Then and now
Despite having travelled across the globe and back since then, those summers on Dinesh remain my most treasured holiday memories. For children, particularly, I think the appeal is that islands feel contained, the world seems manageable and if they’re small enough you can get to know them in intimate detail. Danny and Molly, my pair, have already seen the Maldives and the Cyclades, Sardinia and Sicily, but I’d hazard a guess that the best fun they’ve yet to have will be exploring the island setting of my youthful adventures. Now there’s a plan for next summer.
My parents own a ruined bothy on the last of the islands that run west from Carraroe and, as soon as school finished, my brother, sister and I would be packed into the back of my Dad’s Renault 4, and we’d set off on what was then the overnight drive to get to Dinesh. The long drive concluded with the family clustered on the rocks opposite the island, praying that the youngest resident of the island, Johnny Loftus, would hear our hollering and row across and fetch us. Of the three diminished families still living on the island, not one of them had a phone.
Once we’d finally enticed Johnny to row across in his black Curragh and rescue us, we would walk the half-mile to the cottage with our rucksacks, pitch the family tent and settle in. My parents had huge ambitions for this tiny cottage, none of which ever came to fruition, so every summer we camped in the field next to it; their obvious frustrations failing to impact on our fun.
The holidays sped by as long balmy days left to our own devices; killing giant crabs with sticks for dinner; trying to catch our nearest neighbour at his poteen, brewing up the liver-busting local brew; and batting off the livid nesting birds who lived on the giant rocks. Long before terms such as ‘Staycation’ and ‘Glamping’ became all the rage, we were handy with a primus and used to performing our ablutions from a bucket drawn from the well.
I may be only part-islander with my Norwegian, Scottish, English, Danish gene-blend, but surrounded by sea is my natural habitat. Whether it’s Manhattan or the Maldives, Zanzibar or the Hebrides, my favourite destinations have all had one thing in common, they were invariably isolated by water.
Apart from our move from Norway to Ireland when I was six, I didn’t travel abroad until a girlfriend enticed me to Greecein my late teens. Instead, every summer we would set off west from Dublin to the wilderness that is Connemara. If you haven’t visited, you must; it’s a wonder of the world, a county built on peat and granite, scattered with rare wild flowers, moss, and tough springy grass. The coastline is jagged, low-lying and exhausted from its beating by the Atlantic.