I was recently in Ireland for a week’s holiday with A LOT of family. Due to the persistent insistence of one of my cousins I have been persuaded to write about it. Read it if you fancy, it might not be in keeping with my other writing, or maybe you’ll enjoy the change of pace. Your choice….
Irish Catholic families can be relied on for one thing – they’re bloody big. My mum is one of six children. I am the eldest of 15 grandchildren and in total 28 of us gathered for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary, including themselves and their bridesmaid. The other thing that you can count on is great craic.
I can genuinely say that I was really looking forward to going back to Ireland. All our relatives on my mum’s side are well spread out now and I hadn’t seen many of them for years. We used to go there every summer, until my sister’s decided they wanted a hot holiday. Personally I was always happy there.
I’ll gloss over the airport as I hate the places. I hate the queuing, hate the waiting and I REALLY hate not being able to smoke for about four hours. The only thing I like about them is that I get plenty of free drinks from taster booths, led by my mum in holiday spirit. O yes, and I saw a guy walking around in fluorescent green speedos. Stag do me thinks. Needless to say I managed to get the single mum with crying baby to sit next to me on the plane. Yay. Although she was kind enough to buy me a beer as way of compensation.
The occasion of course was the anniversary. So five families rented lodges from a decent hotel in Portumna, a small town about 20 minutes from Galway City, in County Galway. They were lovely and we found them easily enough, driving through the ridiculously green countryside from Shannon airport about an hour away. Having arrived at 3pm, at roughly the same time as just about everyone else, it was time to do the standard “you look great,” “o my how you’ve grown,” and “doesn’t he look like so and so now he’s got older” for the next half hour. By four o’clock the tables on the decking were drawn together, the beer was out, the wine was flowing, the sun was shining and I was refueling on nicotine. Perfect. By five o’clock the vodka was out and by six my aunt had started the cheese and crackers. Looking like a great week to me.
Dinner in the hotel bar followed and subsequently the majority of us enjoyed a night down there. They didn’t mind kids in the bar but the younger ones stayed at the lodges, my cousin Cian aged 11 being the exception. My uncle Paul is musically talented and ended up taking over the entertainment when the singer when out for fags. My godfather Adrian also gave us a rendition of ‘Two Little Boys’ before Ciara, aged 13 or 14 (I forget all their ages) stole the show – she has a quite stunning voice. The music finished, we found a piano. And I’ll go back to a conversation I had with my godmother Elaine’s partner Dave a few hours earlier:
“Do you like Tequila Aaron?”
“Rarely, it’s a bit harsh though, I prefer to avoid it.”
“Me too, I hate the stuff.”
Come 1am it was slightly different:
“Please, and a shot if you’re man enough?”
There were whisperings of a nightcap at the lodges but we discovered we were all pretty wobbly on our feet by the end of the night. And I was excited about going to bed, it was the first time I’ve been able to smoke in bed since Uni – result!
Saturday was the first game of the premiership season which meant I dragged a few of us to the pub to watch Tottenham batter Manchester City, we somehow drew 0-0 and Joe Hart was incredible. My cousins also started to come out of their shells. The youngest being eight and with me not seeing them for a few years everyone was a bit shy on the Friday but a big game of football on the green saw to that and I had them all teaching me how to play hurling as well.
We all went back to the bar for more music in the night but the singers were a bit shit and not much fun to be honest. It was a quieter one until I suggested to my sister Sinead at about 11pm that we check out the town on a Saturday night. My younger sister Orla and eldest cousin Eoin (both 17) came along and the pub we went to was rammed, the music was better and the guinness was cheaper. Lubbly jubbly. With the others ready to leave I went out for a fag on my own, about 20 seconds later I was chatting away to two Irish girls and their English cousin from Leeds. We quickly became matey as I told him how much I love Leeds because of a weekend I told you about elsewhere… https://lanelord.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/random-nights-are-the-best/
“So you’re from England?” went the conversation.
“Yeah near Reading,” it’s as close as most people can get to Hook.
“You out on your own?”
“No I’ve got family inside but they’re about to head back to the hotel.”
“You want to come to a house party with us?”
So two minutes after meeting them I was off to a house party with them. Although we ended up not going there in the end. We went to a lock in next door where I had pints and shots. The locals were friendly, humouring my questions about things I’d read in the Irish tabloids, one of them even said that if anyone gave me trouble because of my accent I was to come find him and he had my back. I got no trouble and my ego got a nice boost when a couple of girls came up to me to ask if I was “the fine looking fella from England” they’d been told about. Happily it turned out I was. We ended up getting Bulmers to take out when the pub finally shut, we chilled out drinking that and I got back at 4.30am. Not bad work I thought.
Sunday meant pitch and putt in the morning. I came 4th of 8, which I was happy about until I realised that two of the players behind me had never played before and the other two were 11 years old. Beat them though, get in! And with me being a Spurs fan it turns out that everyone else in my family supports either Arsenal or Liverpool so down to the pub we went to watch those two teams lock horns at Anfield. Back to the lodges after, dinner in and nobody going out that night. But we had a few drinks inthe various lodges and at one point my uncle decided to get me in a headlock. A few years ago in Spain we got wrestling and he ripped my boxer shorts off in a very painful wedgie. A few years older and bigger I decided to return the favour to Jason. We wrestled and this time I kept my pride and he lost his own, along with his boxers. Although my cousins thought it was a real fight until sisters reassured them we do it all the time.
We all got to bed about 3am having chatted shit for a good few hours, helped along by the wine and I think a few people back in England must have been woken by myself and Aunt Karina outdoing Adrians version of ‘Two Little Boys’ ourselves. Over and over again. For ages.
Monday was the first bad weather day of the holiday. And it was also the day that we were to go karting on a 1500m (they claim biggest in Europe) outdoor track. Anyone who has karted in the rain will tell you it is like an ice rink, bloody hard to control but great fun. Eight of the kids went on the small track, 14 of us went for it in real competitive style on the main one. And yours truly won. It was great fun, everyone was buzzing afterwards but two moments stand out for me. The first being Dave deciding that as he was following me onto the track and had never karted before that there was nothing to it and would overtake me on the first corner. I was more cautious, he duly overtook, I let him have position and he flew straight off the track. Nice start. The other is my cousin Laoise. I went to overtake her on a straight, decided to just pull alongside and as I looked over she span off. Despite the fact she was meant to be going in a straight line at this point.
The evening was taken up by a few of us watching the football but with the anniversary dinner the next day we made it a quiet one and I took the chance to finish my James Patterson book, ‘Swimsuit’ (mainly chosen for the front cover picture). Good book, but rubbish ending so I’m boycotting him for a while now.
Tuesday was the day of the dinner. 17/8/10, exactly 50 years after my grandparents got married. We started with a midday celebration mass at the (massive) church over the road. I did a reading and was told that I read well. I said I should bloody hope so, I did English at college and Journalism at university. Unlike 13 years ago when I read at my Aunt’s wedding I didn’t get given lots of money by people for doing well and being cute. Shame. Nice affair that it was and all about my grandparents, Ciara couldn’t resist stealing the show again with a flawless rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ during communion.
With time to kill in the day I decided to swim in the pool for the first time. Which meant I spent a lot of time supervising Austin, aged eight, Cian, who was well able at 11, Dara, nine, Ben, 10 or 11, and whichever little brats they made friends with. But we had fun and I thoroughly enjoyed helping teach Shane, the cutest eight year old you’ve ever met, how to swim. He told his mum that I was better than his Dad as a teacher.
And to the dinner. We all met at the hotel two hours before, looking good and scrubbed up, suited and booted. There was a photographer coming and he got some great shots of us, groups, families, etc. Pictures that we’ll probably never have the opportunity to create again with the whole lot of us. The more astute and football interested of you will have realised that it was the date of Tottenham playing in the Champions League qualifier against Young Boys or Boy Scouts or something. Kick-off at 7.45pm, dinner at 8pm. Ouch. Now picture this, at my table I had Dave and my Dad directly to my left – two gooners (or Arsenal scumbags if you prefer). Directly to my right I had my brother Emmet and Jason – another two gooners. Now imagine their delight and the ribbing I got the whole meal when after the starter Dave comes back from the toilet to tell me, honestly as well, that after 30minutes Spurs were 3-0 down to little boys. Gggggrrrrr
Dinner was lovely, the speeches were spot on, the kids behaved (for the most part) me and Jason found a spare bottle of wine left over. We all headed off to the bar where Paul was doing the music for the night. And we swapped stories about all sorts, we sang along, we danced and we were merry. This time happily Ciara didn’t steal the show as Lauren, 12 maybe???, sang with her, Paul did a great job with his mate helping out and Adrian, rather predictably, sang ‘Two Little Boys’. And this time we had strangers get up to sing with us instead of the other way around. Although one was so confident after nailing her first song that she butchered a second. Always leave them wanting more is the lesson there love. With the bar schedualed to shut at half 12 we got our last drinks in at 2am, headed back to the lodges thereafter and happily all agreed it had been a great night and worth the visit for that alone.
Wednesday was quiet. Hangover day mainly. Sinead went home because her results were out the next day and she needed to sort university places out, it broke some of the cousins hearts though, they absolutely loved her. More swimming, a bit of Hurling and I started to read another book. I can’t remember the title but it was a cracker by David Hosp. Come midnight I was out of fags and headed up to the hotel to get some. A big party had just finished in the function room and a load of pissed up 18-23 year olds were outside. As I sparked up one approached;
“You alright mate?”
“Fine thanks, you?”
“Not bad, from England are ya?”
Standard England conversation for two minutes, then…
“Fancy coming to a houseparty with us?”
“Yeah, fuck it why not.”
I was stone cold sober but thought it stupid to turn down. So I went along, got chatting to everyone and got told that Irish girls love the English accent, which makes up for English girls loving the Irish one I guess. Someone threw up on my shoe, I told everyone that I knew Nigel (the guy who invited me) from University of Limerick (blagged it) and I fell madly in love with an Irish girl with the most beautiful eyes (and legs) you can imagine. She said I was welcome to stay the night but sadly I knew it was a friendly offer and not the start of an epic love story. An hour and ahlf or so later I headed back and walked past another guy;
“How’s it going?”
“Not bad mate, you?”
“Good thanks, you from England?”
“Yeah I am.”
“You want to come to a house party just over the road?”
“Thanks very much mate, but I’ve just left it, have a good one.”
I love Irish people.
So to Thursday and the last day. I played golf, badly. Over 18 holes I came 5th of five. I was part of a three-ball with my granddad and Adrian. Dad and Emmet were in a two-ball up ahead with Cian as caddie. But it was good to get out and actually play golf with the pair of them, even if I was useless. Back to the lodge for lunch, and out again in the afternoon… to horseride! I’d never done it before but Dave, Ben, Orla, Laoise, Ciara and Dad were going to go and I got told a while back that it’s a great date to take a girl on. I figured I’d better be able to do it before I try showing off to my future wife (or mistress). Unfortunately my horse walked very slowly, fortunately this meant a lot of trotting to catch up, and I beat Dave in a race at the end. I just wish someone had warned me before not to wear jeans, major chaffing!
The evening, as you can imagine was taken up with alot of trying to spend quality time with every different person and it worked nicely. There was a frosty atmosphere in the air for reasons I cannot be arsed to go into, but the story made me laugh a bit when the girls told me. With many heartfelt, and for some people tearful, goodbyes said and me in the mood to be nice to people the evening had a nice feel to it. The only downer is that I ripped 130 films off Paul’s computer. Great you’d think, except since then my laptop only works in 5-15minute bursts, with or without the power cable in. Fat lot of good 130 films are if it takes you a week to watch one!
Of course we will gloss over the airport again. The reason this time being that I was pissed when I got there (we were up at 7am) and hungover by the time we got on the flight, during which, incidentally, I was in the middle of the Munster women’s rugby team. What a shame that was when I opened my eyes to see who possessed the beautiful accents I was hearing… And the reason I was struggling at the airport so badly was Dave. After everyone left the lodge the night before he invited me and Emmet for a nightcap. We raced each other at Guinness downing, and then Vodka + Coke downing. And finally he peer pressured me into downing a volcano:
“Hear you go mate.”
“What is it?”
“That volcano drink I told you about.”
“O for fucks sake Dave, I’m already pissed.”
“If you’re not man enough…”
Like I said, peer pressure. And if you were wondering what a volcano is – half a glass of vodka topped up with half a glass of white wine. Cheers mate.
So to sum up, I had a great week. We’re already planning when we can do it again, as everyone else loved it too. I got to spend time with my grandparents, who were up for the craic all the time, my grandmother having had a mini stroke just a week previously was up drinking and smoking till at least 2am every night all the same. I got to chat with and get to know better the uncles and aunts I rarely see. And by the end of the week I felt I knew all my cousins far better than I did before the week started. Would I do it again? I can’t wait until we do, I loved every minute of it.