There might have been a session on the swing there, or more likely, with the Flynns we'd have pushed on further, say to the Cúlam in front of the castle, where there is a goilín which widens out into a grassy bank half-way down the cliff and is invisible from above. That was a favourite rendezvous, as indeed the surrounding cliffs were, where we went in search of seagulls eggs in May. We were always convinced the seagulls were familiar with the calendar and knew the 1st of May and laid the first of three eggs on that day. We extracted one egg, blew it and brought it home for a collection. Often should I say, it was with great danger to life and limb; I do remember, was it Noreen Downey, a school mate hanging on to my foot and the three or four of us saying an act of contrition. We probably would have forgotten all about the incident, but that Deug Flynn then the village postman was an observer in the vicinity and relayed the story, so there was a courtmartial at home.
Another quite different May time occupation was gathering wild flowers for the May Altar at which the family Rosary was said during the month.
The Tea Flag was another popular rendezvous. We scrambled down to the flat surface, found our way around the corner to the smooth sandstone rock, where countless people have inscribed their names over the years (some of the inscriptions date back to 1818 and before). We did likewise, but of course, ours did not survive. We also climbed over the edge of the Tea Flag and were able to get right down to sea level at the base of the cliff. We investigated fully all round, discovering what we called a cave, really a large archway under part of the rock.
On other occasions, we went (or often I went alone) right around the cliff path to McKennas, i.e. Ardo House and back by the road, most mundane after the cliff. The path went right down to the edge of Gleann Phiarais, down down, over the river and up again at the other side. There were times when we went down some of the cliffs too. McKennas always had a strange eerie fascination with the ruins of the old house and splendid farmyard and the soughing of the wind in the pines on the avenue. Naturally, we were well acquainted with the angel guarding the vault containing the remains of Sir Joseph and Lady McKenna and could say by heart the inscriptions on the angel's plinth.
There were high stone walls around the orchard with only a small door (always closed) giving access, so that was most provocative. One day, we went around to the back, climbed up on a tree which grew beside an approach wall, went along said wall on to the orchard wall, but the bull was in residence below, so we left well enough alone and retreated. (It is interesting to note that our accomplices on this venture were the Creans of Riverchapel, Gorey who came to Ardmore every year. Their uncle, Tom Crean from Annascaul, Co. Kerry, was one of those who went on Scott's South Pole expedition in 1901 and in 1914-17 went with Shackleton. This expedition involved an epic 800 miles rescue mission, one of the most famous Polar survival stories).
I'd love to have walked on the storm wall, but never dared to do it. It was too public a place and the story would have been relayed home with dire consequences. When an east wind gale blew and the waves were dashing over the storm wall at high tide, running in and out dodging the waves was a favourite occupation. You waited till the big wave came and then you just ran.
Coming home from school by climbing the sycamore tree at the back of the church and traversing the wall into our back yard (Tigaluinn) was often preferred to walking around the road. We played 'cobby', laying out a house among the rocks at the left-hand side of the Boat Cove entrance; each little section of rock was an apartment in the house.
One of our chores was going up to Quains of the cliff, for milk twice daily. The milk tin had to be thoroughly washed and scalded and on no account should the morning's and the evening's milk be mixed. That says something about the long-lasting milk we have now (better not stop and think on why it is so long lasting). On a darkish winter evening, one always found the road a trifle scary between the Straoilleán and Port na mBád. There was a very high bank there and of course there were absolutely no streetlights. There are as yet no street lights on this dark section.
Inside in the house, it was always important to have the lamps filled with oil and the wicks trimmed. I can still see my father reading the paper at the light of the kitchen lamp. One could play shadow games, holding one's fingers up and forming them into shapes, which cast shadows of various little animals on the walls.
At that stage, there was Rosary and Benediction every Sunday evening, also every evening in May and October. As we ran down the road on moonlight nights, we played games of standing on one another's shadows on the ground. It was always magical seeing the moon shining on the sea and imagining oneself skipping on to that wonderful moonlight road, which would bring one to the end of the world or where?
Powers' (of the strand) threshing was another favourite rendezvous of the village children. We looked forward to it eagerly each year but how they tolerated us in such a busy location, I just don't know.
We learned to swim in the Boat Cove (self-taught of course) then graduated to the pier, where we boasted of diving from so many steps of the ladder, then of diving from the pier itself and the best feat of all, was running along the parapet at the back of the pier and jumping in. We found out about Poll a Doimhne later; this was just at Ardmore Head and from the top, looks almost impossible of access, but there is a way down around the back of the platform of rock a short distance down from the cliff path. We had wonderful swims there. It must have got its name from its depth; at the very lowest of tides, I never saw the bottom. But there was a most tragic accident there; on a fine summer evening in the 60's. a holidaying family from Belfast came and the two lads came to the Head to fish, having been familiar with it since the previous year. One boy slipped down the blowhole on the platform of rock and evidently injured himself on the way down and was probably knocked unconscious. It was more than a week afterwards before divers recovered the body.
There are caves above sea level at the Head. I never ventured in, having a horror of perhaps encountering rats. For the same reason I never explored the caves up the glen near the graveyard; I know my sons did so in later years. These were used during the troubled times.
I did explore the Putty Hole, some distance out from St. Declan's Well and accessible at low tide, by means of a path which at one time led down from the Well precincts. The first time we went in, we had no light and encountered a wall of rock, which seemed to be the end. The next day, we came better equipped with a candle and a ball of twine, and saw that the wall of rock was only 5/6 feet high and we could climb up and reach a higher level, from where 3 passages led. There was actually a stick embedded at the edge of one, ready to tie a ball of twine on it. This was really exciting and we kept going, heads bent, until we saw light coming through at the cliff edge. I pushed my sister out first (we were on our face and hands) and then got myself out, and found we were half way down a cliff in the next goilin. We scrambled down and found our way back to the 'main entrance' to retrieve our ball of twine and candle. We were quite muddied by this time and tried to wash off some in the rock pools, so as not to attract too much attention on our homeward journey.
I'm afraid, we knew the back gardens of practically all the big houses along the Rocky and up Dawsons' Road. On the site of Green Shutters was an old stable with a coach of ancient vintage (suggesting Cinderella's Coach to us.) We climbed up the shafts and on to the loft, where so many swallows had nests. Then there were the high trees of the college (now all gone) to be climbed.
The Coastguard Station was another interesting place. We explored it outside and inside, up the spiral stone steps to the top where we could cling on to the wall and go around all the ledge which still remained of the non-existent floor. Somehow or other, our guardian angels prevented us falling down the deep well of the pump outside, which only in 1999 was filled in. Indeed, we seemed to keep these guardian angels rather busy, during our childhood days and should be deeply grateful to them.
I must say that before going out after school in the evenings, my mother usually said "I hope now you're not going in any dangerous places", and I said "no", not really meaning to tell an untruth but knowing very well that my mother's interpretation of the word "dangerous" and mine most probably did not coincide.
Author: Siobhan Lincoln