Sun shiny days: Four well-known figures remember their childhood summer holidays

Five of Ireland’s well-known figures discuss where they holidayed as children, whether the memories are all good, and where they’re going now. By Arlene Harris.

Sun shiny days: Four well-known figures remember their childhood summer holidays

Five of Ireland’s well-known figures discuss where they holidayed as children, whether the memories are all good, and where they’re going now. By Arlene Harris.

THE mention of summer holidays conjures up childhood memories of sun-drenched days, ice cream on the beach, and warm evenings spent outside until night finally falls.

The reality may be far from that, but our memories of childhood summers are always somewhat blissful. We asked five people who work with, or for children to tell us what they remember about their holidays as a child and what aspect they would like to recreate as adults.

SARAH WEBB

Sarah Webb — award-winning children’s writer and champion of children’s books — enjoyed her childhood holidays so much that she recreated the same experiences for her own three children.

Author Sarah Webb at Castletownshend, West Cork, earlier this month. Picture: Emma Jervis
Author Sarah Webb at Castletownshend, West Cork, earlier this month. Picture: Emma Jervis

Where did you go for childhood holidays?

“As a child we always went to Bristol for Easter to stay with my aunt and uncle and to West Cork in the summer to look for ancient relatives. Dad would drag us around graveyards hunting for ancestors. And he actually found some living (distant) relatives and is great friends with them now. I still love graveyards to this day. ”

Did your family return to the same location every year?

“Yes, every year without fail. We rented a variety of houses in the same village; Castletownshend, near Skibbereen — it was a place with history and stories seeping out of its mossy walls. ”

How was your future shaped by these holidays?

“I still stay in Castletownshend every summer with my own family. And I know every creak of the village — it really is my favourite place in the whole world.”

What did you like most/least about the holiday?

“As a teenager, I longed to go somewhere more glam, like Spain or France (visiting the US was pretty much unheard of when I was growing up). But we did a house swap once and stayed in a gloomy house near Amsterdam. So I longed for the sea and the open spaces of West Cork.”

Sarah, aged 9, on nearby Castlehaven Beach.
Sarah, aged 9, on nearby Castlehaven Beach.

What rituals did you have during the holiday?

“I always remember getting fish and chips and eating them on the beach, fishing for crabs with bits of chicken or bacon, and holding crab races and reading new comics — they were simple things, but they were great.”

How did your childhood summer holidays influence your own choice of holidays?

“I loved my childhood holidays so much that I have recreated the same rituals for my own family and still return to the same places.”

What childhood memory or even new activity would you like to do this summer?

“I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to holidays — so a good book, a quiet corner to read and food cooked by someone else is my ideal holiday. We did a family road trip around Iceland in April — I would highly recommend it and I’m itching to do it again. We’re planning another family road trip for next year — the destination is yet to be decided but I’m rooting for Canada.”

NIALL MULDOON

Dr Niall Muldoon, ombudsman for children, was born and raised in Donegal town and is the third of four children. He can only remember one summer holiday as a family but would often visit relatives down the country.

Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon. Picture: Jason Clarke
Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon. Picture: Jason Clarke

Where did you go for childhood holidays?

“We only had one family holiday because Dad was self-employed and didn’t want to miss work. But the one trip we did make was fantastic for us kids because we hired a chalet right on the beach in Portnoo, Co Donegal. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, very few families were taking foreign holidays or weeks away, so we were not unusual in that regard.”

Did your family return to the same location every year?

“That wasn’t quite the case but we would regularly visit our cousins in Dublin or Sligo and always had a great time there even if it was for just a few days or a weekend.”

How was your future shaped by these holidays?

“Most of my childhood involved fantastic long, hot summers (at least in my memory) where I could do what I wanted with friends. We would cycle to a lovely beach (Murvagh, Holmes, Rossnowlagh) or to Mountcharles pier and spend hours swimming, eating a picnic, playing football and just having fun before heading back to play a football match or go to the youth club or disco.

“So, yes my holidays around home were very formative and taught me how to be self-sufficient, sociable, how to enjoy the simple things in life and to really appreciate friendships.”

Niall Muldoon, aged 6.
Niall Muldoon, aged 6.

What did you like most/least about the holiday?

“There was nothing I disliked about the holiday in Portnoo but I did spend a few of my summers working in a supermarket warehouse and that really ate into my fun time so I made sure that for the last few years of secondary school I just focused on having fun.”

What rituals did you have during the holiday?

“If the weather was good a group of us would meet in town and decide which beach to head to. We would each bring something to eat or drink and then pool our resources. Or we might head to the GAA pitch and spend hours kicking the football and pretending we were in Croke Park. If the weather was bad we would just “hang around” local cafés and again pool our money to get a tea and cake to help pass the time.”

How did your childhood summer holidays influence your own choice of holidays?

“I think the biggest influence was that I’m not worried about what the weather is like — the Donegal training tells me to bring all types of clothing and get on with it. One of the best memories my children have was of kayaking in the rain off the granite coast in France — in weather we should probably not have gone out in, but they loved it. The most vital part of any holiday is not where you go, but who you spend it with.”

What childhood memory or even new activity would you like to do this summer?

“I have always harboured an ambition to drive a motor home across America and park up in the places nobody goes to — I doubt if it will happen anytime soon, but I think it’s a throwback to the idea of being footloose in Donegal with no ties or places to go and all day to do it.”

JOHN RICE

John Rice is CEO and co-founder of JAM Media. As a child, he spent most of his holidays in Kerry but also visited relatives in different parts of the country — one of which he loved so much he bought the property he spent so much time in.

John Rice, founder and part owner of Jam Media, the Dublin-based animated film studio.
John Rice, founder and part owner of Jam Media, the Dublin-based animated film studio.

Where did you go for holidays?

“It was mostly staycations. I grew up in Kerry so we had lots of beaches, mountains and wooded areas to explore and the sun always seemed to shine.”

Did your family return to the same location every year?

“We always visited our cousins in Kilkee, Skibbereen, and also Leixlip where my uncle and aunt had fantastic upside-down house on the banks of the Liffey in a wooded area with squirrels jumping from tree to tree. There was a teenagers’ camp a short walk downstream with swing ropes and cobbled together treehouses. As young kids we would always have to keep lookout in case the older kids came back to their camp.”

John on the beach in Kilkee as a child.
John on the beach in Kilkee as a child.

How was your future shaped by these holidays?

“Well I was lucky enough to be able to buy that property and it’s where I now live. The teenage camp is still there, used by another generation of young people including my own kids. And it’s still a magical place.”

What did you like most/least about the holiday?

“What I liked most was the multi-channel television (on the east coast) as we had just RTÉ in the ’80s. And what I liked least was waving goodbye to the place.”

What rituals did you have during the holiday?

“Our rituals were staying up really late with the cousins, going on adventures, venturing into Dublin to have a McDonald’s and the zoo, listening to my uncle playing the piano, sitting around a big table and eating lovely food, flying kites and watching Danger Mouse and Blue Peter on TV.”

How did your childhood summer holidays influence your own choice of holidays?

“We try and look for places where we can visit friends or family as part of the experience. And good food still plays a part but now, for the adults, it’s with the addition of wine.”

What childhood memory or even new activity would you like to do this summer?

“The kids and I are planning on learning kitesurfing in California.”

DEBBIE DEEGAN

Debbie Deegan, founder of the charity To Children with Love (formally known as To Russia with Love), has helped countless disadvantaged and orphaned since its conception in 1998. Her childhood summers in Louth influenced her choice of home as an adult.

Debbie Deegan, founder of To Russia With Love, with her dog Zac near Dollymount Strand in Dublin. Picture: Moya Nolan
Debbie Deegan, founder of To Russia With Love, with her dog Zac near Dollymount Strand in Dublin. Picture: Moya Nolan

Where did you go for childhood holidays?

“A small fishing village in Co Louth called Clogherhead.”

Did your family return to the same location every year?

“We absolutely loved Clogherhead and while we didn’t return every single year, it was a place that we always ended up back in. At the time, we wouldn’t have known one single person who got on an airplane to go on holiday.”

How was your future shaped by these holidays?

“They inspired my love of the sea and made me want to live there, which I do now. They also ignited a passion for travel. By the time I started to work I had the funds to explore outside of Ireland for the first time.”

What did you like most/least about the holiday?

“As children, we stayed in a caravan and we all loved the excitement of it — being so close to the beach was wonderful. We woke up every morning to the sound of the sea. I can still remember the smell of gas from the little lights. Leaving was always the worst part as the return to school was right around the corner.”

Debbie on Dollymount aged 4/5.
Debbie on Dollymount aged 4/5.

What rituals did you have during the holiday?

“Without fail it was the circus coming to town. Every year we waited for its return and I remember one year, in particular, I was reading Enid Blyton’s Mr Galliano’s Circus and the magic of it all is really something only a child can experience. The trapeze girls seemed like the most magnificent and glamorous creatures and the big top tent so immense.”

How did your childhood holidays influence your own choice of holidays?

“I have never holidayed inland in my life and Connemara is where I go to break away from reality. When my kids were small, I wanted to give them similar holiday experiences so we went to a French campsite. Unfortunately, it rained for seven days and we never quite managed to return back there.”

What childhood memory or even new activity would you like to do this summer?

“I have taken up swimming in the sea every morning with my dogs. I read a book called I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice and she describes going to the sea and how it took away any worries and stresses. While I didn’t need to take up sea swimming for therapeutic reasons, this book inspired me to do it — and it’s one of the best things I’ve done in years.”

MICHAEL GERBOLA

Michael Gerbola — aka Mikey the Clown from Circus Gerbola — says he didn’t go on any holidays as a child but, because his family spent six months touring every year, it was like one long glorious holiday.

Mikey Gerbola of Circus Gerbola photographed in Tramore. Picture: Mary Browne
Mikey Gerbola of Circus Gerbola photographed in Tramore. Picture: Mary Browne

Did your family return to the same location every year?

“We went to the same locations year after year but my favourites were probably Achill Island, Galway, and Tramore.”

How was your future shaped by these holidays?

“Together with my sisters and cousins, I had such a magical time. There was a big gang of us and we would spend all day playing Cowboys and Indians or hanging out in the amusement arcades, if it was a seaside resort. But because my parents were always too busy to spend time with us, I make sure to take time out with my own three children wherever we are.”

What did you like most/least about the holiday?

“Getting up early and travelling to the next destination or doing chores was the hardest part about our summers, but there was always so much fun and I loved watching my dad and uncles, which is where I learned to be the clown I have played since I was 8 years old.”

Mikey in Tramore 30 years ago when he was aged 20.
Mikey in Tramore 30 years ago when he was aged 20.

What rituals did you have during the holiday?

“One of the things I remember most was getting a bag full of 2p’s from our parents and heading off to the amusement park in Tramore where everyone knew us and we could stay there as long as we liked.”

How did your childhood holidays influence your own choice of holidays?

“Being in the circus always involves lots of work and we haven’t really had a holiday for three years, but I always like going home to Navan after the season and having some quiet time. And if we have a good season, I’m hoping we can take the kids away in the winter.”

What childhood memory or new activity would you like to do this summer?

“I want to make sure I get to the beach as much as possible with my three — it might be overkill to compensate for my own parents, but I want them to have just as much fun as I did and to remember spending time with their parents.”

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