it's only been three days since we said goodbye, but I'm missing you already. Truth be told, I started missing you before we'd even packed the car to go home. The night before the holiday ended I was lying on my back in the sea, letting the bossy Atlantic waves toss me around, when I realised this was the last swim. The last pint of Guinness out the back of Frawley's, where a Gourmet Kitchen truck sells incredible tacos. The last walk along the prom. The last glorious sunset over Lahinch.
Look, I know there will be a next time. And I know, being so much cooler than me, you’ll think this is all stupidly over the top. I can hear you now: “A letter in The Irish Times? Sure, there’s no need for all that.” But I wanted to tell you. So I’m telling you now. I miss you, Clare.
Isn’t it mad when you think about it? We go so far back, nearly 40 years. We didn’t have too many holidays in the 1980s. If we did go anywhere there were no planes or even boats involved. It was a bit like pandemic times, in that way. We didn’t have much money in my family growing up so there were only a handful of childhood trips out of Dublin. (Yes, Clare, you can take out that tiny fiddle and play it softly for me now). When we did have a holiday, we went to you.
We stayed in a caravan by the beach at Fanore. Family friend D would bring us potholing in the Burren, putting the heart crossways in my mother. We’d go down one hole in the ground and crawl through tunnels and caves for several kilometres before emerging out of another hole covered in rust-coloured underground gunk.
Years later, in geography class, I recognised the stalactites and the stalagmites in books because I’d seen them up close on these adventures. I never felt braver than when on hands and knees in the dark, following the faraway light from D’s head torch.
They held my hands when I walked into the same ocean, at the same spot, for the first time since that last awful time
When I think about it now, or about my own children going caving in the Burren, I put my own heart crossways in myself. But they were different times, Clare. I mean, I have a picture of myself aged around 10, lying down and looking over the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. You couldn’t do it now, Clare. Different times.
It’s funny, isn’t it? We were so close and then it all ended overnight. Years and years passed. I thought I’d never see you again.
After it happened, I didn’t think I could ever go back to you. I won’t go into the details here, you know every single detail anyway. You were there. I’ll just say that the night I nearly drowned in the sea at Fanore, the night D drowned, his body found later washed up on the rocks, I thought that was the end of you and me. It should have been really.
The trauma of that night never left me. D is buried in the small graveyard in Fanore. I know much more about him now than I did then. It’s a complicated grief. So after everything that happened, how could I go back?
I went back. That first time, as we drove in your direction stopping at the Barack Obama Plaza to break the journey, I found myself longing for you, Clare. I was coming back not as the girl who fell in and suddenly out of love with you, but as a woman with a partner and daughters, who were now around the age I was when you and I first met.
I told my girls what happened in Fanore. They held my hands when I walked into the same ocean, at the same spot, for the first time since that last awful time.
We eat mussels in a friend's burren-filled back garden, where I triumphantly remember every single word to Percy French's Are Ye Right There Michael (Are Ye Right)
And now every year we go back to see you. And every year I remember why I loved you as a child. Down on the Flaggy Shore, our hearts get blown open and caught off guard with a spontaneous swim after crab sandwiches served by Jordan in Linnane’s Lobster Bar.
Across at the Burren Perfumery, we eat soup and cakes in the garden watched by a robin. At the Father Ted House, near sweet Corofin, children hold signs up saying “Careful Now”. In Ennis we buy things we forgot to bring – chargers, playing cards – in the Aladdin’s cave that is Jimmy’s Discount Store.
On a thrilling Sea Safari with Liam from the Doolin Ferry Company, we sail around a sea stack where two falcons rule the roost and the guillemots play near the Harry Potter cave. We eat mussels in a friend’s burren-filled back garden, where I triumphantly remember every single word to Percy French’s Are Ye Right There Michael (Are Ye Right).
We swim in the glittering ocean at Lahinch or the rocky pools of Clahane or on the White Strand near Kerin’s Hole. And afterwards we devour the freshest fish and chips and ice cream sundaes in Spooney’s. We taste chocolate at Hazel Mountain and smoked salmon in the Burren Smokehouse and then – look, we’re on our holliers – have a cruffin or two from Hugo’s bakery.
We walk it all off in the Burren, across a limestone landscape that might be the moon or another, as yet undiscovered, planet. Spotting orchids growing there, flowering like tiny miracles. Walking more, this time along the Cliffs of Moher, somehow only finding out now that they were the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride.
We don't lie down and lean over the cliff edge anymore. We know better now. We know you better, Clare. It's a long, long way from you to here, as the song goes.
Miss you already, Clare. Until next time.