12 March 2012

A walk on the beach in Dugort in the dark

On the sands of the strand in Dugort in the dark last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

After two busy days in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, on Friday and Saturday at the conference organised by the House of Bishops, I was looking forward to a walk on the beach yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.

I joked on Sunday over lunch that in the space of ten days I had travelled on the road between Virginia and Belturbet alone six times in four different cars. So, a walk on the beach seemed not just a good idea, but a necessary exercise for body, mind and soul.

However, an old friend in Achill Island died at the end of the last week, and when I realised that his funeral was on Monday morning, I had to go to the removal in Achill on Sunday evening or miss altogether the opportunity to say a last farewell to Martin Walsh.

Martin was in his 90s when he died last week. He was one of the “old-timers” and was the oldest man living in Dugort, and one of the oldest men on the island.

I’ve known Martin for over 30 years, since I first started visiting Dugort in 1980 and staying in the Strand Hotel.

For many years, Dugort was one of my favourite boltholes, retreating there, when I needed time to think, to write and to be creative. In winter, without a dial telephone on the island, I was inaccessible; in summer, when the island basked in sunshine with its whitewashed cottages, golden beaches, and blue skies and the blue seas, it was like an Aegean island in Greece.

And Martin was always part of the hospitality and the warm welcome, making sure the Strand Hotel was always available, even in the depths of winter. He was kindness in every way, and a gentleman in true sense of the word.

Looking out on the sands at Mulranny at dusk yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

It was a 650 km round-trip for two of us yesterday. We left Dublin just after 2 p.m., and stopped briefly to take in the sweeping majesty of the sands and the beaches at Mulranny. How often have I had promised myself a walk on the beach there? But in my desire to press on to Achill I never stopped long enough.

But dusk was beginning to descend, and time was not in our favour. We pressed on again yesterday and we were at Ted Lavelle’s funeral home in Cashel just after 6.

From Cashel, we allowed ourselves a diversion, and drove up through Bunacurry and the Valley, stopping below Martin’s House to take in the view of the beach at Dugort. Although it was dark by now, and the tide was in, we could still see the magnificent arc-shaped strand beneath us. We drove down to the Strand Hotel, parked, and gave ourselves the joy of a five-minute walk in the sands in the dark.

We were in Dookinella for the removal and reception at 7.30 last night.

The old stairs in the Strand Hotel, Dugort … this hotel has been a favourite retreat for writing and thinking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Afterwards, we had a half-hour stopover back in the Strand Hotel, where we got a warm welcome from Billy Scott. It’s almost three years since I was last there, but it could have been last week.

There was a warm offer of hospitality for the night. But we had to press on, and we were soon back out on the road again, facing another 315 km to Dublin, with Fleetwoood Mac, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Derek and the Dominoes, the Doors, Van Morrison, Think Lizzie, the Rolling Stones and Leonard Cohen for company.

We were back in the early hours of this morning (Monday).

They buried Martin early this afternoon in the old cemetery in Slievemore.

And now I’m packing once again, preparing to fly to Edinburgh tomorrow morning (Tuesday).

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