A holiday in Ireland sends my son on a flight of fancy Parents and parenting

For a day trip, we take the car five minutes across the water from Ballyhack to Passage East in Waterford. The boy is bewitched by the car ferry and keeps asking to see the captain, in the manner of a food critic asking to see the chef so he can stand up and shake his hand. Spotting the gruff, smoking man in an orange jacket who might meet this description, I decide he might puncture his mythical regard for this notional figure and tell him the captain is too busy charting our course with his lieutenants to speak with us right now. When given the option between fact and legend, like any Irish person who finds themselves working involuntarily for the Irish Tourist Board, I decide I must print the legend.

By the time you’re reading this, my son will have started primary school. There, in the real world, he may already have come home in flames, started speaking in dockworkers’ slang, or undergone a tattooed induction into a local biker gang. But, here and now, in the blissful past, we are enjoying a week’s holiday in Wexford, in Ireland’s southeast.

Like so many emigrants, the tradition of holidaying back home began less as a novel treat and more as a necessary commute to see grandparents. Now, these trips have taken on another role, as a tether between my childhood and his, a light basting of Irishness for our little Londoner, and a chance to inculcate some Hibernian superiority in his English breast. Luckily, my son loves this place and prefers it to his more regular visiting spot in Dublin – which he has taken to calling Ireland City, as if it were the Vatican or Luxembourg. The guidebooks sometimes refer to Wexford as the Model County, deriving from its status as a model of progressive farming methods – the kind of hip slang you get from Irish government departments – but it could just as easily refer to its steadfast prettiness, toothsome beaches and well-tended lawns.

So we take hedge-strewn walks along tidy country paths; mosey down cliffs to near-empty beaches to take a dip in seal-adjacent waters; go hunting in rockpools, scooping up seaweed and shells when your quest for larger, more active, quarry inevitably falls short; salute Hook lighthouse and lie to ourselves about the whales we see across the horizon; gaze at the stars that develop, Polaroid fashion, on to a light-denuded sky, puncturing the field of black like salt strewn over velvet; fall asleep in a total vacuum of noise that sustains, all night, the sanity-preserving calm you only get in Walthamstow immediately after a car alarm turns off, fooling you into thinking the steady London hum of background noise, for once, equals silence.

None of which is mentioned when I ask, that night in bed, his favorite part of the trip so far. ‘The fairy captain,’ he tells me, ‘of the fairy boat!’, before telling me all about the mythical ferryman he saw, and met, and knows as well as any of his friends; presumably an Elfen king, winged and resplendent, stationed at a mighty steering wheel, tasked with transporting weary adventurers, in their Volvos and Audis, between distant, magical lands, like Dunmore East and Ballyhack. I say nothing in correction. Even in memory, I deduce, the legend must be printed.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats

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