Earlier this month, I bundled myself and my boyfriend up to fly over the Irish Sea to County Wicklow to celebrate my grandad’s 70th birthday.
Jonathan, as yet unconvinced of the charms of a cold little coastal town and (fairly so) nervous of the impending doom in the shape of having to meet and impress every Irish person related to his girlfirend (i.e. everyone in the village), was a little wary at the start of the trip.
I, however, pushed through the motions of being outrageously ripped off by my airline and running for delayed trains to Gatwick without much anticipation. this trip had been planned so long and talked about so frequently that I wasn’t as excited as I normally would be for a quick overnighter abroad. Besides, I knew this town like the back of my hand- there was nothing new to shout about.
After a fair few bumps in the road (entire family was supposed to join- all their flights got cancelled- big emotional display, etc), we pulled up to my aunt and uncles house in the little village of Kilcoole. Kilcoole, while beautiful, has never had much tourism, so it might need a little introducing.
A quiet town not far from better known places like Bray or Greystones, Kilcoole has two main roads-the first being the Sea Road, which leads to the- you guessed it- sea and pebbled beach. The second, which I am sure has a name but I just can’t recall it ever being used, has three pubs, respectively the ‘top’, ‘middle’ and the ‘bottom’. They’re not the only identifiers of the town, but they’re the most loved. I’m just going to the bottom for a quick drink. The girls went to the middle last night, did you see them? And so on. It’s lovely.
This little village is where my grandad grew up. He was born and raised in the house across the street from where I was staying. Relatives of mine live side by side. Brothers and sisters are neighbours. From a very young age, we’d come to stay with them over summers and for special occasions- never quite remembering all the names of the hands reaching down to give us pocket money or to straighten our clothes.
We’d badger to be taken to the beach to collect the best looking pebbles, build dens in front rooms we barely knew and squirrel away sweets and treats you can’t get in England. It was the nineties, so no mobiles to distract us and no video games to bicker over. It’s difficult not to romanticise a time like this, because it does feel so young and simple. I’m sure in reality there was lots of sulking and strops, as defined most of my childhood, but my stand out memories are of playing ‘just pretend’ in front gardens with cousins and of falling asleep in the back of cars back from trips to nearby sand beaches.
I stopped going when I was around thirteen. As a teenager, I’m sure I had much cooler things to be doing than hanging out with toddler relatives (most likely untrue- let’s not dwell).
Fastforward back to today, ten years later, and I’m walking down these streets that had gained near mythical status in my mind. I couldn’t believe that they were still here- almost like I was never really sure if they’d existed, or if I’d just made up this idyllic little place for me to store my childhood memories. The sound of a doorbell I’d forgotten I’d ever heard before, the feel of a stone wall I would sit on, the smell of a garden we’d steal flowers from, all rocketing me back to eight years old. Muscle memory taking round corners I hadn’t seen in a decade. Comforting and odd and the same time.
Here I am as an adult. I have a house, a job, I’ve travelled, I’ve moved to a new city, I’ve graduated. Stood here, in this little town I used to know. Every memory I didn’t realise I still held onto, dotting past like a glint of sun in the corner of my eye. Hello, first crush. Hello, scary neighbour’s house. Hello, grazed knees. Hello.
My room- the one that used to be a pile of toys and books, now has a full length mirror inside. When I look in, for the shortest of moments, I’m there, eight years old, in a corduroy pinafore and glitter-clip tied hair, running past to go play outside with my sister.