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Lynette Fay: Donegal wasn't just about the Gaeltacht – there were family trips too, some perhaps best forgotten

Most years, in July, we packed the house into a small car and headed for the other side of Donegal. Most notably Donegal town, Killybegs and – yes, you've guessed it – Beautiful Bundoran

Beautiful Bundoran – walking up the town's main street during the Twelfth of July week in the 1980s was like being at home
Lynette Fay

I’M NOT a great fan of ‘Inspirational Quotes’ on social media. However, while scrolling aimlessly through my Instagram feed last week, one post caught my attention. "You only have 18 summers to spend with your children".

My parents got 11/12 summers with me. As discussed in last week’s column, I spent every summer from the age of 12 in the Gaeltacht learning Irish. (I will write a more detailed Gaeltacht account in the coming weeks.)

So, for the 11 summers before I discovered ‘an áit is fearr ar dhroim an domhain fá choinne spóirt is grinn’ (the best place on Earth for sport and play), most years, in July, we packed the house into a small car and headed for the other side of Donegal. Most notably Donegal town, Killybegs and – yes, you’ve guessed it – Beautiful Bundoran.

The car journey seemed to take forever and happened when it was either scorching or bucketing. I do remember the weather being reasonably good for our Bundoran holidays; the Killybegs experience was at the opposite end of the scale.

Walking up Bundoran main street during the Twelfth of July week in the 1980s was like being at home. Many had the same idea, and cleared out for the Twelfth. This was depicted excellently in one episode of Derry girls, and the depiction brought me right back.

We stayed in a caravan in Bundoran. The site was just not far from the main street and in turn, not far from the beach. Beach walks with Granda were a favourite part of the holiday for me, but the highlight was being presented with a full paper punt. That was the spending money for the week.

A punt to me was 50 2p coins and I was straight up to the slot machines to try and double my money. Of course I only spent some of it.

Crossing the border into Donegal also meant that certain treats, unavailable at home, were now available on tap. Skittles only became available in the north years later, then there were Snack bars, purple being my favourite, Chickatee crisps, Cidona and Football Special.

Was it my imagination or did the name ‘Snickers’ make what we knew every day as a ‘Marathon’ taste much better?

Fast forward to the present day. I admit to stocking up on ‘Free State’ chocolate on a regular basis. It has been tried and tested – it is, without question, the BEST!

Back to ‘the holidays’. We made sand castles, messed around on the beach, made friends, made the most of every second of daylight on those July summer evenings. Day trips to Sligo, Ballyshannon and tea in The Four Lanterns. Anyone who has ever been to The Four Lanterns will understand what a treat that was.

After years in Bundoran, 1990 – or should I say ‘Italia 90’ – brought a departure: while Jack’s Army had had enough of ‘Putting them under pressure’ we headed off to Donegal town on our holidays.

The soundtrack was Elton John’s Sacrifice and Roxette’s Must Have Been Love. Daddy caught a rainbow trout out fishing one day and it was the most delicious fish I have ever tasted.

I’m convinced that my brother spent every day of that holiday hoping and praying that he would bump into Packie Bonner. Let’s face it, didn’t everyone?

The one other summer I spent on a family holiday in Donegal was an ill-fated trip to Killybegs. There’s only one word to describe that holiday: Grim. The caravan was awful, it rained for days and the height of the trip was a visit to the Fruit of the Loom factory shop. I bought a green sweatshirt and thought I was hot to trot.

After a seven-year break from family holidays, we rounded off the 18 years with a trip to the States. We covered a lot of ground in three weeks – New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and Florida. The World Trade Centre, The White House, Orlando and Miami. My first experience of Japanese cuisine was a far cry from my chips in The Four Lanterns.

We are lucky to have family dotted all along the east coast and we stayed with them during the trip. That was an eye opener, but each family holiday was an unforgettable experience for a different reason. It’s only when you look back that you can appreciate that, and also appreciate the lengths parents go to, to make all 18 summers a little bit special.

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