Leona O'Neill: We're all going on a summer holiday, somewhere

Leona O'Neill bemoans her annual quest to plan the perfect family summer holiday and recalls her less than successful vacations of the past

Rain-lashed windows demand summer holiday plans

IT’S the time of year again when thoughts turn to summer holidays. It’s probably the Arctic conditions, the ceaseless rain and the dark and dank days that light a spark for the search of sunshine, sea and the stress free days of summer.

Every year, I embark on an epic quest for the perfect O’Neill holiday: There are six of us in this house and every single person has different interests.

The husband likes history and is not a laying by the pool kind of guy. The oldest son likes peace, quiet and computer games and lounging around. The second oldest loves adrenaline-fuelled escapades, sport and adventure and detests lounging around.

The youngest son likes museums and outer space-related anything. The daughter loves princesses, castles and fairies. I just want to switch my phone off for a week and forget about the news – I don't care where I go.

I challenge anyone to find a holiday that will tick all those boxes. It has driven me quite mad for the last two years between the months of December and June, and then we’ve ended up in Co Wicklow in July.

Never again – no offence to you, Wicklow.

I don’t remember summer holidays being this much hassle when I was a child. My mum and dad just put us all in the car and we drove somewhere in the south. Health and Safety had not yet been invented in those days and there were often six of us in the back of the car, the four of us Breslins and a few stragglers.

It was sweaty and uncomfortable. The smell of egg and onion sandwiches warmed by the sun takes me back to that back seat, and trying to wind the impossible to manoeuvre stiff passenger window mechanism down to gasp a few mouthfuls of fresh air.

My mother and father were fond of, for some unknown reason, camping. We would have rolled up to some Godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere and pitched our tent. We would have moved from the cramped, sweaty car into the cramped, sweaty tent.

I’m sure when my father was planning these trips he imagined his family relaxing outside the tent on deck chairs, sipping cold drinks, enjoying each other’s company and the beautiful countryside surroundings.

It never worked out that way.

We went to Cork one year. It rained torrentially and relentlessly from the moment we arrived until the moment we left. Having my own children, I can only say that my father deserved some manner of honourable medal for not going completely insane being stuck in a confined, leaking tent with two perpetually complaining teenagers and two more under 10 while his wife tried to boil spuds unsuccessfully on a miniature camping stove with a flame no fiercer than a lighter.

On the way home, my mother swore that she would never set foot in the county of Cork ever again: she has been true to her word. And I still wake in the night screaming when camping is mentioned, even in passing.

But still, every year we would go away on a big adventure. The Cork ordeal put paid to camping and we were promoted to rental cottages.

We once went to a house in Drogheda that hadn’t been opened in 15 years. There was 5 cm of dust on every surface and no electricity. At another house in Sussex, the owner – who lived in the adjoining house – got drunk on our first night there and smashed up his own car with an iron bar.

It’s funny the things you remember about holidays.

My friend’s resounding memory of a holiday in Drogheda was seeing the severed head of St Oliver Plunkett being held aloft by Pope John Paul. Nothing else.

Another friend remembers fuel spilling into the food supplies in the boot of the car and eating petrol-infused sandwiches. She doesn’t remember the holiday, just that.

Another friend remembers going camping near the Lake District and everyone getting Norovirus. In a tent, miles from civilisation.

I’m still on my search for our epic holiday. We work so hard, it has to be the perfect break for everyone. So if you’ve any ideas, just shout. I’d be open to anywhere – bar Cork or Wicklow, obviously.

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