With winter drawing in, primary school teacher Claire Droney is reminded of two dreamy summers travelling in Beara when she found time to write a schools’ austim handbook
I FELL in love in Allihies, during the pandemic, with a man who owns a camper van.
During that first summer of dating in 2020, he packed us into the van on a Friday evening before heading off on the long journey from Cork city, to park up in the campsite at Ballydonegan beach. And then we began our West Cork walking voyage – one day up the hills to the copper mines, dodging wild horses on the way, and another over the steep hill to look across the sea at Dursey Island.
He charmed me by bringing picnics, and blankets, and a nifty camping flask that could boil up soup in a matter of minutes – simple pleasures in a very tranquil location.
Some days, he went for long cycles while I researched, wrote and edited my first book, aided by a handy wifi dongle that enabled us both to ‘wfc’ (work from camper) when needed (and when lockdown restrictions permitted).
Most days, the campsite was quiet enough for me to work in peace and take a quick dip in the sea on my lunch break.
Days off writing meant dodging jellyfish at Garnish Bay, and nodding hello to the families who showed up there every day. There was the amazing auntie who splashed in the water with the children all day long, the elderly couple watching their grandchildren at the water’s edge, or the family from Dublin who spread themselves out in their own corner of the beach – an assortment of children, beach balls, buckets, spades, and lots of laughing.
In the late afternoons, we remained on our deckchairs with books and blankets, and an icy drink, as the beach goers all cleared off for their dinner, family by family.
On another trip, one late September evening, when a faulty pipe rendered the van shower useless, we took a salty bath in the surprisingly warm sea at Ballydonegan beach, and headed into town to eat outside O’Neills, having scampi and chips before meandering back along the dark road, and spotting Venus in the clear night sky. Afterwards, we lay on a blanket on the beach, listening to music, and having a last glass of wine.
This most recent summer, we continued our West Cork travels, through Bantry and Glengarriff, and Garinish Island, and back to Allihies again.
We swam in the Blue Pool, ate bowls of porridge topped with raspberries and chia seeds on the beach, cycled miles of twisty roads, and devoured gourmet cheese toasties from the ‘Beara Barista’ coffee van.
And my writing continued, with lots of scribbled mind-maps, and first drafts, and hopefully even the beginnings of a second book.
It’s dreary November now, and I can’t wait to get back to Allihies. With a baby on the way in the new year, I foresee plenty of touring around West Cork in our future, and hopefully some writing whenever the muse strikes, in between nappies and bottles and bawling. For now, though, Millie the camper van is parked up on a suburban pavement, waiting to hit the road to West Cork again in the spring.
• The Everyday Autism Handbook for Schools by Claire Droney and Annelies Verbiest is available for €30.95 from all good bookshops, as well as online at otb.ie
• The West Cork Education Centre will host a free webinar with Claire Droney on November 10th at 4-5.15pm entitled Top Tips for NQTs and SETs: Where to Start and What to do: Working with Older (3rd-6th Class) autistic children in SET See westcorkeducationcentre.ie/