Life’s a beach, if we allow it to be


Kate Kerrigan

MY SUCCESSFUL single working girl friend from Dublin was squeezing me in for a flash 36-hour weekend. I took her on a looking-at-scenery spin. Showing off my quiet scenic life to the city girl, with her sushi bars and art galleries and ‘barista’ lifestyle. Reminding myself why I lived here. I threw a few sandwiches and a flask into a bag and we headed along the North West Mayo coast.

We drove straight through Ballycastle village and headed along the cliff-lined coast towards the Ceide Fields interpretive centre. The squat, round building advertises the prehistoric field—the oldest sign of farming in the world. The interpretive centre itself is an impressive piece of modern architecture, compensating somewhat for the fact that the fields themselves are just—well—fields. Beyond them there is a dip in the road and a sharp right turn at an old hunting lodge that had not been used for all my life certainly.

For years this uninhabited Victorian style building on the side of the road on the side of a cliff looked eerily occupied, exuding a solid, confident beauty with its pointy Victorian roof and ornate awnings. Driving past I got a shock because the roof has gone and it looked like skin and bone, just another derelict house. I felt sad because, one of the great things about the scenery on this coastline is that it doesn’t change.

Every time I explore the remote corners of this coastline I think about moving even further west. How wonderful to be this far away from everything. Then I remember, I used to feel like that about Killala until I actually moved there. You take life, and all its craziness with you. I have the sea outside the window of my own house, but somehow, I see it without really looking.

Gripping the wheel along a narrow road we took right turns in forks in the road and a trickier-to-spot right turn a few more miles down through the seemingly never-ending barren boggy mountains. Down here is my favourite place in Ireland—possibly the world—Portacloy beach. I took my significant Dublin boyfriend for a picnic here on his first trip down ‘Wesht’ more than 20 years ago. Now we’re married.

Portacloy (above) is a beach in a small cove, flanked on either side by high hills that are not foreboding enough to be called cliffs. It is always deserted with white powdery sand and smooth, white and grey pebbles at its rim. Dotted in the hills around the beach and looking directly down on it are a scattering of houses, which, for me, just adds to the mystery of the place. I suppose we are not that far from the buzzing or busy town of Belmullet but all the same—this seems like a thoroughly remote place.

The beach looked beautiful with tiny waves simmering in from the Atlantic. We found a corner and, starving after the long drive, opened the flask and sandwiches. I remembered the last glorious day here. Leo built a sandcastle and I made sausage sandwiches on the camping stove. When was that? Oh God—I realised—the Teen was a small child! Could it be more than ten years since I last came to ‘my most treasured place in the world?’

“You are so lucky to have all this on your doorstep,” my friend said. I smiled smugly and passed her a sandwich. “Sorry it’s not focaccia,” I said, sarcastically.

She smiled back and hungrily dug into the ham on white pan. Suddenly, I felt bad. Here I was bragging about my life amid the landscapes of North West Mayo, having picnics and walking barefoot on white sand, when this wasn’t my life at all. My life is wiping countertops, writing and school runs. It is played out in the car park of Lidl not along the remote beaches of the Wild Atlantic Way.

“Are you jealous?” I asked my friend. “Desperately,” she said. “Don’t be,” I said. “I haven’t been on this beach for 10 years. I spend every weekend supermarket shopping and cleaning.” “I have never been to IMMA [Irish Museum of Modern Art],” she said. “I spend all my time at work. Cleaning my kitchen is actual recreation.” We sighed and looked at the sea. “Well you’re here now.” I said. “So are you,” she replied.

As much as we would hate to live each other’s lives, we could also make our own lives better. Right there and then we made a pledge. She would visit IMMA before the end of the year and I would come back and spend at least one more day of this summer, on this beach—possibly with each other.

Visit Kate Kerrigan’s website for a free downloadable book, The Lost Garden, video readings and podcast links and a weekly newsletter than can be downloaded and printed off for senior citizens who are self-isolating to enjoy