My youngest aunt turned seventy last year. She was out walking when I rang to say Happy Birthday.
We reminisced about when I was eight and was allowed to stayed up late for her 21st, held in her house (which was also my dad’s childhood home) near Moycullen.
I reminded my aunt that my brother and sister and I never went to hotels or holiday camps as children, and that our annual holiday was the fortnight we spent every August with our aunts and uncles and grandparents.
“It was our Butlins and you were our Redcoats”, I told my aunt.
“Oh”, she said, hesitating. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you very much.”
My earliest memory of my grandparents’ house is of us all sitting in front of the range in the main room that opened directly onto the steps outside. My great grandmother was there as well, so I must have been under the age of three, my age when she died.
The range burned turf for heating and cooking. Four rooms opened off the main room: my grandparents’ room and my aunts’ room on either side of the range, a scullery at the back of the house, and the parlour on the side opposite the range. Another door opened into a hallway at the back, off which my uncles’ bedroom and a place for making butter were located.
When we visited from County Cork each August, my two aunts slept on a big couch in the main room and we holidaymakers had their room.
There was no electricity in the early days, so I fell asleep to the glow of an oil lamp that cast comforting shadows.
I could hear the murmur of adult voices from the main room just outside, and I would try to keep my tired eyes open to hear if my name was mentioned or if anything was said about where we might go the next day, for most days brought a trip to somewhere exciting, whether it was visiting other relatives or going to the beach at Salthill or Furbo.
There were also trips to the bog to help with the turf and the odd day in the fields opposite the house, where we’d help out with the hay, and where I learned to ride the small brown pony.
In later years, my grandparents built a front porch that kept the outside winds away from the main room, and the view from there on still, blue-skyed mornings, across the fields and the bog towards the local school, was like a picture postcard.
In the other direction lay my favourite view of the Clare Hills and Galway Bay, and at night we could see the lights of cars winding their way down faraway Corkscrew Hill.
It wasn’t all plain sailing of course. At some point during the holiday I would succumb to a tummy bug, and midway through the second week came the ominous trip to Galway to buy clothes, and maybe a school bag, for the new school year that was just a week or two away.
But even this city trip had its compensations because it was usually rounded off with a visit to Woolworths, where we’d buy sweets and the odd Enid Blyton or Three Investigators book.
As the years went on, we would also visit Galway for a week and a half at Easter, and for family weddings. Our last holiday on that farm was in August 1978, but it was only the last one because we had been given a site below the farmhouse and would be moving up from Cork to build our new house there a few months later.
I remember a windy evening when we marked out the site and imagined our spacious new abode. As we made our way back up to the farmhouse, my grandad was waiting on the front porch, declaring it the “best holiday ever”.