Watch out: Here come the summer horror days

Ah yes, we all have golden memories of cheap childhood holidays  though we tend to airbrush out the less edifying elements of spending summers on a shoestring in wet, windy Ireland, writes Leona O'Neill

IT'S JUNE. That means there are only four weeks to the official school summer holidays. And I don't know about you but I simply can not wait to spend day upon wet balmy day indoors with perpetually bored children.

At this time of year I always feel pressure to create lifelong memories for my kids in the form of excellent summer holidays. I want them to remember, as adults, hazy summer days filled with fun, family and laughter.

As my kids have gotten older, I have realised that the amount of money spent does not directly correlate with the level of happiness with regards to memories. When we were kids my mum and dad didn't have a lot of money  nobody's did back in the 80s. For our summer holidays went camping around the north west of Ireland.

For many years we went on these adventures in my dad's old red Ford Cortina, the four of us squashed into the back, with maybe a few friends fired into the boot. The emphasis was not on safety in those days. I don't remember if seat beats were a prominent feature in ancient, decrepit and unreliable Cortina's like my dad's.

If I remember correctly my younger brother invented his own safety measure in the form of a Spiderman Halloween mask with a helmet element for when he had to sit in the boot when the back seats were over occupied.

If I close my eyes I can still see us all in the uncomfortable back seats  my older siblings' gangly legs crammed in; my kid brother's hair stuck to his head with sweat due to the lack of air; sitting for at least an hour at army checkpoints on the border to Donegal; piling out as the car was searched, piling back in; having to push the car due to it not starting.

The smell of egg and onion immediately brings me back to that Cortina. The window mechanisms often malfunctioned  as well as the engine, the wipers and everything else  and the aroma of my mother's sandwiches, slowly cooking in the sweltering Irish summer weather we all remember as kids, was eye-wateringly overpowering.

Indeed my friends have regaled me with tales of their summer holidays spent around sunny Ireland in the 80s and their parents might be surprised at what memories have come to the fore.

A friend remembers childhood summer holidays spent in Donegal: "Bundoran was the height of sophistication for us kids in the late 70s/80s," he says. "We normally stayed in the Atlantic Apart Hotel, which is still there. This was frequented, for some reason, by loads of German people.

"Every night in the hotel we were regaled by the resident musician dressed in a blue velvet dinner suit. The German people insisted that he played Wooden Heart by Elvis because he was stationed in Germany when in the American army. They had it played at least a dozen times every night. I still hate the song.

"I also have a memory of guy being repeatedly warned by the lifeguard on Bundoran beach not to swim beyond a marker rope because there was an unusually high tide that could have smacked him against the rocks. Of course he ignored it. The rope had been there years and was crusted with barnacles and razor clam shells. Anyway, we all heard the screaming. The guy got caught in the swell and banged against the rope and it cut the arm off him from the elbow down. All I remember is him coming to the shore carrying his own arm."

Forget the ice cream  a friend remembers summers spent taking day trips to Donegal. Her mother's trick was to cook stew from scratch on a miniature gas stove, peeling potatoes and carrots on the beach as the children played, the smell of stew wafting across the beach, cancelling out the aroma of candy floss.

Another remembers a summer holiday spent further south, the pinnacle of which was walking for seven miles in Louth's finest fields to see the Pope holding up the severed head of Oliver Plunkett.

With these epic holidays as inspiration, I'll get planning our summer holiday. Hopefully minus the severed arms or heads.


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