Brendan's Cottage was a tiny, tumbledown building which seemed to grow out of the ground as natural as the nettles which overflowed the miniature garden. It stood on the edge of Mannin Strand, a white sweeping beach like the wing of a gull. As for Brendan, I never really found out who he was, just the man we sometimes saw tending his craggy cows. The man we went to when the gas ran out or that memorable time when the sewage rose up into the bath. He was unbelievably chaotic and never did today what could be done tomorrow. One year there was a scribbled sign above a window which read "Careful With Catch" and the next year was replaced with "DON'T Open Window!" There were mouldy mattresses, moth-eaten rugs and blankets which smelt of old, wet dog. And sand. Heaps of sand. A fine dusting covered everything, the bath, the beds, our clothes, everything. In the cottage was a little peat fireplace which we called "The Beehive". Here we toasted marshmallows till we were coated in sticky, pink goo and sat in the hearth to get warm. Once we cooked fresh mackerel wrapped in tin foil on the open fire, and ate them in our fingers, piping hot and full of tiny bones.
But we spent most of our time on the beach. Climbing rocks, playing hopscotch and rounders and making endless sandcastles with moats which we tried to fill from the sea but always remained dry. Or we explored the pools hidden amongst the rocks, we searched for shrimps hidden beneath the weeds and we cooked them and ate them fresh. Once I saw an eel, in a turquoise pool we called the Mermaid Lagoon. It was wriggling on the bottom, like a fat, grey worm and when I saw it it grinned, flashing its little, pointed teeth at me and then disappeared with a plop and a flick of its tail.
Or (if we were brave enough) we swam in the sea. It was the Atlantic Ocean and it was freezing cold. A cold which knocked the breath from you and whose icy fingers chilled your very bones. But it was beautiful - a blue-grey sparkling mirror which left Ireland and stretched ahead of us, never to see land again till the shores of North America. We only ever stayed in for a few minutes watched by seals with a look of mild scorn and interest on their round faces. And then we splashed as fast as we could out, back on to the sand, and ran along the beach, teeth chattering, fingers numb and blue, to get warm. It was a peaceful, rambling sort of life, occasionally broken by mini adventures and excitements. Like the time we saw a porpoise or when we couldn't find the house key and Brendan got it for us from the milk churn. And when I found ninety-two salmon-pinks in one go, tiny, fragile shells, like babies' fingernails.
I loved Connemara, I still do. But it belongs in my memory. If I went back tomorrow, the sea would seem too cold, the sand too wet, Brendan's Cottage too simple. I may go back there in time, but for now it will stay a childish picture in my mind - sparkling, clear, so beautiful.