When I was about eleven I had a little daydream that if I died and by some miracle got an invite upstairs, that I'd be told I could do one thing of my choice for all eternity, but one thing only. I had a good long think and concluded that my idea of heaven would be a sandy, muddy beach, with loads of streams running down to the sea, and I would dam them up and create interesting new watercourses for the trickles.
Sixteen years later, I had the same daydream, and came to the same conclusion.
West Cork is the best place in the world. When I was small we were out there three times a year; this summer I went there for the first time in ages. Memories came flooding back. There's still a chap van on the Bandon road, by the river a few miles past Inishannon, although I'm not sure if it's the same bloke who we used to religously buy chips from every time we were out there (I barely ate chips outside West Cork until I got to secondary school). The beaches, the bad roads, the tractors, still there.
There's actually very little to do; just beaches, views, roads, pubs and calmness. The heat and rain mean that the landscape is incredibly lush. Taking an early morning walk down into Unionhall harbour, wandering through piles of trawler nets and rope, looking down the bay at the Teflon-smooth sea with a glimpse of the open Atlantic, with only the odd leap of a grey mullet or pollack creating a ripple: life really doesn't get any better.
But the memories of childhood, my entire family at their happiest driving into Skibbereen for a drink, a quiet day on the beach at Glengarriff, visiting relatives...those old memories came back again and again. Although I've never lived there, for me it really felt as if I was coming home. And that was the best feeling of all - I felt a pride in where I came from.
I would have died happy. West Cork is truly the best place in the world. Life doesn't get any better.