Perfect day for hurling on the beach

SAINT Valentine’s Day 2010 remains memorable as one of the most all-round perfect February days for years.

The sun shone all day long in our part of the world and it was a Sunday, so almost everybody was at leisure to enjoy it. We walked, most of the afternoon, and as we drove home ‘tired but happy’ the sun was a great, red ball in the sky, descending dramatically and painting the whole of Courtmacsherry Bay, with the tide in and the surface calm as glass, all the colours of the spectrum.

The peace in the air and the uplifting effect of the light, passing via the retina into the pleasure centres of the brain, induced euphoria. All along the way, we saw folk gazing out at the sea, some with cameras, some with children, some of them lovers with hands entwined. It was like the final scene in a Hollywood technicolor film, the world standing in thrall at the end of a perfect day.

Earlier, from the ramparts of James Fort, at Castlepark, we had looked across the glittering water at the glittering power boats and glittering houses of Kinsale. The sea was azure, upon which white-sailed and red-sailed yachts, yawls and windblown craft of various kinds manoeuvred slowly, sails barely filling, for there was little breeze. They were lovely to watch, moving in slow minuets around one another. Across the water from the green headland of James Fort, big, blank-faced, megalithic Charles Fort basked in the sun. There is little relief in the sea-facing walls, few handholds or embrasures for attackers to make use of but, behind them, the community of barracks, block houses, arsenals and storerooms were sharply defined in light and shadow.

Old James Fort, restored somewhat in these recent decades, stands in fields of green, with furze bushes now in flower. Leaving it, we crossed a small beach and picnicked in the sun as we watched children dig sandcastles, a dog chase a ball into the sea and young men pucking a ball back and forth between them.

There is no finer instrument than a hurling stick for exercise and diversion on a strand. On the big beaches, the hurlers, male or female, can stand a hundred yards apart and lob high balls to one to the other, hitting them into, or snatching them out of, the sun. For the onlookers, the sound of the puck is pleasant to hear, and the graceful swing of the camán and the flight of the sliotar pleasant to watch.

A group of enthusiastic young Italians asked us directions to Ringarone Castle, one single gable only of which still stands. They had already been to James Fort and Charles Fort and, even after all that walking, were clearly ready for more. While we sat on the beach, young men speaking a foreign language passed us, one carrying a portable barbecue, another a bag of charcoal and a five litre bottle of water. They were followed by some women, all bearing bowls and dishes, and some children. One wore a hijab, a Muslim head scarf – doctor, baker, candlestick-maker, she was clearly at home in Ireland, this new Ireland, on a glorious day that we shared with half a dozen nationalities or so it seemed from the voices we heard.

At four o’clock, the sun was still strong and, there were perhaps 30 people on the strand, a constant come-and-go. As we left, two new-come families passed me on the path, small children with sand buckets as if it was high summer, their eyes big with wonder as they beheld the white sand, the glistening sea and the hurlers and the people all touched with gold.

A small girl, no more than four years old, wearing a pink jacket, with a pink helmet cap, smiled at me as if she could barely contain her joy. I love my grown-up children just as I did when they were small, but I sometimes miss the wonderment the world held for them and which they shared with me, and helped me not forget it.


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