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2004-08-10 Streedagh

Left at Grange, through the townland of Cloontyprocklis and down past the De Cúellar Spanish Armada memorial to Streedagh ; sure the car can drive itself by now. During my childhood we tended to settle on the first (shorter) beach at Streedagh  Trawgar (Trá gearr) which boasted those inviting and dauntingly ginormous sandslides.

 

But Sligos coastline constantly changes, and that first beach  especially with the tide out  is not as alluring as it once was. Those long sandslides, now redundant, are decorated with dog-daisies, while the beach has become rockier and wrackier. The somewhat futile pastime of sand-hopper catching remains a favourite Jack Russel activity, but now, we really only use that first beach in order to access the cliff-walk around by Rinnadoolish Point - the closest mainland to Inishmurray. The grassy track leads past some megalithic stone circle remains, alongside a beautifully-crafted stone wall down to the old boathouse on Streedagh Point. One is always eerily aware of the shipwrecked Armada galleons in the surrounding waters.

 

In Streedaghs sandhills, there lies a vast and complex network of rabbit burrows. The terrier-teasing bunnies sit motionless, thumping the ground to warn of approaching out-of-breath miniature white hunters. Strangely expressive and frustrated terrier bottoms appear at times lodged in burrows.

But it is the Back Strand at Streedagh extending to Conors Island and Black Rock (also called Thor?), which remains steeped in childhood memories. From here, Benbulben and the entire Dartry range exhibit their most interesting façade  a mountainous vista of shady crevasses. Classiebawn stands proud on distant Mullaghmore Head. Whether it be a well-wrapped walk on Christmas morning, or a barefoot paddle at the height of summer, the Back Strand at Streedagh is the place I visit most when at home.


 

As I make my way across the rocky causeway from Conors Island to Black Rock, this isthmus within an isthmus with its steep cliffs and lofty elevation is another of my Sligo thinking spots. When my time comes to cross that final causeway to the other side, this is where I want my ashes to be carried on a wind to Inishmurray and beyond.Alone, and miles away from human contact, this is one of the few places in summer I am comfortable enough to strip to the waist, displaying my hirsute suit to the elements (why is it not himsute?).

I retrace my steps across the uneven causeway to Conors Island, where a peaceful unblemished baby seal has been carried to the beach by the icy waters of Donegal Bay. Beautifully-crafted and rounded stones act as his cairn. The dogs respectfully sniff the expired seal-pup, and we head for the sandhills. I always feel guilty trampling seaside flora. Butterflies and bogflies flutter above and around trefoils, daisies, clovers, sea-pinks and orchids. Audible but invisible larks twitter high, on high, a sound resembling radio interference, but somehow pleasingly beautiful in the open-air. Inishnagor  a back strand within a back strand  appears tranquil throughout the seasons. In the distance cattle cool off in the Grange River, the scene resembling a Constable painting.

On a sunny August day in 1979, as my brother Philip and I braved the Conors Island waves, a distant explosion from around the coast in Mullaghmore shattered the seaside serenity . On the way home as our car was searched thoroughly, the shameful horror of what had happened became shockingly apparent.

It was on the wee strand at Inishnagor I learned to drive at the age of 10. The wall-free ditch-free carefree expanse meant that I could chug along in a little clapped-out Mini Minor grating the gears, revving the accelerator and burning the clutch to my hearts content, before heading back to the sandhills for egg sandwiches, home-made meatloaf, Tayto crisps and caramel squares. Now, those picnics are sadly less frequent. Instead on our homeward journey, a trip is often paid to Jill Barbers hugely popular and successful Drumcliffe Tea Rooms for some delicious home-made soup and inventive gourmet sandwiches. I also have it on very good authority that her Banoffee Pie is very good indeed&!

And so, last year when RTE suggested filming a short feature on me for Nationwide we had to decide on some shooting locations. A hundred Sligo beauty-spots called out to me in unison, and yet, there seemed one obvious choice - the beautiful Back Strand at Streedagh.