Book recalls the Salthill summer that was 1976

Author of Salthill memories, Pierce Forde

Author of Salthill memories, Pierce Forde

There are some books which strike a note because of a certain familiarity — in this case, the author and I are the same age, so his memories are often my memories — reminiscences that bring you to a place and time that stay in your heart forever.

I spoke this week to a Salthill man whose life was so touched by the memories of the summer of 1976, that he has penned a book about it.

Pierce Forde is a private equity director in San Francisco...but when he was 11, he was just your average schoolboy in Salthill. For those of you who may not remember, that summer was hot. Unseasonably. Whereas the entire early 1980s was when we re-imported rain and greyness, the second half of the 1970s seems to be bathed in blue skies and vivid colours when you look at photos from that era.

But first, the intro to Pierce's book...

The Halcyon Days of Youth (to quote Mr. Walt Whitman ) are real. Certainly, they were for me. Well, at least the days of 1976 were. That year – to be specific, that summer – was superlative in so many respects, although one aspect stands out for everyone who lived in Continental Europe in 1976. That thing? The weather...

The weather of 1976 made everyone happy, although perhaps the farmers less so. The weather was absolutely miraculous, especially for a country normally as sodden and soaked as Ireland. Week after week of clear, blue skies, with not so much as a puff of wind or a cloud in the sky. Ireland baked, the people got sunburned, my family ate salads, and I got rich.

I was eleven years of age.

I once asked my aunt (who was in her 80s at the time, born in the late 1920s ) the best summer she remembered. Without hesitation she said “1976”, cementing forever the truth of my memories of that year. The farmers of those days did not gush sentimental, as I do in this book, as drought in Ireland was largely an unknown entity then, and by golly they had to deal with parched fields and thirsty livestock month-in and month-out. Probably making hay was a doddle, if the grass grew in the first place, that is.

For me, it was a glorious, wondrous, time. Growing up in the seaside resort town of Salthill, Ireland, I was just old enough – and my harried parents run ragged enough, with seven children – that I was essentially off their radar during the school summer holidays. I would leave the house each morning at 7.00AM, off to rendezvous with Eoghan (my financial muse and co-conspirator ) with an admonishment from my Mum or Dad to “Be Home by Ten” that day.

They meant 10PM, not AM...

While Salthill in 1976 was not a city, by any stretch of the imagination, it was also not a village. Salthill, especially back then, fitted into a very specific and peculiar classification of urbanity. The Resort Town. Every summer brought with it a fresh influx of visitors, all wowed by the attractions, the sea air, the smell of fresh food and the atmosphere of holiday time.

Up for adventure

Into this atmosphere, the story of Pierce and Eoghan fits nicely, two local lads, game for anything, up for any scheme and sporting a welcome opportunity to make a few bob when the opportunity arose.

So what prompted Pierce to zone in on that year. Was it a coming of age?

"1976 has one distinct aspect in my memory, and it is simply that I was always looking forward to getting out of bed in the morning.

"The cool blue sky, each and every morning beckoned my lethargic soul. No rain (howling or otherwise ), no scudding clouds, no cold evenings. The weather facilitated everything, from climbing trees to making money at the casinos. The sun warmed my inner lizard, and I loved it.

"My good friend Laura heard me regale her with enough stories of that summer, and my amazing exploits with my friend Eoghan that she finally said it would be an excellent book. She was the catalyst, and the book then simply fell out of my head.

Is he still in touch with Eoghan, almost 50 years on?

"I see Eoghan on occasion when I am home. We went on quite different paths in our late teens, and when I moved to the US in 1989, many connections withered on the vine, including Eoghan and me. I sent him a copy of the book to his house in Glenard – I hope he received it, and I hope he enjoyed it. I will definitely look him up when I’m next home," Pierce told me from California this week as we spoke about that year and that sort of childhood.

"I think childhood has changed in one very fundamental way – the loss of adventure. Organic, spontaneous, adventure. Whatever about smart phones, etc., adventure (the one with a capital “A” in front of it ) is missing from the range of kids’ experiences in modern childhood.

"What passes for adventure nowadays is a pre-formatted, pre-fabricated “experience”, bounded by expectation, and delivered in a “safe” environment.

"Adventure, by its very definition, requires some kind of risk, be it emotional, physical, or psychological. The memories of those risks taken, and experiences therein, are the ones that define us in our adult years," he said.

It's not his first work. He has others which are on sale on Amazon, but Be Home By Ten recalls an era when there was an innocence; a time when you made your own fun and your own money. When by and large, adults left you to your own devices to develop the sort of skills and resilience that are needed for life.

The book is a pacy romp through the year that was. How have people reacted to it?

"I've a funny story for you. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 11 years now (Singapore for seven years before that ) and have a few local places I like to frequent. I always write at the bar when I hang-out – I just like the energy of people around me, I guess. Sometimes I listen to music on my headphones, sometimes not. On this occasion, it was a “not” event.

"Plugging away at whatever missive I was working on, I heard the distinct – and very specific – timbre of a Galway accent. Not just Galway, but Salthill. I turned to engage this young man in conversation, and what do you know, but he was the son of one of the McGranahan brothers – as in the four brothers who owned the “Big Arc” which is featured in the book. Enter into the fray, Niall McGranahan.

"The point of this little anecdote is that he subsequently bought two copies of the book, and over the course of a long weekend in Mexico (it was a bachelor party, all Irish lads ), he and the entire cadre of guys read it.

"Apparently, Niall started laughing out loud as he read the book on the plane, so one of the guys asked to borrow it, and the book quickly did the rounds. The quotes were “very funny”, “a trip down memory lane”, “brilliant”, etc.

"Another little serendipitous connection is the fact that John Carney’s son (he of the Big Arc fame, and my absolute hero, the man who saved Eoghan and me from the Rattlesnakes ) was in the wedding party, and he got to read about the Big Arc, and his Dad. Funny old world…"

Pierce is no stranger to Salthill which he now uses as a launchpad for European biking experiences.

"I try to get home every year, more often than not to pick-up my beautiful candyapple red Honda VFR800, on my way to Europe for three weeks of motorcycling mayhem.

"Bookending the time on the Continent is time (and pints of Guinness ) with my sister in Kilbeggan, and my brother and my best friends in Galway – usually in O’Connor’s in Salthill. Tom and Frank O’Connor are used to my shenanigans by this point," he laughs.

Sequels

This book is so unputdownable, there has to be a sequel, I press him.

"With respect to my American readership, one man in particular said “I simply want more, more of “Be Home by 10”” which got me thinking. After pondering this, I have embarked on two new books – “Last One In, Lock Up” (1977 to 1989 ), and the final issue of the trilogy – “Come Home, Someday…” which is literally still being lived, yet alone written. I have a passion for these books as concepts, I’ve started the former, so stay tuned," he adds.

That sense of adventure has served Pierce well.

"I have been to 52 countries at time of writing, 33 on a motorcycle. That is where the world has brought me physically. In my mind, my heart, and my sprit, those travels have brought me to the greatest highs – and the reciprocal lows – of my life.

Obviously, the sense of fun he had in 1976 is still with him.

"I’ve also done about thousand scuba dives around the world. Sharing meals with locals in the wilds of northern Vietnam and Thailand. Laughter. Tears. Being approached by a Minke whale in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef. Diving on the WWII wrecks of Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, sunk by the US forces during Operation Hailstone in February 1944, these are all strange places that my adventuring spirit has brought me." he recalls.

Yet, despite all of these, it is to that hot summer of '76 that he returns in his heart and mind.

Be Home By Ten is a wonderful book that will recall many memories of a time that was. Back before Galway was what it is now. It is fun, racy and a perfect capturing of the joys of childhood as it was. Well worth a read for all Galwegians. It is available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon.

 

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