Bray Air Display 2017

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Trains and boats and planes are the way to spell Bray. The first two are obvious, historical. This is a seaside resort for two centuries, and a railway town since 1854. The planes have been a feature for just the last twelve years. Each July, as the Summer Festival kicks off, the skies above the Esplanade are fractured by shrieking jets, aerobatic aeronauts, army paratroopers and a parade of winged history to satisfy the most demanding planespotter. And everyone else besides. The Air Show attracts crowds of around a hundred thousand, three times the population of the town itself. Given a sunny summer day, the seafront is thronged anyway. On this weekend it is bursting with human life.

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As one would wish, the morning’s drizzling clouds have lifted to reveal a perfectly blue heaven. The town centre empties towards the beach. With traffic restrictions its emptier still. Motorists clog the periphery. I pass the library, an oasis of silence (for a change), just as the first planes thunder above the railway station.

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The day is in full swing. The annual carnival has colonised the north esplanade. Food markets and other mobile displays throng the south. The ice-cream parlours, the chippers and cafes are having a field day.

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All along Strand Road, the bars are packed. Bray’s seaside bars offer the unique pleasure of extensive outdoor terracing, giving the chance to wine and dine al fresco with stunning views of the sea and headland. And of course, the sky. The Porterhouse, Martello and Jim Doyle’s, with its Rugger posts, are central to the seafront. Meanwhile, Butler and Barry’s above the Sealife Centre is in the position of control tower. A carpet of spectators stretches along the beach and Esplanade, a river of people stretching up to the Cross on the Head.

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After refreshments I make towards the harbour. Carnival goers defy death in their own sweet way. Amidst their screams, with dramatic smoke billowing from the rides, a Catalina Flying Boat threads serenely past helter-skelter and carousel. The windows of Martello Terrace reflect it all. James Joyce lived in the corner house. What would he have made of it all? With his “snot green, scrotum-tightening sea.”

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Around the corner, the Harbour is practically serene. The Harbour Bar dates from 1831. In those days it stood over a smaller dock. Today, it’s a port of call for musicians, artists, hipsters and dart players, for all who hunger and thirst, perhaps the odd pirate and desperado too. The tail end of the display sends a few flyers down here. I’m coming in to land.   

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Surf’s Up at Lahinch

LahinchIt takes just over three hours from Bray to Lahinch, passing from cool drizzle into warm sunshine. It is a long way from Clare to here. Out to the wild, windy west, to stop at the edge of the world, the Atlantic stretching before us forever.

I’ve been in this town so long

that back in the city I’ve been taken for lost and gone,

Unknown for a long, long time

Lahinch doesn’t flatter to deceive. The short main street is unremarkable at first glance, though the vista is capped by a surprisingly modernist church tower. The village does reveal itself in time. Perched on a low cliff above a fine strand, its attractions are its environs. Paradise for surfer and golfer; not necessarily the types one would put together socially or sartorially, and neither being my pursuit. There are pubs, restaurants and cafes, chippers, ice cream saloons, amusements, clothes and souvenir shops. The visitor is well catered for.

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I meet Henry from Tennessee, who came for a month and stayed three decades. He plies his craft at the Design Lodge Too, fragrance and finesse. We chew the fat on good ole Southern music. Those bands of brothers, the Allmans and the Doobies, Mussel Shoals and New Orleans. Two good ole boys, talking about Brothers and Sisters, Sweet Home Alabama and the Mississippi Delta shining like a National Guitar. I buy some of his handmade soap.

I recall a house party back in the Walkinstown scheme. Back in the day. There was a girl called Clare picked up a guitar and sang. Clare Barnwell was her name. Perhaps she was kin to Hugh De Bernevale, or Barnewall, who built the Norman fortified house, Drimnagh Castle, nearby. I only knew her from afar. My tuppenceworth that night was to offer a drunken, toneless couplet: it’s a long, long way from Clare to here. Ho ho. There was the width of a Corpo sitting room between us, as it would remain. But she laughed, which was nice.

  And the only time I feel alright is when I do be drinking,

  It eases off the pain a bit and levels out my thinking,

  Oh, it’s a long, long way from Clare to here …

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I wonder Is O’Looney’s aptly named, or what? Its slow glass wall sucking the beach and sea into the heavy wood and chrome interior. I have a Perroni in a tall glass, and chicken on foccacio bread. There’s a windswept outdoor terrace above the beach. Beyond, earnest surfers are tossed about, awaiting the perfect wave. Surf’s up and Brian Wilson skulks in a beach hut by the dunes, scribbling tunes where the wave furls forever and the sun never sets.

Fell in love years ago with an innocent girl

from the Spanish and Indian home

of the heroes and villains.

Follow the path from O’Looney’s on down to the seafront, the coast walk splitting the beach from Lahinch’s famous links golfcourse. A cluster of modern buildings house the amusements and some eateries. There’s a Canadian place called Randaddy’s.  I am ambushed by the mother of spicy pizzas, accompanied by a wonderful cool Molson’s. The soundtrack takes me back. Dylan and Cash sing of the Girl from the North Country. Singing might be too strong a term.

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Remember me to the one who lives there,

She once was a true love of mine

The Boxer follows. There’s that killer line: In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade. I should be leaving but I can’t. There is a perfect moment, where the senses and the elements and the inner self meet in harmony. These days it’s more a question of emotion than elation. That’s just the way it is. Sitting in the sun-blasted diner, the summer evening and the surf stretching to infinity, the playlist unfurls. My Sweet Lord, Vincent’s starry, starry night, Rod Stewart’s Maggie showing her age. Dylan exhorts the troops with the times they are a-changing. Now I’m showing my age

Come gather round people wherever you roam

and admit how the waters around you have grown,

You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone,

For the times they are a-changing!

Lahinch surfIn Danny Mac’s Cafe Bar, we’re drinking to old times. Man, wherever you go, they pull a fine pint down here. There’s something of a cafe ambience, alright. They do a Legendary Irish breakfast here too. I’m not seeing much night out here. The sun might go down in nearby Galway Bay, but it won’t be long coming up again.

There’s early morning rugby in Kenny’s Bar. The Lions have mauled the All Blacks for a change, and the blood’s up. Mind you, this might be Thomond, but it’s hardly Rugby country. There’s anticipation for the county hurlers, destined to fall ultimately to Cork. Later on, Kenny’s will transform into the town’s music venue, harvesting that crop that grows from the stony soil. 

We take a jaunt out past Liscannor, no more than a roadside stop with a small harbour. The land tilts upwards, ending suddenly at the teetering edge that is the Cliffs of Moher. The end of the old world. Next stop Amerikay. Its vastness sets a ringing in the ears, an affront to comprehension. One way to describe it is the Grand Canyon with the Atlantic instead of the Colorado River. Really it is unique, although you’ll be joining a crowd when you go up there. A certain herding is formed in funneling through the visitor centre. When you finally get out there, try to find a spot, not too near the edge. Spread your arms, fill your lungs, feast your eyes. And be in that moment.

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Farther on, Doolin nestles on its promontory. It’s a picturesque settlement of cottages with craft shops and pubs. A gable wall proudly proclaims Sweaters. Probably the garment; with the weather round here you’d need a heavy sweater. Then there’s Christy Moore. Ferries to the Aran islands set out from the harbour. We return to the desolate low headland where we once put up tents in the dead of night beneath a star spangled sky, in the light of a big Ford Cortina. Turning twenty and without a clue where we were, without a care.

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At three score and five, I’m very much alive,

I still got the jive to survive

with the heroes and villains.

dom, de doody doo wah …