Louise O'Neill: You can't have road rage when you live in a small town like Clonakilty

My partner and I are still looking for a house in Dublin. I want somewhere like home
Louise O'Neill: You can't have road rage when you live in a small town like Clonakilty

Louise O'Neill, author. Photograph Moya Nolan

Here's something people never tell you about life in a small town — you can’t have road rage. When you’re living in the city, you can beep your horn when someone cuts into your lane without using their indicator, muttering “f**king idiot” under your breath, and then get on with your day.

If you do that in Clonakilty, you’ll quickly realise you’re both pulling into the same supermarket, avoiding eye contact as you wait in line to use the hand sanitiser.

Worse, it’s usually an old school friend or your mother’s hairdresser, or the man who delivers the coal, and you can’t take back the fact that only minutes previously, you were furiously mouthing “you deserve to lose your driving licence” at them.

This might not seem like a bad thing (seriously, be nice to other drivers — we all make mistakes) but it’s emblematic of my childhood; always having to be on my best behaviour in case my parents would hear about it.

When we were 17 and revelling in the freedom of our newly minted driving licences, my friends and I would cruise around town for hours. Blaring music as we went up main street — terrified that we would stall in front of a group of cute boys — up as far as the petrol station, then down the bypass, over and over again.

My friend dropped me at a tiny newsagent, since closed, asking me to buy her a packet of fags, and she would drive around and pick me up. When my father arrived home from work, not even two hours later, he walked into my room. “A pack of 10 Silk Cut Blue cigarettes,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Now tell me, Louise. What were you planning to do with those?”

When I was filling out my CAO form in sixth year, I only applied for college courses in Dublin, craving the anonymity of a big city. After that, it was New York, and when my American visa expired, I initially planned to move to London. Somewhere large enough that I could disappear. Somewhere with enough people, no one would look twice at me.

But after a couple of months of living in west Cork in 2012, I could feel my breath beginning to slow down, steadying in my chest. I went for long walks in the countryside and on the beach, picking wildflowers and seashells. 

I marvelled at how clear the air was, at how dark the night skies could be without streetlamps, the prickle of stars across it so bright. 

What seemed like a huge deal in a city — making a dentist’s appointment, posting a letter, getting a shirt dry cleaned — took a matter of minutes in a small town. Strangely, what I had remembered as claustrophobic and stifling, seemed comforting now. I had wanted to be invisible, but I didn’t know that when people don’t see you, they don’t care about you either.

On New Year’s Day, I went to turn on my laptop. It was dead. I panicked. All my notes for my book were on my desktop, and no, I hadn’t backed up. I messaged a family friend who loves all things tech and begged her to help. I stood on her doorstep, handing my laptop over as if it was a newborn child, and waited in the cold as she tinkered around with the battery. It needs a professional, she told me with a shake of her head.

My mother knew someone who might be able to help, so I texted him. Maybe it was my obvious desperation, but he very kindly told me to leave it with him. It was New Year’s Day. It was a Saturday. It was coming up to his kids’ bedtime. I felt awful about all these things, I promise you. “Not a bother,” he said when he answered the door to me in a facemask and pyjamas, apologising profusely. “I’m happy to help.”

A few days and a new laptop later, I made the mistake of leaving my bedroom window open on a particularly windy afternoon. Cut to me holding my mother’s legs as she leant out of a two-story building, trying to pull the window back in. “Be careful,” I yelped, imagining my father’s reaction if she fell to her death in the process. (Would the bollocking be worse than the grief? Who’s to say?)

But to no avail — it was completely jammed. Within literal minutes, a friend of my dad’s had arrived with a ladder, climbing up the side of my house, and shoving the window closed from the outside.

“Not a bother,” he said afterwards. “I’m happy to help.”

My partner and I are still looking for a house in Dublin and this is what I am afraid of losing: people to call when I am stuck, when I need help. The thought of building a whole new tribe is daunting but I am nudging him closer to places like these — Skerries, Dun Laoghaire, Greystones, or Malahide.

Somewhere near the beach, I say, but it needs to have a village vibe. A small community, somewhere I won’t be able to have road rage in case I bump into them in Londis later that day. I want somewhere like home.

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