Learner Dad: I hate nostalgia, I think it’s mawkish and sentimental

Learner Dad: I hate nostalgia, I think it’s mawkish and sentimental

My seven-year-old stood tall, whispered “bravery” to herself and stepped into the pitch-black dungeon. I stood there and watched her disappear.

It was more of a storeroom really, underneath one of the giant bastions in Charles Fort in Kinsale, down a narrow damp stone pathway that stank of the sea. 

But I’d told them it was a dungeon where they tortured prisoners in the olden days, and if I know one thing about seven year olds, it’s that they’ll take terror and torture any day over a boring room that was used to store grain. (They also call anything before they were born ‘the olden days’.)

It helped that this must be the darkest space on earth.

The walls in this windowless room are 6m thick apparently, two steps inside and my daughter was out of sight. 

Her little brother was having none of it — he stayed at the top of the sloping lane-way, explaining that he wasn’t afraid as such, but it was important that someone stayed up there in case the Vikings came along. 

I was just like him, 45 years ago. My dad’s younger brother, Fr Pat, brought me into the fort for a look around. 

This was before the place was spruced up for tourists, it was just a spooky wreck, pretty much untouched since the IRA burned it out after British forces left the premises in 1921.

Fr Pat was a lovely man, a legend, the least priestly priest you could ever meet. I remember him letting me steer his car through Ballinspittle when I was about six. 

I also remember him stepping into the ‘dungeon’ in Charles Fort that day and telling me to come on in, my eyes would get used to the darkness in just a few seconds. He was right.

And still, 45 years on, I’m slow to step into the dungeon. I don’t think you realise just how dark it is in there. 

It’s grand for my seven-year-old, with her bravery, she’s been brought up with empowering cartoons about go-getting women like She-Ra and The Princesses of Power. 

I had Road Runner and a strong sense that I’d never amount to much. A voice comes from inside the inky dungeon: “Dad, I’m afraid.” 

This is starting to look bad now. I shout up at my son to stay put on Viking lookout and step inside. A clammy little hand slides into mine the minute I’m in my door. 

The good news is it belongs to my daughter. The bad news is my eyes have obviously deteriorated in the past 45 years — I still can’t see a thing. 

And then slowly, it appears above my head, a whiteness is the best way to describe it. Turns out to be the stone roof. Phew!

Learner Dad: I hate nostalgia, I think it’s mawkish and sentimental

I hate nostalgia, I think it’s mawkish and sentimental. The problem is, deep down, I’m as nostalgic and sentimental as the people who like Brexit. 

So I allowed myself a little moment as we stood hand in hand in the dungeon. Then I remembered to be afraid again, so I turned on the torch on my phone to check the ground.

It was earthy and stony, untouched for the 45 years since I’d been in there with my uncle.

I decided to get out of there before I started weeping in front of my daughter. 

We picked up our little lookout at the top of the lane and continued on the Monster Hunt. (They have this trail in Charles Fort where you go around looking for photos of monsters — there was none of that in my day.)

This brought us to the rolly polly hill. It’s a grassy hill that’s good for rolly pollies, but then you knew that. 

The kids flew up and down, I stood on top taking photos and remembering the laughs I had with Father Pat.

I’m still not gone on nostalgia. But some days you just have to stand in a dungeon and let time flow through you for a couple of minutes. 

Unless you’re five and would prefer to keep lookout on the steps.

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