My mother created her own unisex swimming togs from scraps of wool. (And dad wore them too)

The following summer at Laytown, we saw her go wading into the briny, a great knitted whale, flopping and bobbing, arms white against bottle green wool

Vintage photograph of two men and a young boy at the beach in those fantastic period swimsuits. Photo taken July 8th, 1934, at the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: iStock

Vintage photograph of two men and a young boy at the beach in those fantastic period swimsuits. Photo taken July 8th, 1934, at the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: iStock

 

Every summer, our family holiday was spent in a red tin house on the strand in Laytown, a paradise to us Cavan children. Here, over a month, we’d visit “the shop” and savour the smells of ice cream and sea, sugar and bread, buy yellow feathery birds on sticks, and “Mickey Mugs” for a penny. (Mickey Mugs were egg-cups filled with coloured ice to be scraped out with a spoon,)

We’d admire the milkman with his measuring cups, and the post-girl, and Lyons’s horse-drawn van pulling up with the loaves; we could play undisturbed in the railway station, swing from its cast-iron arches, slide down its grassy embankments, or we might fish for crabs in the Nanny tiver, play all day long in the sand dunes at Mosney, then empty of all but rabbits. But best of all was the looking forward – the sea, the strand and the togs not seen for a year!

During the weeks that preceded our flit, my mother would start packing two big leather-bound trunks. One had a hump-backed lid to hold the blankets and sheets and, on occasion, sacks of broad beans; the other stood tall to receive our Sunday outfits and had little drawers with leather pull-out handles: these drawers were for underwear, hankies and, especially, for the togs.

Now, each of us had our own togs in different shapes and styles: mine was a scratchy orange affair but my mother’s outdid all. Over one winter, I’d seen her sit by the fire humming and knitting, creating her own “pair of togs” from scraps of wool. I’d watched as the garment grew bigger and heavier month by month.

It would be a one-piece outfit consisting of knickers under a frilly skirt, and a checkerboard top to be securely buttoned on each shoulder.And importantly, it would be a unisex garment for, if worn by her, both buttons would be fastened while my father would “do” only one.

Then the following summer at Laytown, we saw her go wading into the briny, a great knitted whale, flopping and bobbing, arms white against bottle green wool; and her “dip” finished, saw her solemnly drape the togs, heavy with sand and salt, on the surrounding barbed-wire fence for my father to clamber into at the next tide. Oh, all of Laytown was splendid in summer but the sea was the thing . . . and the togs!

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