Fleeing from Franco over the Pyrenees in the hairy times

Damien Enright visited Ibiza to discuss a book he has written about the time he spent there between 1961 and 1965

Fleeing from Franco over the Pyrenees in the hairy times

Damien Enright visited Ibiza to discuss a book he has written about the time he spent there between 1961 and 1965

I've just been to Ibiza, the holiday island beside Mallorca which was celebrated in a song in the mid-50s that went “Just off the coast of Spain, There is a lovers’ lane, And they call it Majorca, Isle of Love”.

Ibiza wasn’t like that at all when I first arrived there in 1961. My recent visit was because I wrote a book about the hairy days I spent there between 1961 and 1965, “hairy” in both the long-haired and the “hairy situation” sense. I was there to give a talk, largely about the latter.

I was now wanted by the Ibiza Tourist Board and by a literary society, back then, I was just wanted, and had to cross the Pyrenees by night to escape Generalissimo Franco’s lavatory-pan-helmet-wearing Guardia Civil.

Ibiza Quills, the literary society, and Tourismo Eivissa jointly invited me to the island to talk about Ibiza as it was back in the age of innocence before the San Antonio nightclubs and dance clubs, and girls with half-naked bottoms and men with big muscles and tatoos.

Quills and Turismo were represented by charming women who could not do enough for me. Their attentions made me blush. One day, an invisible life in West Cork; next day, I’m spouting memories to an audience of literati on the roof terrace of the best hotel in Ibiza (Evissa) town.

This morning (I am writing this column aboard a train in the Irish Midlands two hours after landing in Dublin) a female member of the force insisted on paying for my coffee. Irony, indeed.

What made me a person of passing interest to Guardia then and literati now was not my having made a noble anti-Franco gesture, although, just a minute, perhaps it was!

I was anti-fascist and Franco personified local Fascism but, like the kindred spirits I found on that then unknown Mediterranean island, I was in rebellion against all dictatorial regimes and all conventional society’ which was, in Ireland then, a society constructed by the Church and policed by Archbishop McQuaid, leader of an ecclesiastical dictatorship so effective that it tolerated his grace censuring politicians, political policy and media commentary, as well as laying down inhuman laws on what public attitudes should be to women conceiving out of wedlock and so on.

Adults could not attack it or escape it without fearsome repercussions for themselves and their families. For me, it was easy: I dropped out of college and took a boat overseas. I found the tribe of long-haired laidbacks by chance. We read Huxley about the mind-liberating effects of psychedelic “soma”. We aspired to “freedom”, a state about which we read a lot but understood little. It was youth, and the pecadillos which made me an object of desire for the Guardia Civil were driven by adventure and anti-establishmentarianism, not by crime.

The weather was as good in Ibiza as it was in late September Ireland, not a drop of rain in seven days. I got a severe shock and a generous drenching when I emerged from the back door of the plane into an enthusiastic shower which lasted as I crossed the tarmac to Arrivals, and then stopped. I’d heard that day after day West Cork had been bathed in sunshine and, as I bussed to Heuston Station, the sky cleared and Dublin sparkled, the trees in O’Connell St glittering with raindrops and the Liffey too bright to look at, a river of gold.

Lovely city, is Dublin, in the sunlight, and romantic at any time.

Meanwhile, across the world, my son and his wife, having left Vancouver to travel the length of South America, had made their first stop at the legendary island of La Provedencia, in Colombia. Colonised by English Puritans, then by pirates, the natives speak a sort of bockety pidgin English, rather than Spanish, and are never too busy to talk.

Guide books described the climate as idyllic, the place as unique. The latter was true. However, it rained more heavily that my son, a veteran of Asian monsoons, had ever experienced and thrice in the first week their room was rocked by earthquakes, the floor swinging like a gangplank beneath their feet. So much for guidebooks more than a few years old. As Mr Dylan said in the songs he sang back in the hairy days, the times they are a changing.

Returning to my address on the roof of the lovely Montesol Hotel in Ibiza, I must congratulate the Quills and Ibiza Tourism on bringing new sensibility to the island. There were always writers, but in my day they were usually drunk and shouting at one another.

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