"You wouldn’t get this sort of hospitality in Kinsale, would you?", dad joked, prouder that he’d beaten me to the now regular reminder of that unplanned, late February weekend in Kinsale, than he was of the humour itself.
After being bedridden for almost two weeks with a virus (yes, the v word) from hell and unable to travel to England for a cross country race as planned, I made a last-minute decision to take the parents to Cork and meet up with some friends.
Such rash, last-minute plans, well outside tourist season, left us with zero choice in way of accommodation; we took the last room in town. 'Reasonably priced family room.' 'Central location.' 'Harbour view.' What could possibly go wrong?
After travelling across the south of the country with no great hurry on us, we arrived in Kinsale as the light was beginning to fade. We briefly stopped by the guest house and I ran in to pick up the key – we weren’t going to waste time on idle chitchat, though it later transpired that the landlady had a similar minimalist approach to her hosting duties – and we set about exploring the sites of the area. Not for the last time that weekend, we travelled all the back roads, via James Fort and Sandycove to windswept Old Head.
With a strong family principle of never returning the same way as we came, we took the only other road off the peninsula and returned to Kinsale via Ballinaspidal and its once-famous grotto. Exhausted from the day’s travels, it was difficult to conceive how busloads of Catholics, considerably more committed than ourselves, once made the 400-kilomtere round-trip from Wexford on a weekly basis and maintained a thriving local economy focused on moving statues and the like.
Drive-by pilgrimage complete, we headed to Dinos for a fish and chip supper. “The Irish don't play games with their potatoes”, one reviewer had commented online. “Their fish and chips are the bomb.com!” I need say no more.
With bellies almost full, and dessert procured from the Centra across the road, we retired to our room-for-three to unwind.
Plans to enjoy aforementioned baked goods in a cosy room with a warm cup of tea were, however, overly optimistic.
Not only was the room cold – read ‘Baltic’ – but we couldn’t find the kettle. The heating, it seemed, had just been turned on, possibly for the first time in months, so there was nothing to it but to climb beneath the sheets, turn on the telly, and wait it out.
Only the telly didn’t work either.
I’m not sure who commented first, but I’m glad, convalescent and all that I was, that I wasn’t the only one to notice that the bed sheets were damp! The radiator – groaning to life as it was – wasn’t going to be enough to sort out this mess. I could only hope that the clothes I’d left on to keep me warm would also help keep me dry.
Thanks to body heat alone, we survived. And headed down to breakfast with misplaced confidence that things couldn’t get any worse.
When the Weetabix wrapper, my cereal of choice, didn’t have its usual crunchy feel to it, I quickly opted for the cornflakes, or own-brand alternative thereof. Unfortunately the lifeless flakes were already in the bowl by the time I realised they too were a relic of tourist seasons past.
“Excuse me, can we have some more orange juice, please?”, I called after the landlady, attempting to procure for Dad some more of the one consumable item we’d been carefully rationed.
“You can have this”, one of the guests at the table behind us declared, filling the hesitant void which represented not so much a refusal as a non-starter on the behalf of our host. “Our friend won’t be making it down for breakfast.” Either he’d been forewarned, or he was quite partial to Kinsale’s version of the waterbed!
“Grand” the proprietor declared, picking the glass of this apparently valuable commodity and placing it in front of Dad.
The small victory, however, soon turned as sour as the milk in our bowls, as our disbelieving eyes followed her towards the kitchen with the remains of the half glass dad had earlier managed to barter from mam.
This was hospitality to make Basil Faulty blush.
There was a collective sigh of relief as we made it out to the car, and set out on another day of adventure. I spent the following hours taking finish-line photos of the hundreds of runners, walkers and strollers who had completed the Kinsale 10 Mile – a race which my friend organises – consuming triangular sandwiches, and entertaining her twin girls. There was even tea, in Styrofoam cups, dispensed from a Burco boiler!
The parents, well and truly infected with the adventurers’ bug, headed to Galley Head, and took in all that the initial miles of the Wild Atlantic Way has to offer.
Following our reunion later that afternoon, we said our goodbyes to the Breens, and looked forward to all the all the athletics events we’d see them at over the summer.
We took the High Road out of Kinsale, through the narrow streets of Summercove, before stopping by Charles’ Fort. The unwritten rules for such journeys are that mam drives where she’s told, I, with a couple of maps on my lap, choose the route, and dad, with prime view from the passenger seat, comments on the relative abundance or lack of sheep, cattle, and tillage in each of the townlands we encounter.
And that afternoon there were plenty of directions given and received, and much farmland to be commented on. Bellgooley, Ballyfeard, Meane Bridge, Carrigaline. It’s as if we knew it would be a while until we could do it all again. Passage West, and the bypassing of the daunting Jack Lynch tunnel, was a highlight for our driver, as we took the ferry across the River Lee. We headed back to the mainland past Fota Island, and resolved to return to visit Cobh in the summer. We all agreed that these trips were going to become a more regular feature in our lives.
Two weeks later, the world stopped.
It’s likely that in years to come time will be referred to as either BC – before Covid – or AD: after dat!
But for us, that weekend in Kinsale changed everything, forever.
We were reminded that the good life isn’t all about meticulously planned vacations, luxury accommodation, and gourmet meals.
It’s about seizing every moment and ringing it for everything it’s worth.
Just a shame someone didn’t do that with the bedsheets!