Anne Hailes: Play your cards right with the kids this summer

Moya Sands plays Happy Families, Irish style, with her children Keián and Niya
Anne Hailes

IF YOU are tearing your hair out thinking of summer school holidays and how to keep your children off their electronic devices and involved in family life, take a leaf out of Moya Sands's book and try playing cards.

Her idea is being taken up with orders from Ireland and Australia to Spain and Canada.

She comes from a large family in Co Down who are united in music – the Sands family are famous around the world. Her father Tommy, aunts, uncles and the younger members too.

She herself is a singer and fiddle player who now lives in Spain with her husband Areski and two children, nine-year-old Keián, and Niya who is six. When she moved there, Moya took her music with her and formed Irish Corner, a traditional band; with a fiddler from Sicily, a banjo player from Andalusia, and the Basque country provided the bodhran player, and Warrenpoint the tradition – singer and musician Moya Sands herself.

Even in Barcelona, lockdown halted many things and families were thrown together to amuse themselves. With two small children Moya had to put on her thinking cap as to how to keep them interested in learning. She came up with Happy Clan, a company to produce her card game and accompanying book, Happy Families – Exploring Ireland, which is launched this month.

The idea is to introduce children and adults to exploring Ireland though seven ‘families’ made up of cities, landmarks, food, music, traditions, mythology and symbols. The reaction of a small research group was very heartening.

"This game is absolutely brilliant for social, environmental and scientific education. It was so easy to get the hang of, with gorgeous imagery all about Ireland, such a fab game," said a primary school teacher from Donegal.

"My five-year-old daughter loves it. She's very interested in Macha's curse, it's such a great introduction to all the mythological stories. My English husband has learned how to say camogie and bodhrán – so everyone is learning. The stickers were also very popular," said an Irish-born mother living in London.


LIKE the old Happy Families game, cards are dealt and bargaining begins until one player ends up with all seven subjects within all six families – a full house.

Along the way they learn various aspects of Ireland while opening doors to research and projects children can enjoy over the holidays; visits to places highlighted on the cards; making potato bread; singing and storytelling. What better way to enjoy each other and learn about our beautiful island at the same time.

“I've had huge interest in terms of pre-orders from Ireland, the UK, France, Spain, USA, Canada and Australia,’ Moya tells me.

“There has also been some really lovely feedback from parents and teachers who've received sets from the small pre-launch batch.”

The games are available from website for £15.99.


A FEW weeks ago I wrote about Patrick Finnegan, who has dedicated his time to making flat-pack carts and woven harnesses for donkeys in Africa.

The founder of Finnegan’s Tools has worked tirelessly to build equipment to help villagers in South Africa make their daily living less backbreaking and much more efficient.


Patrick Finnegan's daughter Chloe showing off the fundraising mugs


He’s enlisting help from a number of local sources, women’s church groups have taken up his challenge, and knitting groups all over Northern Ireland are putting down their needles and taking up weaving.

Supplying these much needed items to the townships in Tyume Valley in South Africa's Eastern Cape takes money as well as practical support.

“We are working with our local facilitator there, Michelle Griffith of Ama Trac Uluntu, and her local technical school who will build up and finish the flat-packs of carts, harnesses and wheels there with their girl and boy students helping the villages to use and maintain the carts as the main water and produce transport along the villages dirt roads.”

Recently Paddy came up with the idea of producing mugs carrying the pictures of two of his donkeys, Dennis aged 27 and Remus who is 23, both stars at the recent Balmoral Show, and they are selling well.

Helping him make his carts and kit are men and women at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre and Prison and they have shown support again by making the mugs.

If you know of a group who would like to help making up the kits, Paddy is happy to run a workshop and teach the art of weaving.

Contact Paddy at


IS IT my imagination or are people getting nicer?

I had occasion to try ordering perfume (my treat to me) and couldn’t work the website.

I phoned customer services and a delightful lady called Jasmine talked me through the procedure.

I have a very unhappy relationship with electronics and still nothing worked.

After 20 minutes I apologised and said I’d try again myself.

“No, my dear, we will work together on this.” OK. And 30 minutes later there was still no joy.

“Sorry Jasmine, I just can’t seem to get this.”

“You will Anne, don’t apologise, shopping should be a pleasure and I’m here to help you.”

You can’t beat that for customer service.

After a full 40 minutes she and I struck gold, the right brand, the right price, the right order form – checkout and all was well.

She was as thrilled as I was – or maybe relieved. I feel we met the challenge together and came out the other end as friends. This is happening more often than not these days, perhaps because everyone wants everyone’s custom or we are coming out of the Covid lockdowns anxious to be courteous and pleasant. Well most of us anyway...