Donegal has always been a part of my life right from when I was born. Both of my parents are Donegal born and bred, my father raised in Ballyshannon, my mother in the village of Glencolmcille.
Mum would take me and my sister up to Glen nearly every week. My grandad is still living in the house where he and my nana (God rest her soul) used to run a bed-and-breakfast called Brackendale. Me and my sister would share a room with two twin beds and we had all sorts of fun together.
As I got older, the opportunity to travel up to Donegal became rare. I was in university, working, setting up my own life away from my family. There was no time to go back to the county that had played a large part in my life for so long.
But in the summer of 2019, I was thrilled to get the chance to go up to Glencolmcille with my mum to see Grandad. He would never say it out loud but I know that he is always delighted to see. In the years since my nana passed away, Grandad loved company.
During my stay that summer, Grandad got the idea of travelling to a place of the coast called Port.
Up until the mid 1800s, Port had been a thriving village, said to have been the first maritime port in Donegal. But during the Famine of 1845-1850, the entire village upped and left, fled to Liverpool and America, in the hopes of escaping the hunger and disease. Even now, centuries later, the stone houses still stand, crumbling down, but show that at some point in history, there were people living there. These are all that remain of this once-thriving village of Port.
It was a bit of a journey to get from Grandad’s house to the beach, but I didn’t mind that. It’s ironic; when I was much younger, I would easily get bored, wanting nothing more than for the car to stop so I could get out of there. But now, I enjoyed the views of rural Ireland passing by the windows of my mum’s car. We took it slow, as the path was very narrow and winding. On occasion, we would have to stop and let other cars inch their way past us.
At last we arrived at the beach in Port. Immediately, I was taken in by the beach. It was not your typical sandy seaside, this beach had hundreds of large stones leading down into the water. I stepped out of the car and breathed deeply in the sea air. There is always something about the smell of the sea that really calms me and makes me feel good.
Leaving Mum and Grandad behind, I moved down to the shore. There was an old wooden ladder laid down, leading to the sea. Wanting to get closer, I tried the ladder at first, but about halfway down, I decided to step out onto the stones.
I remember I was not prepared for it. There was no real grip and it was quite wobbly. A couple of times, I lost my balance and nearly toppled sideways, but I didn’t care. By some miracle, I managed to find my footing on one particular stone and spent a little while just watching the white sea foam crash against the rocks. I was in awe of the remnants clinging to the shore as the tide went back out; it reminded me of the story of the Little Mermaid. The bubbly sea foam was all that remained of her when she cast herself into the waters.
The stones were heavy to the touch but I was able to pick up a few of them and through them out to sea. I smiled as they hit the surface with a large splash then sunk without trace. The stones were my worries, my fears and I was tossing them out to sea.
There was no way that I was going to leave without a souvenir. I searched and examined everything around me, before finally selecting a grey, oval stone.
When I picked it up, at first glance, it was smooth and sparkly, perfect to the sight. But when I turned it over, I discovered that one part had been broken off, a chip in what was once a perfect stone. I could have discarded it and chosen another one, but something in me said that I should keep it. Because that stone was me.
The stone represents two sides to my personality. How I’ve changed over the years. The smooth outside represents the determination to be perfect, to fit in with the crowd. The rough, chipped part represents the inner turmoil, the struggles with accepting myself, accepting who I really was. It shows that while you can try to cover yourself up as best you can, but you can never truly hide what’s underneath.
The stone also shows that there is not such thing as perfect. When I was a teenage, I tried so hard to be the perfect girl, the one who could blend in, fit in with the cool kids. I read the magazines, tried the different hairstyles, did the make-up… but none of it worked.
Because I’m not perfect and I never will be. None of us will be.
At the end of the day, the only person I can be is myself. Why should I try to be perfect and follow the crowd? That isn’t who I am, not anymore. It took a long time for me to show my true personality, but that’s over now. That chip in the stone is my real self shining through.
It’s a reminder that in life, regardless of what you see in society, there is no such thing as perfect.
The only person that you can be, is yourself.