While on a break in Donegal, James Fagan revisits snippets of his childhood and what exactly makes happy memories
Mountains, beaches, sunshine and rain. Hills, strands, pubs and golf courses. There are many places around the world that have all these things, yet to me there is only one place that truly captures their essence: a small little area on a quiet little peninsula in north-north-west Donegal, called Rosapenna. It has been a regular holiday destination throughout my childhood, be it in rented cottages or – if we decided to push the boat out – a weekend in the hotel.
I’m back up after almost three years, and the change is noticeable. There are more houses, more developments and changes to the layout of the golf course (a big deal, as you’ll find out in a moment). Seeing it really evoked a longing in my heart for those happy days, way back when.
I decide after having arrived to break off from my parents and go for a walk on Tramore, the beach where I threw tantrums if made walk it as a child. The walk takes me up over the original start to the golf course, now a track of dirt for a housing development which the recession has since flatlined. Yet as I round the bend to the beach I was sidelined by a freight train of nostalgia.
My nose fills with the woody smell of burning turf. Under my boots I feel the gravel path give way, after years of disuse and some heavy erosion. I look up and I can see the valley below, which makes up the front nine of the golf course (now with added clubhouse). As a child I would walk the course with my parents, enjoying the sun or listening to a tape on my brother’s Walkman I had borrowed (read ‘nicked’). I think it was one October lunchtime on the 5th hole that I defeated the Elite Four for the first time.
As I step down onto the beach the sand compresses, leaving gaping holes in the shape of my feet much like it would when I was three – or six, or ten, or all the other times I was here. Directly across from me there is a rocky outcrop of jet black igneous stone with yellow speckles. The rocks lie like petals, fallen haphazardly upon each other.
These rocks also hold special meaning; a whole summer full. Back in 1995 a heatwave crossed Ireland which coincided with our summer holiday. I think I spent pretty much all of those two weeks diving off the rocks into the sea, or exploring the rock pools with their red sea anemones. Yet now the rocks seem so much smaller; funny how the mind’s eye grows memories to larger than life.
My walk takes me along the beach stepping over arterial channels of water which run back to the lowering tide, crushing seashells and playing chicken with the incoming waves. Their roar is a better companion than any MP3 player ever could be. All around me I could see the landmarks of the area each holding its own memories: the forest park at Ards where I would go for picnics; the Capuchin Monastary beside it where I once met a Fr Pacificus, whose beard was almost waist length; and Muckish Mountain, covered with ice and snow, which reminded me of Glenveagh where one can also see the Mountain.
When I arrive back into the hotel I think back upon the walk I have taken – a literal trip down memory lane. While the moments are long gone, and the area changed from what it was, at its core it is still the same because I can look back into the past using that which is still there.
I think that when it comes to our lives, it is the little things within the larger picture which define whether we are happy – be they something simple such as beating a videogame or slightly more out of the ordinary like meeting an eccentric monk.
On this trip I visited Glenveagh again. Golden eagles were introduced to the park in 2002, and it had been my dream to see one. This trip I finally did; the ranger had one down to show off to visitors. That moment will become one of the little things I will remember with joy in later life.
Yet this philosophy of appreciating the little goals and mini adventures isn’t confined to holidays – it permeates our entire lives. This year in college I have taken on what some might call a masochistic level of extracurricular activities; however, these will ensure I have plenty of memories from college at the smaller, more personal level such as bantering in the Observer office or running a friend’s campaign for auditor. These will be the things which will weave together to create contentment when I look back on college, years from now. And looking back on my time with the Observer and in other places, I wouldn’t change a thing as the memories are awesome. See you in the funny pages.
This is an edited extract from James Fagan’s new blog, The Industrial. It is updated weekly and can be found at http://theindustrial.blogspot.com/.