Did I want to be special? Or did I just want to be seen?

I visited Cape Clear island last weekend. 

It was a work trip — I was conducting research for my new novel — as I wouldn’t be one for stepping onto a boat for pleasure, not since the Journey Home from Inisheer Disaster of ’94. 

Note to parents: allowing your child to eat an entire tube of Pringles before setting sail in ‘rough swells’ is never going to end well.

The Cruise to Egypt of 2002 is a close second in memorable sea journeys, with my mother and I fighting over the toilet for two very long days while Dad and Michelle arrived back to the cabin every evening raving about the food and the entertainment and the Long Island Iced Teas.

We eventually made it to Cairo but the seasickness continued unabated; in my memory, the pyramids are swaying back and forth, as if bobbing on waves, and all I wanted to do was lie down and wait for the nausea to cease.

But as we left Baltimore pier last week, the sea was so still it was like glass, and I arrived to Cape (that’s what the locals call it, don’t ya know,) in the full of my health.

It was a beautiful day, unseasonably pleasant for April, and I walked for hours, up hills and astride sea cliffs, turning to stand and stare at the landscape, marvelling at how beautiful it was, thinking how lucky we are to live in this.

For my night of island living, I was staying in a B&B called Ard na Gaoithe. 

“I haven’t stayed in a B&B for years,” I say to my mother before I leave Clonakilty, remembering a night spent in a bed and breakfast in Dublin years ago, before an early flight to Lanzarote the next morning. 

I was five, my sister seven; my parents in their late twenties. (All babies, in other words.)

The woman of the house had insisted my parents go out for a drink and she would mind us, and they left us there with her, this complete stranger who they had literally met ten minutes previously.

My mother sighs heavily. 

“Did anything bad happen to you?” she asks wearily and I think for a second. 

“We watched Dallas in her front living room, or maybe Knots Landing?” 

I say and she rolls her eyes and mutters something under her breath that sounds like, “Why didn’t I stop at the one?” I can’t be sure.

But when I walked into Ard Na Gaoithe that Saturday afternoon, I had the strangest sense of déjà vu, an uncanny feeling that I had been here in another life.

As Eibhlín, the lovely proprietor, came to welcome me, I saw an old Bord Fáilte poster on the wall behind her, and I blurted out, “I stayed here before.”

I could remember it clearly. It had been over the Easter holidays and my parents had taken my sister and me to the island on a day trip, clearly trying to fill up our days with activities so we wouldn’t murder one another in a fit of chocolate-induced rage.

We walked up the steep hill on the left-hand side when you get off the boat, past the church, all the way down to the water on the other side, running to keep up with my 6’3 father’s long stride.

It must have taken us a longer than he had anticipated — two very small girls complaining about how thirsty they are and how they need to go to the toilet and my legs are sore and can I have an ice-cream, please? 

Obviously burns up a lot of time – because when we returned to the pier, we were told that we had missed the last ferry back to Baltimore.

A decision was made that we would stay on Cape and get the first boat home in the morning, we just needed to find somewhere to stay the night. 

And so we ended up in Ard na Gaoithe bed and breakfast, and the first thing I noticed when I went in the door was this same Bord Fáilte poster.

It was of a pale girl with freckled skin, the wind whipping her red hair around her face as she smiled at the camera.

Did I want to be special? Or did I just want to be seen?

I wouldn’t have known the reference at the time but it looked like a John Hinde postcard, the quintessential Irish cailín. 

A World of Welcome, was the slogan. I asked the woman who ran the B&B who the girl was.

“That’s our daughter,” I was told, and jealousy spiked through me. 

I was a pale girl with auburn hair and freckles from Cork as well, I wanted to be on a poster too.

I wanted my face to be on walls of B&Bs all over the country, staring out with a wild beauty and grace.

Later that night, as I was falling asleep, on that place which was so dark, so still, I thought to myself — I just want to be somebody. I didn’t even know what that meant.

Did I want to be special? Did I want attention and praised lavished on me?

Or did I, in the end, just want to be seen?

Louise Says

Read: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon.

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, this is the book for you.

It’s a mammoth read (800-plus pages!) but this epic feminist fantasy is so compelling, you won’t be able to put it down.

See: The stage adaptation of Asking For It is returning to theatres after its sold-out run last year.

It comes to The Everyman, Cork, from September 27 to October 5, before moving to the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, from October 9 to 26.

Tickets are on sale now and early booking is advised.

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