Reflecting on Dunbar

 

I grew up in a small seaside town in Northern Ireland. From my bedroom window, as a child, and then in another house as a teenager, but always with the same view, I could see the Irish Sea from my window. On clear days, the Isle of Man, and at night, the lights of Portpatrick.

Donaghadee is a town of about 7,000 residents located on the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland. Once the main port for ferry traffic from Scotland, ...

Donaghadee is a town of about 7,000 residents located on the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland. Once the main port for ferry traffic from Scotland, ...

I've come to realise in later years – I am 34 years old now, 17 years since I was 17, and that is starting to be startling to me, that I keep the sea with me. Particularly on my left-hand side. When I was a moody, grungy, dyed hair, baggy combat trousers from Fresh Garbage (Belfast, still selling combat trousers and other assorted necessary accessories to the self-affected disaffected self-realising youth), Honeycrack and REM wedged in my earholes, I'd leave the house, pelt down New Road, and turn right to the harbour, the grass of the Commons in Donaghadee.

 

And so the sea – the beautiful, open, bare and vast light of the sea – was always on my left. I keep it there even now. Being Writer In Residence for CoastWord 2016 in Dunbar has been a gift. To visit and revisit Dunbar, to remember a small seaside town, and all the multitudes it contains, has been a remembrance of the place I would always call home and the strangeness that will give. I'm an outsider here, but I recognise some things.

Dunbar 

I've worked with oh so good folk here, wonderful writers and a community that is working with open eyes and sometimes trembling hands to tell its stories. All hail the Writing Mums for this, every single one of you with your voices, your stories, your support for one another in recognising that every story is significant, and your courage in sharing and singing them.

 

You – yous - are magnificent A town with a High Street, and community, and a library, and a playground; where people nod and say hi on the street (because you wouldn't dare pass one another for shame of not, and yet an acknowledgement of belonging is worth more than words, even when you can't stand it), where there is a noise of children and where the Library has a good cafe, where there are maps of local history and how to cope with a relative with dementia. And with all that, so eternally and perhaps infernally present, there is always the sea, and the standing rocks, and the plains of Belhaven beach, and the wildness that gives. The walls where the fiercest gulls know how to mob in for a chip supper, and at the same time how to soar and remind you of bigger places. Of the most open skies, you can see. Land and space. Tide and air. That's Dunbar for me.