Home Forums Travel and Holidays The Charabang Hits the Road – a Mid-Lockdown Staycation

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    Lucy Grant

    By Kieran Fitzgerald

    In the Summer of 2020, slap bang in the middle of the Covid pandemic, I took receipt of an adapted Volkswagen Caravelle, which I christened the Charabang. It came complete with loading ramp and docking bay for the wheelchair which meant that I could drive or swap over and be the passenger as needs arose. With my good friend David doubling as driver, carer, navigator and joint tour guide, we loaded enough spinal injury-related toiletries to last a lifetime and hit the road. After months and months of lockdown it was a good feeling to be out in the countryside for a change. We had one appointment- a wedding on Bere Island, County Cork. We decided to make a road trip that would take us from one end of the country to the other. On one point we were very lucky: the weather was gorgeous.

    Our first port of call in Co Cork was to visit the shrine of St Gobnait in Ballyvourney. We had come across the shrine years before, pre my accident, when we were doing a long hike through the country. Whether you’re of a religious persuasion or not, the ancient feeling of the shrine is inspiring. The parish priest brought out the mediaeval carving of the Saint and allowed us to ‘take her measure.’ That is where people wrap a piece of material around the statue and then keep the piece of fabric as a protective charm for the year. We hung the ribbon on the keys to the Charabang where it remains.

    The Bere Island wedding was a very jolly affair. There was accessible accommodation in the village and there is something special about the feeling of being on an island. To say everybody knows and is related to everybody is an understatement! Rather than go straight home, we decided to visit Béal na mBláth, where Michael Collins was shot during the Civil War. By coincidence, it was the day after the annual commemoration. The Defence Forces had stationed some officers there and one explained the whole layout of the ambush from a military perspective. It’s that kind of friendly informality that brings tourists back to Ireland. We also went to another famous ambush- Kilmichael. In 1920, the IRA ambushed a British army column and 17 British soldiers and three IRA men died.  While Béal na mBláth is not really accessible, Kilmichael is well provided for with tar macadam paths through the ambush site and good signage explaining how the events unfolded.

    It wasn’t all plain sailing. It was my first time in five years in a vehicle that wasn’t a taxi. I have to admit I was a shocking passenger, taking fright at every bend and pothole. It resulted in David, on some back road of County Cork, jamming on the brakes and announcing that henceforth he would adjust his driving if there was a medical emergency but otherwise, I was to shut up!

    We detoured to Dublin for one overnight. There we collected fresh supplies, a hoist and turning mattress and away with us to the Inishowen Peninsula, to join family and friends in the Welcome House in Culdaff. I use a powerchair normally but we brought the manual chair which made getting onto beaches and old archaeological sites easier. There is much to explore and do in Inishowen. The highlights for us included visiting the famous hill-fort Grianán of Aileach- a hairy drive for a newcomer in an adapted vehicle, but worth it for a view that takes in mountains, rolling countryside, beaches and sea. We took a day trip to the deserted island of Inishtrahull. That was a magical day, looking at the deserted village with its national school and, further on, the old headstones in the island cemetery. Mind you, getting on and off the island on a small boat was not for the faint of heart.

    After a week of jaunting around by day and carousing by night, we headed home where I took to the bed and slept for two whole days. Staycationing is tiring work.




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