Leona O'Neill: All together now – 'We're all going on a... staycation'
With so much uncertainty surrounding travel outside of Ireland, there's lots of talk about staycations at the moment. But in Leona O'Neill's day that was just what you did every summer
BACK when we were growing up today’s fancy ‘staycations’ were just called summer holidays. My dad was a history teacher at a local high school and when he’d finished his summer exam marking – that would see him locked in a room slaving over exam papers for the first month of the school holidays – we’d pack the car up and head off into the horizon.
We visited every county in Ireland. We camped in forests, we stayed in rental accommodation, we booked into B&Bs and we had experiences that we still laugh about today, decades later.
Perhaps it’s the cramming everyone together in the car. Perhaps it’s the familiarity with the culture and traditions. Perhaps it’s the ability to laugh at ourselves, but there’s definitely something about holidaying at home with your family that provides a level of hilarity and vivid, priceless memories that is hard to get anywhere else.
I remember we had a run of camping adventures from when I was six years old. We went three years in a row. Each time for whatever reason – perhaps I was too enthusiastically and violently embracing the camping play facilities – I sprained the same ankle badly within an hour of arriving. Once it swelled up so much my parents thought it was broken and we went in search of the local A&E. My brother also knocked himself unconscious at one site.
At another holiday rental, my brother jumped on a bed that presumably had been in situ for 250 years and I was hit up the face with a 30mph cloud of ancient dust and had an asthma attack.
It’s a wonder my parents didn’t go prematurely grey due to the fact that their summer holidays were spent touring various hospital emergency departments.
My friends and I were discussing staycations this week and the trials and tribulations of such. One of my friends had just come home from time at a caravan park. She also spent time in A&E after her boy accidentally put his hand through a pane of glass. My other friend recalls the time she locked herself in the bathroom of a caravan park aged six, and a year later in the same bathroom aged seven, and still wakes in the night screaming about the daddy long legs that inhabited that small dark space with her as she waited hours for rescue.
A friend recalls spending two weeks with her husband and three children aged under four in a small caravan in a field in Sligo as rain of biblical proportions fell outside. The following year, for reasons known only to themselves, they went back to the same spot, her husband got norovirus and gave it to the entire family. She says she has never stepped foot in Sligo since and is still scarred by the experience.
Another friend remembers holidaying in Bundoran as a boy and spending a lot of time on the beach. On one particular day he remembers a foreign tourist heading out into the waters, waving away lifeguards who told him the waters were too dangerous to swim in that day. My friend remembers the same man coming back to shore, holding his now severed arm in his hand and bleeding all over the sand.
The same friend also spent one summer holiday visiting Dublin and was taken to see the severed head of St Oliver Plunkett being raised at Croke Park.
I remember our family spent a week in Dublin with English relatives in a rented accommodation that my aunt was convinced was haunted by the ghost of a nurse. She scared everyone so much we spent the week all sleeping in the one small room, 10 of us, in a five-bedroomed Victorian town house.
A few years back we recreated that exact event when we rented a wooden cabin in the wilds of the Wicklow Mountains that most definitely had a resident poltergeist.
There are also two children in our number who get violently car sick, so staycations are always the best of craic in the O’Neill family and we’re looking forward to this year’s adventure. We don’t know where we are going or when, but I’ve no doubt it will be excellent as always.