At some point during my mid-teens, my family started to holiday in Waterville, on the Ring of Kerry. We’d load up the car for the six hour drive from Edenderry, and for a week in August the four of us would, if the weather permitted, drive out to Derrynane for long days on the beach, and evenings back in Waterville where it took little convincing to get Daddy, otherwise tee-total and very pub-shy, to come with us into Mick O’Dwyer’s pub where he could look at all the Gaelic football memorabilia on the walls. One year, my friend, Niamh, and her boyfriend joined us, and we got up to all sorts of devilment – and I still have the photos to prove it. Our last family holiday to Waterville was in 2004, when Daddy had been diagnosed with cancer and had only a few more months left to live. My godmother, Catherine joined us that year, on what was a poignant and emotional holiday, as we all knew it was to be our last as a family.
These fond family memories is one reason why Derrynane is my favourite beach. Perhaps my fondest memory is of the time I was rescued by an over-zealous black Labrador. I didn’t ask to be rescued, or need to be rescued, but I suppose it speaks volumes for my swimming style that the Lab thought I did. There I was, having a leisurely swim in the calm sea when the Lab came splashing into the water from the beach, his owner shouting at me “He won’t hurt you. He’s just trying to rescue you”. And sure enough, he swam straight for me, gently took my wrist in his mouth, and led me back to shore. If I wasn’t in danger of drowning before my rescue, I sure was during its execution, as I lost control from laughing so much. The Lab deposited me on the beach, and returned to its owner with a look of “See…I rescued another one” on its face. The owner was profoundly apologetic, but I assured her I didn’t mind, and indeed had found it a rather pleasant experience.
All of this is by way of explaining why I was so eager to bring my husband and daughters to this wonderful beach. Down a single track road, that passes the home of one of our great nationalist leaders, Daniel O’Connell, the golden sandy beaches resting at the bottom of rugged grey mountains. At the western end of the beach, a series of small islands are accessible by foot across the golden sands at low tide. The largest of these, Abbey Island, contains the ruins of an old abbey, and even today the dead are carried across the sand at low tide for burial in the island’s graveyard. The water here is always calm, sheltered and warm, and ideal for swimming.
So we spent two days there, the four of us playing on the beach, swimming in the water, and enjoying soup and toasted sandwiches at the pub up the road.
Our sail to Derrynane took us past the islands the Cow, Bull, Calf and Heifer, near the entrance to the massive Kenmare Bay. From one side of the bay we couldn’t see our destination on the other side (it was a misty day). Kenmare Bay – and Bantry Bay which we visited a few days later – is rich in marine life. As we sailed along, on one of the most enjoyable sails so far, we watched masses of gannets dive bombing the sea for food, fulmers swooping low, and other birds I unfortunately couldn’t name. And where there are lots of seabirds feeding, other animals can’t be far behind. And sure enough, we were soon joined by a large pod of common dolphins, leaping out of the water around our boat, and riding on our bow wave. At one point I saw the fin of a shark in the water. Alas, I don’t know which species, but it looked like it was feeding. On our return journey back across Kenmare Bay a couple of days later, Julian saw a fin whale, but he didn’t reveal himself again.
From Kenmare we returned to Bantry Bay and a few nights on a mooring buoy in Castletownbere. Lily had her stitches removed and we bought some locally produced sausages. From there we sailed up Bantry Bay with more gannets and dolphins keeping us entertained on the passage. We met my mother in Glengarriff for a couple of days. But Glengarriff deserves a post all of its own.