Holidays through the Years

Memories of Mervyn Upton

28th August, 1930 ~ 29th November, 2012


Ireland 1968 and 1969

In 1968, I booked a holiday at The Bridge Hotel at Arklow, about 40 miles south of Dublin. Transport picked up the group, the mini-bus being driven by a character named Noel. We stopped for refreshments at an establishment about half way. It must have been a favourite of his because wherever he took us during the holiday, we always stopped at the same place.

Noel was unique. He always referred to the hotel owner as ‘Himself’.

On one trip, we were shown the Sugarloaf Mountain. I asked what its original name was as Sugarloaf sounded about 17th Century. He didn’t know. “What is its name in Irish?” I asked. “The trouble with you, Mr Upton, is that you ask too many questions.” he replied.

Another day, before setting out, he asked me if I had my camera with me as he had something very special to show me and it would also have something to interest a fellow traveller. During the trip we stopped at a very isolated, scruffy pub. “There it is” he proudly announced “the highest pub in the whole of Ireland.” I declined to photograph it, so he invited the other man to “Come in for a drink.” He declined as it was too early in the day. Noel left the vehicle, slammed the door and disappeared into the pub, leaving us for at least a half hour.

At other times he rushed us through really interesting places, giving us just ten minutes to view Glendalough.

Janet suggested that next year we should return with a hire car to have a longer look at interesting places. It was to be our first holiday together. I warned her that Irish weather could be variable and often wet so she should be prepared. She decided that she needed a new mackintosh for the trip and purchased a light weight rubberised one which she found to be very effective during the early part of the holiday which was damp and cool. However, conditions improved so she then wore her green jacket and skirt.

We flew from Lulsgate to Dublin via Rhoose in an Aer Lingus Viscount 808 E1-AKO on 24th May, 1989 and, at Dublin Airport, hired a Volkswagen car. On the way to Arklow, I suggested to Janet that she might like to have refreshments at Noel’s favourite. As we were about to enter, Noel appeared. He obviously remembered me and said “Mr Upton, for old times’ sake, I’ll give you a lift to Arklow.” I explained we had a hire car and were on our way to The Bridge Hotel. Janet inquired where she might park the car. She was told that, opposite the hotel, was a wide lane leading to the river. His final words were “If anyone asks why you’re parking there, tell them Noel gave you permission.”

The first day we set out for Glendalough. Travelling through the Vale of Avoca, we stopped at the Meeting of the Waters where the rivers Avonbeg and Avonmore join. Thomas Moore wrote a poem about the place and now there is a memorial bust to him in a garden at the spot. Briefly, we stopped to descend to the Vale of Clara to view the tiny hamlet and its ancient bridge over the Avonmore. Arriving at Glendalough, we lunched at one of the hotels shortly before two coachloads of tourists arrived. Panic ensued and several times we were asked to which party we belonged, Frames or Poly? We were tempted to reply ‘Peachey’s’!

After lunch we set out to explore the site founded in the 6th Century by

St Kevin. Besides being a monastery, it was really a small city that had hostels, schools and universities. Like many Irish antiquities, it is spoiled by becoming a graveyard. The best known building, St Kevin’s Kitchen, is a chapel with a small round tower, built about 900AD and still intact. Another intact building is the Round Tower of a type to be found at many Irish religious sites and used as a refuge from enemies, especially Vikings. We were surprised to view a nun and her brother praying on their knees at the tower and not in one of the many chapels, whole or ruined.

The next day we set out for Glenmalure, an isolated valley where Irish rebels assembled in 1798. The weather was still unsettled and Janet was suitably clad in her new mackintosh but would have been more comfortable wearing trainer type shoes if they had existed in those days. There was one small farm in the valley approached by stepping stones but, at the end were the burnt out ruins of a British Army Barracks, obviously destroyed by the IRA sometime between 1916 and 1922.

On Tuesday we drove south to visit the ports of Wexford and Waterford. The weather was, again, damp and breezy. At Wexford there seemed to be no maritime activity but we visited the lightship, now a floating museum. Woolworth’s was established in an 18th Century building. As usual, we dined in a hotel. Cafes were few in number and of poor standard so we used hotels which were only too pleased to feed us. We were surprised that, often, men in overalls were also present.

Next, to Waterford ~ a much more active port. We watched horses being loaded on a British Rail steamer and we wondered their fate…to England for riding or France as food?!

At the quayside was Reginald’s Tower, a Viking fortification now used as a tourist office. Entering, we discovered it was possible to visit Waterford’s famous glassworks. Janet managed to obtain a cancellation so we immediately went to see the glass manufacture. We were amazed at the skill of the glass blowers, mainly young men, who worked in very warm conditions. They retained their fluid levels by drinking milk, many crates of which were visible. A memorable occasion for us.

The next day was sunny so the mackintosh was left in the hotel and Janet ventured forth in her jacket and skirt. We drove to the coast to visit the small, decrepit and abandoned ports of Courtown and Cahore. Both had seen much better days and the only people seen were two boys fishing at Cahore. Morriscastle Strand was a fine, extensive beach but completely empty. Here Janet had a brief paddle but found the Irish sea water to be cold.

Finally, to Wicklow, a much more active port, where we watched a group of yachtsmen preparing for sea. The port was defended by a castle but its remains are now very slight with the sea claiming part of it.

The next day, our last whole one, we went to Powerscourt. First we viewed ‘The Field of Agincourt’, not the place of the battle in 1415 but the site where Laurence Olivier’s film version was shot in 1945. The house was magnificent (alas, it has, since then, been destroyed by fire) and the grounds extensive. No access to the house was possible but we were permitted to enter the grounds. There were terraced lawns dropping to a lake, and a Japanese garden where Janet crossed a bridge in true Mikado style.

On a hillside were small gravestones. Janet thought they were those of servants but I suggested she investigated them more closely to find they belonged to family pets! The outstanding feature of the grounds is the waterfall.

A visit to Ferns is worth recording. Now a small village, it was once the capital of Leinster with a cathedral. Now there are the ruins of a large castle and several ecclesiastical ones including a round tower. As previously mentioned, the Irish have not cared for their ancient buildings. Within the castle were several corrugated iron buildings. Janet did not like skeletons so, when we were in one of the church buildings, I suddenly said “Look!...there’s a skeleton over there.” Thinking her leg was being pulled she looked, screamed and rushed out of the ruin. Inside was the skeleton of a sheep!

The day we returned home, there was tome to explore Dublin. We saw the Book of Kells (c800AD) at Trinity College, the Post Office at O’Connell Street, the Headquarters of the IRA in 1916. At the end of O’Connell Street there was then a statue of Nelson, similar to the one in Trafalgar Square. Later, it was destroyed by the IRA. On the quay of the River Liffey are the Four Courts and Customs House. Both are pitted by shrapnel from British artillery shells when the British Army was requested to aid the Irish Government during the Civil War of 1922.

Finally, Janet, rather reluctantly, left the Volkswagen at Dublin Airport as we caught Aer Lingus Viscount E1-ALG to fly to Lulsgate.

A film taken at the time has reminded me of these events.

Easter 1970

At Easter, 1970, Janet and I were invited to stay with Janet’s Aunt Clare at Padstow. A car was hired and off we set. Aunt Clare was the middle sister of the five Forester girls (Janet’s mother, Margaret, who called herself Maggie, was the youngest.) Clare was the family organiser and a formidable lady who had to be obeyed. When the five sisters met, two groups were formed with Clare in the middle attempting to maintain the peace and order. It was Dorothy (Dobs) and Hilda versus Mildred (Mid) and Margaret.

That first evening, Aunt Clare prepared a delicious meal and I told her to sit down while Janet and I washed up…she could return to the kitchen to return the items to their place of storage. No-one had ever spoken to her like that but, after another bout of orders, she went to sit down saying “Can’t I do what I like in my own kitchen?”… Answer…”No, not when there’s washing up to be done!” For the rest of our stay, she sat while we washed up.

I went into family history as the first person, to date, to order Aunt Clare!

Janet had brought her a package of goodies, including ‘After Eight Mints’. She would wait until 20.00 (8pm) until she would eat any of them.

At Padstow, free car parking vanished on Maundy Thursday. During our stay, the weather was mainly good so we were able to drive off each day leaving Aunt Clare at home which she preferred. As usual, Janet was prepared for rainy weather and purchased a new, black rubber mackintosh. Fortunately, it was only worn once as it did not make her more visible in dull, wet conditions. Most of the time she wore a red trouser suit which was better for filming.

We used the car to visit many sites of interest. The coastal scenery was impressive, especially Bedruthan Steps.

Cornwall is particularly rich in prehistoric sites and both the Lanyon Quoit and the Trevethy Quoit were visited and admired. They were structures of very large stones that formed the burial chambers of Neolithic tombs.

The Iron Age village of Chysauster was also very impressive. Initially an Iron Age Hill Fort and then a Celne settlement, Castle Dore has connections with King Mark of Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde. Nearby is a tombstone of the 6th Century known as Tristan’s Stone bearing a Latin inscription which translates “Tristan lies here son of Cynvawr” We were intrigued by the granite at Roche with a 15th Century chapel ruins at the top, below which was a hermit’s cell. We ascended carefully to enjoy the splendid views from the summit. The very many ruins of tin mines attracted us as did the evidence of the china clay industry.

The village of Tintagel was a typical tourist trap…everything was King Arthur or Merlin. Even the guest house welcomed ‘Knight Visitors’! h

Having left the car in King Arthur’s car park, we walked to the castle, descended and ascended the steep paths to the island and enjoyed the experience.

The remains of Dark Age monastery were much more interesting than the medieval castle. In 1976, a bridge was constructed to make access easier.

We wished to take Aunt Clare out for a day’s trip but the domineering Aunt Mid said she wanted to take us out. In fact this meant that Janet drove the car with Aunt Mid giving instructions. First, we visited St Just in Roseland, a much over-rated place, then to St Mawes where I visited the fine Tudor Coastal Fort. The village, with its narrow streets and old houses was interesting and photogenic. We crossed the River Fal by the King Harry Ferry – a curious experience.

Next, we visited some gardens which charged too much for too little. The place delighted the aunts. I did the paying! Finally, we visited Falmouth.

It was a pity we were not able to take Aunt Clare out on her own to thank her for her kindness to us.

Ireland 1971

On 18th August, 1971, we flew, again, in Cambrian Airways Viscount 701

G-AMOE to Cork to stay at The Lake, Inchigeela about 35 miles away. Its population was about 180. We picked up a hire car and were asked if we wished to have excess insurance. Driving out of the airport, Janet was saying she did not see the need of extra insurance …when…crash! The car in front stopped suddenly and Janet hit it. Out of it stepped two priests, two smartly dressed women stayed inside. The damage was inspected ~ the priests’ car had a broken light and we suffered a slight dent. Names and addresses were exchanged and one of the priests said “Fortunately no one was hurt. It is easier to repair mechanics than human beings. Don’t worry about it, don’t let it spoil your holiday.”

We set off, but after a mile or so I could smell rubber. Janet stopped the car and I discovered that the front left mudguard was rubbing against the tyre. The road was straight but completely empty. Some distance ahead were signs of a garage so Janet drove very slowly towards it. To our horror, we saw that it was not closed but abandoned. What to do next? No traffic, no other buildings in sight. Suddenly another car, a rather ancient well-used specimen arrived. The driver was looking for petrol and he observed that we were troubled. He inquired about our problem and I showed him the mudguard. “No problem!” he said and, going to the boot of his car, produced a large hammer and a few blows solved the problem. Not all angels wear white and have wings, some are Irishmen with large hammers!

We continued on our way and all seemed well until a red light appeared on the dashboard. Janet quickly diagnosed the problem…the fan belt. Soon we came to a garage. This one appeared to be open and there were people there. Janet was told they were closed and could not help her. However, they lifted the bonnet and told her she had lost the fan-belt. They told her she would be able to reach her destination but to drive slowly. We found the side road leading to Inchigeela, the village was about 3 miles away, but we drove until we had gone a lot further. We were lost! Soon we came to an inn and a man was trimming a hedge. He appeared to have recently been in a fight. We were directed down a lane next to the inn. It grew narrower and narrower -we came to a crossroad or, to be more accurate, a cross-lane. What to do next? Return to the road and retrace our steps. We did and shortly after crossing a bridge, we came upon some cottages. In the garden of one, there was an old lady “Can you help us? We’re lost. We’re looking for Inchigeela” I said. She replied “Sure, you’re not lost at all. Turn left about a mile from here and it’s then about another mile.” I thanked her and, at last, we were on track. Wondering where The Lake Hotel was, Janet asked a passer-by. He answered “It’s the one on the right! Inchigeela was T shaped and The lake Hotel was where the two roads intersected.

We parked and entered. There was a collection of photographs on the walls of the entry passage ~ the leaders of the 1916 IRA. Later, we learned that this part of County Cork had been strong IRA land. The village Anglican Church and big house were burnt out ruins. However, we were welcomed although the conversation with our host was not easy as he had such a strong Irish accent.

That evening, Janet read the small print on the hire car forms and thought we should take the vehicle to Cork to show its owners the damage. Next morning, I got up about 08.00 and descended. The place was deserted. I walked to the main door, slid the bolts and opened it. The scene before me could have featured in a disaster film. Nobody was there, the streets were empty. I returned to the bedroom. About 09.00 movements were heard and the hotel and village came to life. Janet explained our problem to the hotel owner and he said he would phone the local garage to prepare them for the replacement of the fan belt.

After breakfast, we set out for the garage. It was rather scruffy with wrecked cars strewn about and there was a caravan. Nobody could be seen. Janet hooted the car’s horn and, after a while, a curtain opened in the caravan and a woman waved at us. Shortly afterward, a man appeared fastening his trousers. However, he quickly and efficiently replaced the fan belt. I was led into the workshop where a receipt was requested. It was full of wrecks and bits of cars. Eventually, he found the receipt book and a page on which his children had not scribbled.

Off we went to Cork and parked the car. We found the hire car firm’s office and reported the crash. We were then driven through the streets of Cork, by one of the company’s employees, to our hire car. He looked at it superficially and said “Is that all? It wasn’t worth bringing it to show us. Go off and enjoy your holiday.” We did so and from then onwards all went well but we had some interesting experiences.

There was a creamery in Inchigeela and, every morning, farmers would bring churns of milk, sometimes on trailers towed by tractors, sometimes on horse-carts and sometimes on donkey-carts. Once a week, the bank arrived ~ a motor-coach owned by the bank of Ireland.

On the land of one farm, was the ruin of an old castle ~ a fortified tower. I asked permission to photograph it which was readily granted. I asked the castle’s age (about 16th Century) and was told “It’s ever so old ~ we’ve been here 30years and it was here when we came.” !!!!

Just before 08.00 on Sunday morning, we heard voices and the tramp of feet. The inhabitants, in family groups, were off to Mass. About an hour later, we heard them returning. From our window, we observed something curious… the men divided into groups, one entering the hotel opposite and the others coming into the Lake Hotel, while the women and children walked home. When we descended, the bar was crammed full with noisy drinkers.

It was curious to hear different versions of the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland on BBC radio and Radio EIREANN. Guests were few in number, a lady who had left Dublin because she was afraid of street violence, two Christian Brothers who spoke to us and two Roman Catholic priests who could barely acknowledge the time of day. However, food was good and one meal especially remains in the memory – roast duck. All cooking was done over an open range.

We chose, unfortunately, a dull day to visit Killarney but Janet’s red PVC mackintosh enlivened the film shots that day. We commenced with a visit to Aghadoe which usually gave excellent views of Killarney’s lower lake (Lough Leane) with Macgillyevddy’s Reeks behind - but not that day of low cloud and damp mist. Aghadoe has the ruins of a cathedral (7th Century) with additions made in the 13th Century, the remains of a round tower and a small castle. Then we walked through the Demesne to Lough Leane and then to Ross Castle, one of the ruins ‘that Cromwell knocked about a bit’.

One memorable place visited was Staigue Fort. It is in a very isolated spot and dates back to pre-history but actual age unknown. Basically circular in shape, its dry-stone walls range from 15 to 7 feet thick and 18 feet high. There was only one small, low entrance. There are several flights of steps that lead to the top of the walls. There are two small rooms within the thickness of the walls.

Near to Inchigeela, we came across signs pointing to ‘The Place of the ambush’ and to Kilmichael. The name Kilmichael struck a chord but what it was escaped me. A visit to the site revealed the tragedy. On 28th November 1920, two lorry loads of British Auxiliaries were ambushed by Barry’s Flying Column and all 18 men were killed, the IRA lost 3. Before the ambush, the IRA men had been to Mass (it was Sunday) and Father O’Connell, parish priest of Ballineen, sent them forth with the words “Good luck boys! I know you will win! God keep you all! Now I will give you my blessing!”

Now, stone tablets recording the positions of the various sections and a large memorial bearing the words “Later generations shall call them blessed”, mark the site.

During our visit, I had a conversation with a man collecting milk churns from the road-side with a horse and cart. He chatted freely but, when I said to him “You must have been around when this happened” he muttered “It was different then”, jumped in his cart and moved off as fast as the horse could travel.

Finally, we visited Blarney Castle. I’m sure that the present safety regulations in this country would have closed the ruins and stopped its claim to fame ~ kissing the Blarney Stone. Janet bravely decided to participate in the ceremony (I had done so on a previous occasion). As so often, the castle, built about 1446, was badly damaged by Oliver Cromwell. About 120 feet above the ground is the stone. It gives the gift of eloquence to all who kiss it, according to a myth dating back to Elizabethan days, but other stories are also quoted. Nowadays, one lies on one’s back, grasps two bars and lowers oneself through a gap to kiss the stone. Janet completed the ordeal but then took a little time to regain her composure.

August 1977

In August 1977, we stayed at Cleaver’s Lyng, Herstmoucuex, East Sussex, very close to the site of RAF Wartling. We booked for a day trip to Le Touquet. The operator was Dan-Air and the aircraft Vickers Viscount 708 G-ARGR. I first saw this machine when it was under construction at Weybridge, on Ascension Day 1953, during a visit with the KAC Science Society. It was being built for Air France as F-BGNN.

When we arrived at Le Touquet, the party was split into groups to board a small coach. Each group included a representative from the tourist company that organised the trip. Unfortunately ours spoke no French, our driver no English, so I had to use the remnants of my school certificate French for communication. Arriving at Le Touquet we commenced by looking for a baker’s shop to purchase baguettes. A Frenchman, who had just parked his car, asked me the time. I replied in French and he thanked me for using his language. Lunch was included and a restaurant supplied us with French-style chicken and chips. We were pleased to see our drivers having similar meals. After a look at the famous beach and summer residencies of the wealthy, we visited two other places. The final stop was at a hypermarket where our fellow tourists rushed to purchase cheap drink. We remained in the coach with our bemused driver. At the airport the Viscount arrived and disgorged French tourists who had been visiting Canterbury. Most seemed to be carrying Marks and Spencer bags. Finally, the nearest fish and chip shop benefitted from the descent of hungry tourists when we returned.

1989 ~ 2005

From 1989 to 2005, Janet and I made holiday visits to Guernsey, renting a flat near Candie Gardens in St Peter Port. At this period, the island celebrated the Battle of Britain with an annual air display. This gave the local RAFA the opportunity to raise cash for the RAF Benevolent Fund and their caravan was always placed in front of the town church. One year, a particularly dominating female almost demanded money from us. I replied “I was in the RAF, where do I get my cut?” She was not amused …but I was!