the time. I often wonder how we all survived. Thankfully Baldungan tower is blocked off nowadays.

Often my father would take us out to Shenick Island to catch crabs. He has some gaff hooks and he knows all the crab holes both on Shenick and at Red Island.  I remember him leaping from rock to rock with us following him. He would sometimes put his arm in up to his shoulder to catch a particularly stubborn crab.  The younger kids would be left propped on a rock if the going got tough only to be collected once the bucket was full.  It was very precarious. He only stopped catching crabs a few years ago but my youngest brother and my middle son have inherited ‘the knowledge’ from him!  

His dressed crab is delicious and gives his great friend and neighbour, Cyril, a run for his money with regards his dressed crab recipe.  Sadly Cyril passed not long ago. Cyril was a great supporter of our plans for the Rush Road. Luckily for the people of Skerries Cyril’s son Conor has kept his recipe going.  If you go to the Farmer’s Market at Skerries Mills on a Saturday morning you can buy the best dressed crab in Ireland. (well maybe the second best!!).

There’s no doubt that Rush Road in Skerries was a great place to grow up. We were very lucky and I think we knew it even back then.  My Grandfather Barney went on to become a Chief Superintendent in the Guards. He was an utterly decent and honest man. I miss him very much and I often wish he was here today. I’ve no doubt he would have some good advice to give us……

Sergeant Barney Duignan at the Twelve Acre Field c.1930

Those Who Walked the Land

About seven months ago (or maybe longer) I was lying awake at about three am. My mind was racing.  It was a time when we had a bit more hope about keeping our planning alive because we were, or so we thought, about to sign a deal with another funder which would allow us to move forward and go back in for planning. Most importantly we would get our home and the land around it, out of the security. However, just like numerous other deals that came before that, they pulled out at the eleventh hour because a planner advised them to. (That happened a few weeks before Christmas). 

I couldn’t get back to sleep that night and didn’t want to wake Michael up because unusually he wasn’t awake and to be honest, it is a rare occasion that we get a full night sleep. So, I decided I would make myself a cup of tea and go out and sit on the deck for a bit. It was a cold night and I was wrapped up in a big blanket.  The tide was fully in and I could hear the sea. It wasn’t roaring as it sometimes does when it funnels in between Lambay and Shenick Island.  It was a gentle lapping sound. It was pitch black too but I was conscious of what was out there…. the islands and the Rockabill lighthouse beyond. 

I grew up looking out at Shenick Island. Of all the islands it is my favourite. It’s the boss. It’s monumental. The other islands seem to fall in line behind it. Now, a modern-day planner might take issue with the Martello Tower, describing it as “Visually Intrusive’. They probably would have refused planning permission. But I like it. I missed Shenick when I lived away from it and I don’t know how many times a day I look out at it. Depending on the tides, the light and the time of day, the view is never the same. I never tire of it.

It was really peaceful out on the deck in the darkness. I was thinking about the land of course but for a change I was thinking about the people that lived there long, long before we ever walked this earth. We had done an archaeological study as part of our planning and I was fascinated to learn that what we had a Bronze Age Industrial site on our land. I was thinking about the glamping we were hoping to do in front of the house and how it would be great to echo the Iron Age villages in our design. I was wondering about these people, what they looked like, how they lived. They would have lived a very tough existence. 

As part of the archaeological study a series of test trenches were dug. The test trenches and the imaging unearthed a circular ceremonial type enclosure on the upper field and some fire pit remains. On the lower field there are remains of a large rectangular Fulacht  Fiadh – a large pit that was lined with stones, filled with water and heated by hot stones. I’m not a historian so I’m open to correction, but it was explained to us that this would have been used for dying skins and cooking food. The archaeologist explained that, just as you wouldn’t want to live in an industrial site today, the Iron Age people’s homes were probably located on the flatter ground where I grew up and where the Holmpatrick Estate is today. (better not mention the National Planning Framework’s plans for Industrial Estates so!). He gave me a lovely flint scraper (the archaeologist). I love flint. Michael got our friend Ed Cook to make it into a necklace for my birthday. I love the necklace. It’s my lucky flint!!

Flint Scraper by Edward Cook- Wayland’s Forge

I once thought I might study archaeology just as my uncle and grand uncle had done before. During the heatwave in 2018 there were great archaeological discoveries made thanks to the dryness of the earth. I thought I would have a go at it myself. I discovered a circular shape just beside our field in the Nun’s Field and I was very excited by it. I showed the Google Earth Image to my father and he said two words; Fosset’s Circus!  We got a good laugh out of that. Of course, that was where the circus tent goes every year. I think I should leave the archaeology to the experts. 

So back to sitting on the deck in the dark. It got me thinking about how insignificant everything we were going through is in the greater scheme of things. That we are only really borrowing the land. (Mind you at that time I thought it would be for a bit longer!)  But I felt close to those souls that came before us. It was very peaceful and I slept well afterwards.