Róisín Ingle . . . on the past, the present and the sea

'The past beats inside me like a second heart." I come across this quote when searching online for the sea. The quote comes from The Sea by John Banville, a book I've never read. I am searching for the sea because I've just come back from Dunmore East in Co Waterford where I stayed in The Strand Inn, a hotel that nestles on the shore and where when you look out your hotel window from a certain angle it is like looking out the windows of a ferry.

From this window it feels as if there is nothing else outside for miles but water and that this lovely hotel might be floating on it. I could have sat on the pink sofa for the whole weekend never switching channels away from Seaside TV: small children building big castles, elegant women in swimming caps bracing themselves for the water, friends daring each other to take the plunge, delirious dogs spraying salt water everywhere, resolute looking men leaving behind neat piles of clothes and sandals, to pick their way out and slide solo beneath the water.

Growing up beside the sea must do something to you. Maybe it’s responsible for that sense of homecoming whenever the sea hoves into view or you push your shoulders beneath it. I slipped down from the hotel room late in the evening to sit alone on the hotel terrace and stare out at the sea in the dark. I watched the rise and fall of black waves. I thought about how addicted I am to the sound of them meeting the shore. Maybe it was the wine (it was probably the wine) but it was as though the waves were whispering to me.

We have been here many times before, the sea and I. We have come very close to the edge.


The past beats inside me like a second heart.

The first time I nearly drowned was more than 30 years ago on holiday in Fanore in Co Clare. The man I had convinced to bring me for a swim, even though I knew the waves were as high as walls that evening, was further out than I was when I felt the current drag me under.

I remember thinking “I am going to die” and I hadn’t been alive for very long at that stage but my short life flashed before me just like they say it will when the end is nigh.

It seemed like a miracle when after minutes of going under and gasping and going under again, I felt sand beneath my feet and dragged myself to where my little brother stood shivering and scared on the sand.

I looked behind me but the man I had convinced to bring me swimming had disappeared and I knew that the sea had taken him.

The morning broke brightly in Dunmore East and after breakfast we brought the children down for a swim to a little cove with a cave. The sun was shining but the water was too cold for them so they found polished stones and like pirates buried their treasure marking the spot with an X.

I went into the water to wallow in that sense of homecoming. They were right, the water was cold. But something else was stopping me from going into and under it.

The past beats inside me like a second heart.

The second time I nearly drowned was nearly 20 years ago in Dunmore East, just across the bay from where I stood now.

I was with my friend Kim. The water was still and inviting, there was nobody else about. Everything was fine until it wasn’t. We had swum out too far maybe, or there were strange unknowable currents beneath us or the shock of the cold water had sapped the strength from our limbs. We were out of our depth and the rocks to the left of us seemed many miles away.

We thought we would not make it and we panicked and that made it worse. I remember shouting at Kim that if we didn’t calm down it was all over. She understood and loosened her grip on me.

Slowly with madly beating hearts we somehow made it over to the rocks and did not drown. I stand in the sea now looking over at the place where it happened remembering while behind me my children bury treasure.

I made a choice somewhere along the line that these experiences would not dampen my love for the sea. But they are always below the surface, treading water inside me, and as I grow older they are for some reason making their presence more fully felt.

I brace myself. I go under the water. Because it is beautiful here in the shimmering waters of Dunmore East and because while the past is ever present, it can never be as real or as vital as the present moment itself.