Stories From The Waterside

In the rural Ireland I grew up in the nineteen fifties/sixties holidays abroad were not common. Indeed, a trip to the seaside was a once a year event. So ‘the river’ was very important in our lives. The river Douglas was our local river. It was easy flowing and as safe as a river could be for children. We did not run off to the river every day. The river outing was for Sundays. When summer school holidays came Sundays by the river were the highlight of our week. After Mass the preparations would begin My mother and aunt would pack two bags with biscuits and minerals. My father and my aunts’ husband would carry these. Sometimes they would bring a little radio to listen to a hurling or football match. In another bag would be a few towels and swimming gear for us children carried by my mother or aunt. Then the (looking back now) what must have been a rather strange looking procession would wind our way a short distance along the road and across three fields to the river. Our dogs running on ahead as excited as we children were. There was sort of little sandy cove at one spot along the bank. The adults would sit down there glad of a bit of rest after the weeks work. More often than not there would be a few more local families there so a general chat would take place. There was a grove of trees which gave shelter from the sunshine. We along with the other children would get into our swimming gear and wade into the river splashing and playing about. The dogs swam up and down and chased us and each other. Sometimes the men of the family would make a dam where a few older ones did a bit of real swimming. After a while it would be time for refreshments. The bags with the minerals and biscuits would be opened and we would run back along the bank eager for the goodies spread out on a cloth in the little sandy cove. The chat was easy. The birds sang and the river flowed by. Back into the river for a while and then it was time to go home. We children were tired by then though we always wanted to stay longer. We dressed, our bodies healthy and brown our hair still wet. Called the dogs to heel and the strange procession would start homeward. I remember those Sunday afternoons far more than I remember our annual day by the seaside. I remember the excitement leading up to them and the simple healthy enjoyment we had. I also remember the terrible disappointment when a wet Sunday came and we had to stay at home. We felt cheated as only a child can feel. Those sunny Sundays are long gone. The river Douglas still flows I have not been there in a long time. Perhaps I will go there on Sunday afternoon soon. I will sit and gaze at the river and remember. Remember children who shouted and laughed and played. Many are now miles away across the ocean. Remember the voices of adults now long gone to God. Remember the barking of dogs and the sun and a time when the world was young.