THE long and winding road home from Dublin has been a constant pilgrimage in my life since I was in my mid-20s. In the early days, I’d be stuffed into the back of my sister’s Renault, with nary a cent left after a week in Celtic Tiger Dublin, as we embarked on the sometimes 5-6 hour journey, snaking through the midlands on various primary roads, getting stuck in bottlenecks like Abbeyleix and Durrow, not a decent cup of coffee to be found anywhere. A toasted sandwich in the Horse & Jockey was your only hope if you failed to pack your own hang sangwiches the night before.
How the country has changed in the meantime. The journey now sits closer to four hours, the smooth motorway tarmac providing a much more humane thoroughfare and you can’t move for motorway services and ethically sourced coffee along the way.
The road trips from Dublin have taken on different meanings over the intervening years, from the profound to the mundane.
There’s the usual monthly weekend journey home to see family, when time is so short you feel like you’re preparing to leave as soon as your feet hit home soil.
And there have been journeys home for family funerals when all the heaviness of the world seemed to concentrate itself on the flitting white lines on the road in front of you – the four-hour drive a slideshow of memories of the relative who’s passed, an opportunity to take stock of one’s own life and of the wonderful human being who’s no longer a part of it.
And then the kids come along and the journey changes again – the excitement of bringing your little Dublin-born babies home to the Rebel county for the first time. The giddiness of the kids as they pine for time with their grandparents – the trips to feed the horsie up the road and a never-ending supply of Nana’s ice cream. And of course there are now the extended Israel/Palestine-style negotiations that every car journey with kids entails. You can have more chocolate if you’ll just sit quiet for ten minutes, but the Peppa Pig album is going off because your personal assistants up front are about to go full-on Thelma & Louise if they have to listen to Daddy Pig’s A Bit of an Expert one more time.
There was a special significance to the trip we made this last bank holiday weekend, though, the feeling of expectation on the glide downwards into Cork city, the familiar lightness as you venture through the Jack Lynch tunnel and out towards West Cork – the lure of home dragging you back like a magnet for the first time in six months, the long and winding road that leads to your door....
It’s been a profoundly difficult year for the world. Some of us have managed to get through this pandemic relatively unscathed, many others have not and their pain won’t be easily lifted like the restrictions we’ve put in place to safeguard our most vulnerable. But we’ll all be marked by this time forever, many of us asking deep questions about the assumptions we made pre-Covid, about the things we value and the priorities we’ve made. A collective sigh or even cry feels necessary when the time is right.
But sitting out last Saturday, looking over across Red Strand and the Galley Head, with the evening sun streaming in above Mount Gabriel in the distance, and my fully vaccinated parents playing with their grandkids in the garden below, I can safely say this – boy it feels good to be home.
Battle of South William Street
WHILST whiling away the hours in sunny West Cork this weekend, my eyes occasionally veered east to the Battle of South William Street in Dublin city centre. For those of you not aware of the details I’ll give you a whistle stop tour.
It all started in recent weeks when Dublin City Council began closing off various areas in the city centre to discourage large gatherings due to some of the littering and antisocial behaviour going on since the recent lifting of restrictions.
This was followed by a fervent outcry on social media to provide bins and toilets. The kids were promised an outdoor summer, they said, and you must provide the facilities.
We too can live like Berliners!
But of course, the minute the facilities were provided the whole outdoors summer vibe was destroyed when a gang of around 200 kids descended on the city centre, out of their minds on drink, and proceeded to throw bottles at the guards, set bins on fire and generally ruin the party for everyone else. The response from gardaí felt heavy-handed and is unlikely to dampen tensions so you can expect more shenanigans in the weeks ahead. I don’t know what the solution is – a look at our drink culture might a good place to start – but I think we can all agree that, at this stage, we could maybe do with a drop of rain.