BEFORE little desert islands off Africa ever peeked their heads over our horizon, there was a time in Cork when going on your summer holiday meant a trip to the seaside, maybe an exciting bus tour to Kerry, or a train ticket to Paradise via Dublin Zoo.
Anyone who wanted to go further afield had to consult Barter’s on Patrick Street for advice on continental rail times or the occasional European flight connection.
Flying was a rare luxury. If you flew from little Cork airport to London, you were either a serious businessman or on honeymoon. For everyone else, journeys off the island meant the Innisfallen to Wales.
For hundreds of children living in England’s metropolis, the summer holidays meant coming joyfully in the other direction, being welcomed off the boat down on the quays by country relations and carried off to a month of running wild amid fields and hedgerows, growing strong on farm milk and veg, storing up experiences for the long winter ahead back home.
How lucky could you be, they must have thought, to live here all year round?
For Corkonians, Youghal, Crosshaven and Robert’s Cove were ideal day outings, Youghal of course by steam train. This service was packed on summer weekends, with crowds pouring on to the long beaches, picnicking, taking a pony ride, or visiting Perk’s amusement park.
Robert’s Cove had little in the way of such facilities, and you could only reach it by bus or car, but it had a lovely gentle beach with the added bonus of long cliff walks up on either side.
Big factories would organise day trips here for their workers, where they would eat their fill from packed baskets on grassy slopes and then dance the Hokey Cokey until it was time to climb back on the bus and head home.
Young couples would lie in the bracken and listen to the afternoon match on the transistor radio, as children made endless castles in the sand and tried unsuccessfully to hold back the tide.
Crosshaven was one of the first places to witness the growth of holiday homes, thanks in great part to those huge Ford boxes in which car parts were shipped to the factory here.
Whoever first thought up the notion, it wasn’t long before everyone who knew the form was bidding for one of these ideal ‘some DIY required’ structures, which could squash in an entire family for the whole summer.
Many of those original boxes still exist down there — if not the actual timber, then the shape and site on which later and more permanent homes were built.
Mothers would bake massive ‘bungalow cakes’ beforehand to take down, and even cycle up to the city at intervals to buy fresh supplies of meat from O’Donovan’s in Princes Street.
Fathers often had to stay in the city during the week to work, but hurried thankfully down on Friday evenings, to relax over a pint outside the pub while the music of the ‘merries’ drifted over the bay and children pleaded for tuppence to buy chips.
Back then, this writer fervently envied those who spent the summer in Crosshaven. To play all day on the rocks and shore, then in the evening fall asleep within sound of the sea, knowing you would wake up tomorrow to more endless fun — that was heaven, surely. But we didn’t have the kind of father who thought such things desirable or even acceptable. Cousins, yes. Some well-to-do ones used to enjoy the summer at a rented cottage down beyond Clonakilty, strewing their bedroom there with shells and seaweed and hanging out their swimsuits to dry. Wonderful!
But Pa Kerrigan had different ideas. From toddling age we were hauled out to climb steep mountainsides, explore shipwrecks on threatening rocky coastlines, pr take marathon treks across the hills.
The wettest week on record was spent camping in army surplus tents — the kind that scorned waterproof groundsheets or such luxuries as camp beds — by the lakes of Killarney — this was before the national park was created and such things forbidden.
Oh, how we yearned for nice little Ford boxes in safe Crosshaven, like ‘normal people’ enjoyed.
The camping trip that sticks most in my memory though was to Loo Bridge on the Cork/Kerry border one July. We parked by the side of the road and walked across the bed of a dry tributary to a nice campsite on a grassy island. It rained all that night. Monsoon conditions.
Next morning, it became apparent that not only were we all wet through, but even getting back to the car would be a problem as a raging torrent barred the way.
Pa, of course, was delighted. This was meat and drink to someone who had spent his own teenage days cycling across Europe, sleeping under bridges, happily enduring hardships that beat the harshest military training. He pulled on his drysuit (how come he happened to have that with him, but not groundsheets?) rigged up a rope across the torrent, and organised us all to cross with the baggage and soggy heavy tents on our heads. We were not amused.
The thing about holidays back in simpler times was that you didn’t go far and you didn’t expect much. A cheerless Youghal guesthouse where a stern landlady measured out the porridge. Sand in the sandwiches on Crosshaven cliffs. Singing on the way home from a day out. Seeing the wonders of Glengarriff, Bantry, even Dingle from a bumpy tour bus. Boasting about a train trip to Dublin and the delights of the zoo, maybe even a Knickerbocker Glory in Cafolla’s on O’Connell Street. Did you bring back a stick of rock?
Can an anonymous concrete hotel on a harshly dry island far away really compete?