Sand Shadow play


My gift to myseIf this Summer was to be in the moment.

I armed myself with my son’s camera.

I found that the camera made me stop and look and be.  And for all the photos I snapped, this one, of a little girl’s shadow in the sand, kind of stopped me in my tracks.

She is  8 years old and lost in a moment….

It transports me back to Ballymacaw c.1975.

Picked up on a Friday by my Aunty Moyra¸ cardboard box at the ready; packed with ham, tins of peaches, sliced bread, packets of oxtail soup, to spend the Summer running wild with the cousins in Coolum, Ballymacaw. Oh and a pound note tucked into my Adidas Rom runners to spend in Rita Dower’s shop or from the tuck shop under the bed; an orangey brown suitcase run by my enterprising older cousin (stocked with Juicy fruits and chocolate éclairs and liquorice pipes and Cadet orange Cadet).

group cove crop

“maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)”

Ballymacaw cove and sand in the sandwiches, building sand dams and fortresses clad with stones and shells to keep the tide out.  Swimming for hours in an ill fitting trés stylish bikini that came in a parcel from America.  Jumping off the Boat Rock; terrified, but going for it.  Fishing off The Point at Coolum with the Atlantic bashing us.

Swimming in the rain, the red rocks dappling purple, watching the raindrops bounce off the surface of the sea and feeling the ping on our skin and tasting the fresh of the rain.

“and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and..”

Taking the short cut home through the fields for the chase from the bullocks, scrambling under electric fences, stopping off to play dares and spin the bottle in the tall barley.

balesRiding high on the baling trailer; holding on tight and singing our heads off.  Eight roundy bales high with a well in the centre to keep us all safe.  Health and safety dept. on holidays clearly.

In the dead of night weeing in the bucket inside – anything more serious meant a trip to the jax outside – toilet across the lane with damp newspaper and a torch.

We had chores too but had ways to escape the boring ones.

There were other options like collecting the water for the day in big plastic containers from a tap across the lane, a heavy start but lighter as you trip and spill all the way back.


Fighting for a chance to get the glass bottles filled with warm milk from  Mick Whelan’s farm,  no spillage just drinkage – the warm hairy cream on the top was always worth scrapping for.


(Warriors need only apply for this one) Emptying the bucket! The wee bucket – nasty but still not as bad as hanging out the wet togs and towels.

ballymacaw collage fin.jpg‘Chez Nous’  was our posh den hideout where we played out the soap operas of the day. Mick Whelan’s car graveyard where abandoned volkswagons became a metropolis, a beetle junk city where we got up to allsorts of no good – the very best of adventuring.

New potatoes in the pot, fresh mackerel spitting, giant crabs screaming in boiling water, me running outside with fingers stuffed in my ears – poor crab.

“and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and”

Shooting and skinning rabbits, once the boys slit one open and the babies were inside, none of us felt like eating it. So we buried it and picked daisies.  We babysat a pig for a day too,  little wonder I became a vegetarian.

And at the weekends my Mam and Dad would come out from town to visit; cards and darts in Whites pub til late and a large bottle of Big Brother red lemonade and Tayto crisps for sharing, my dad saying “you’re as brown as a berry”.

Lying down in the grass and watching August’s star showers, walking across the wet fields in the moonlight with the smell of mushrooms under ground.  Indoors to the gassy SuperSer that kept us warm when the summer nights were drawing in…all in together boys, never mind the weather boys…we head counted 21 one night.

Or that year when we walked all the way back in to town on the Sunday just to make the holidays last a bit longer, our blackberry inked fingernails lasting for days along with the sea salty taste on strands of my hair.

That same feeling is in the air these days, ditches heavy with blackberries signalling that school is just around the corner.

I dunno… something about that little shadow brought it all back to me… threw some light on the past and gave me the gift of time travelling….

So much for me being in the moment.

“For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”


The song in my head – Hotter Colder by This is the Kit. (“it was your own shadow moving through the water….”).

Bits of poem – maggie and milly and molly and may – E. E. Cummings1894 – 1962


Today’s blackberry haul..yummy.

Best playground of all…

a pram

It’s Boatstrand and that time of year again – when tents, children, parents, aunties, uncles, grannys, grandads, camper vans, a silver cross pram and a giant inflatable pink flamingo… descend upon the little fishing pier on the Copper Coast in Co Waterford.

The pier is buzzing and children of all ages line up to be scheduled for sea life saving classes from Irish Water Safety. Class times get set and you turn up and work hard and the rest of the glorious day is yours.

So what do you do when you are waiting to be called for the class?

Because in between classes there is lots of time, time to…well, adults chat and chase children to dry them or smather them in suncream, cook, read, swim, snooze, drink tea, go fishing and chat more,  duck odd rain drops etc..  Fishing boats come and go, a fisherman works away, seagulls circle and squawl, flasks get shared around, barbecues hiss – the sounds and smells are mighty!

man work

And the children? They play and play… they invent worlds and games of their own.  I had the joy of being camped up close to an industrious bunch.  I was fascinated by them so I moved my towel closer to the action.

This is what they got up to…

a tool set

Little fingers took turns in the bucket. Sand & sea water gets moulded into oozy messes dripping between wet busy fingers, smoothing, shaping, forming perfect sand cannon balls – patting them to remove excess water, packing them tight and ready for firing.

a one mud ball


And for a target..

making target

Wet hands scrawl circles high and low on the sun dried pier wall.

The scoring they tell me goes like this –

“See the high circles , blast the outside ring and get 50 points

hit the inside ring straight on and you get 100

the lower circles –  the outside ring gives you 25 points and the inside gives you 50”

a score


making mark in the sand.jpg


A foot draws a line in the sand.

They line up with the weapons.

Negotiating to see who goes first.  “Will we do littlest goes first?” or “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo?” They stick their toes in. Sorted.

They stand in line.

Ready- Steady- Go!  – blast cannons at the wall and score!

a throw

Children of all ages simply lost in the play, in the serious business of it all, messy sensory play.

They invite me into the play cos I told them that I wanted to photograph a speedy sand cannon ball.

They demonstrated and showed me how it was done.  I found myself lost in the play too..

It was pure joyful fun.

I thought how lucky I was to have wandered in their direction. And this was just a side show to the main event.

I thought about all the learning that happens in an informal way – learning without boundaries or supervision.

Chatting, joking and making friends, adding up the scores = Language, literacy & numeracy skills.

Figuring stuff out – size, speed, texture, shape = science, art, engineering and critical thinking skills.

Playing, sharing, laughing, negotiating, taking turns = real life skills.

Albert Einstein said that “play is the highest form of research”. Rest my case.

And all in the great outdoors, the best playground of all, with the sea lapping and a gentle breeze a-stirring.

Pure magic.

What more would you ask of a summer’s day?a mud ball pact

This year, at the end of a busy week, 300+ children  received their life saving certificates from Irish Water Safety (

My daughter had me lying face down on the kitchen floor last night in prep for her finishing exam – lying on the floor “as if” I am in the water and she is saving me. I am in good hands and she is assured and confident.

My song for the week – “Seaside” The Kooks.  Check it out.


 Annual Boatstrand Water Safety week August 2017.