Reeling in the Leaders – Neasa Cumiskey
What is it like to fall in love with a place? I spend 11 months of my year yearning to be in the place I hold dearest, Knockadoon. To the average person, the camp seems no more special than any other Gaeltacht or summer course, but to those of us who have been lucky enough to experience its alluring atmosphere, Knockadoon is home.
That soppy introductory paragraph was so unlike me, I’ll continue in a more lighthearted tone. Describing Knockadoon to people who do not understand it is an enormous challenge. It’s like describing the taste of water and I feel like nothing I write will do it justice, but I love writing and I love Knockadoon so I’ll give it a shot. 2011 was my first year on camp and I had never been so excited for something in my entire life. I was no stranger to being away from home by myself, the previous year I’d gone to Belgium with the Scouts aged only 12 (slag me all you want about Scouts but at least I don’t scream at every spider I see that appears in the Concretes). My older sisters were both leaders in Knockadoon before me so I knew what to expect to some extent. I’d spent years dreaming of the moment I’d finally get to experience for myself this place that my sisters endlessly loved. My first year was so enjoyable that my friends and I spent every single lunch time at school talking about how excited we were for the next summer so we could go back down to Cork.
Our suitcases were so large in 2012 we could have fit the entire New Hall in them. This was the year that some of us campers got the chance to stay in Knockadoon for not one, but TWO weeks (AHHHHH)! It was also the year that we made friends from Tallaght, who were made leaders a few years later alongside us lovely Dundalks. When I departed camp in 2012 and arrived home, it was then that I realized the bond I had with this place and its magically weird way of creating friendships. Not a day passed me by where I wasn’t reminiscing about Knockadoon and longing to be back there. It was becoming a huge part of our lives.
Fast forward 3 years to 2015, my first year on camp as a leader. I had spent 4 years as a camper by then and I could probably walk through the week with my eyes closed. Now I actually had to be responsible, which is difficult when you’re barely 5ft and most of the campers are taller than you. I was extremely nervous that I was going to mess my first time in Knockadoon as a leader, my head constantly filling with anxious thoughts. I also felt the need to remove every item of pink clothing from my wardrobe so as not to clash with the red leader jumper, but that’s probably a tad dramatic. Although my fear of failure almost got the better of me, the unchanging atmosphere and ambience of camp immediately transported me back to the same excitement I felt back in 2011. I actually enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone and encouraging the campers to do the same. The camp is so vibrant and full of colour with all the excitement despite the dull exterior of the bunkhouses. There are always smiles and laughter and general happiness. I don’t even know if it’s possible to be sad in Knockadoon, unless maybe you’ve been woken up from your nap by the cruel pots and pans method?
Knockadoon is the kind of place where everyone feels like they belong. I still find it fascinating that one place can be the foundation of so many friendships. While I don’t know about the possibility of being sad, I do know that it’s 100% impossible to be bored there (fact). What makes it so special is that there is always something to do to make every single child feel included, whether it’s a sport, pier jumping, or just chilling out in the summer sun talking about the previous night’s activity. If you don’t like football or basketball like me (incoordination is what I contribute to the KYW), there will always be leaders that are happy to sit with you while you play a game of Connect 4. It really is amazing to glance around camp and see such enthusiastic leaders putting in a profound effort to give the campers the holiday of a lifetime. The one thing I looked forward to most about being a leader was the chance to give other campers the same experience that I got as a camper: the best weeks of not only my summer, but my life. What is so amazing about Knockadoon? It’s not the waves crashing into the pier, or the back field on a sunny summer’s day. It’s the fact that what looks like a small summer camp is so much more. This summer camp is our home. I can’t help but want to retract the first statement I made at the beginning of this post. I’ve realized after writing this post that I’m not in love with the place. I’m in love with the experience of a lifetime.
Smell ya later,