We wait for the forecast to tell us when the highlight of the holiday will be. There’s a niggle that we may have missed the boat. That we should’ve whipped them out of school in June, as the sun shone gloriously, and done it then. We need a run of a couple of days, preferably without rain. We watch, we listen and we google for our window of opportunity. Black clouds hover on the pictures. Black clouds with rain coming out of them. White clouds with rain. White clouds. We opt for a white cloudy day to set up, with the promise of a scorcher the following day. A big round yellow sun with the 21 degrees written beneath. That’ll do.

It’s all in the preparation, or so we learnt too late last year on our maiden camping in the wilderness trip. This year we are not to be fooled. The preparation starts in Dublin. Tents. Sleeping bags. Sleeping mats. Gas cooker. Torches. Going to the loo in the middle of a field, on a very dark misty night, with animals roaming, without a torch is not much fun. As we found out last year. A torch all round it is. Logs for the camp fire. Chairs. Food. Soup. Marshmallows. Water. Pear cider. We are so ‘prepared’ that we have to bring two cars. Two chock-a-block cars. We even bring a washing line rope in case the jeep has to tow the ‘new’ car out of some ditch on the rocky, marshy, undulating beautifully rollicky headland to where we are heading.

I take the lead in the jeep with three and we are making good progress along the road when I spot the empty fuel light flashing at me, flashing, flashing and then stubbornly staying on. Marque 2 phones the car behind and we all turn back on ourselves, retrace our route back to the town for diesel. Stumped at the first. After all that preparation! We snail back through the town, roadworks causing delays, procure the precious fuel and set off again. A thick misty drizzle descends. But we know the forecast. This will clear, making room for the scorcher ahead of us tomorrow .


We bump along to the gate, open it, two cars through, then stop to decide whether we’ll brave going to the furthest beach across the headland, or somewhere closer so the ‘new’ non-tractor style car can make it. Decision made. He opts to go first, except when he turns the key in the ignition there’s a chug and then nothing. He tries again. Nothing. We are stuck at the gate. We think. The AA. Nope. Pushing it out of the way of the gate. Nope. Washing line, ah yes, what fore-sight, we’ll tow, but to where, and why, and I’m muttering to myself about how somebody is trying to tell us something. To abort the whole thing. It’s obvious isn’t it. Thankfully the kids see no barriers and they are busy unravelling the washing line in the damp mist when he decides to give it one last try and vroom, he’s off and not looking back it seems, heading bravely into the remote, rollicky foreground and I can but follow.

We set up camp at the furthest point possible. The sun breaks through as we set to work pitching the enormous family tent – a tent within a tent fronted by a kitchen/living area with doors and windows. All of the girl guide/scouting powers between us are summoned to launch this monster. Two of the marques throw up their own tents in minutes as we huff and puff for what seems like an hour beside them. A pear cider in the sun lends a little perspective to the situation and we collapse on the chairs admiring our creation as it flaps lopsidedly in the wind. We have possibly chosen the only spot around with a cross wind.


Then we pack the fun into the hours that remain to us. Body boarding. Barbecuing. Fishing off the rocks at full tide. There’s no-one else here. Just the seven of us. And a dog. A dog that turns up every time we come here and swims with the boys and stays with us as if she’s ours. Will not leave us. Loyal. Sweet. Fun. Except when barbecuing. Then she’s a nightmare of sniffing and snaffling and leaping around. They want to keep her. They want to feed her. ‘Can we please just, please just…’ We want her to go home. Tonight above all. Will you please just, please, go home.

After fishing at sundown we cook soup on the fire. They were hoping it would be a fish, but, well, it’s tomato soup, followed by toasting marshmallows.


I’m busy zipping up the various doors and windows of the front of the monster when I notice. Hundreds of midges or mosquitoes or whatever have taken refuge inside, waiting. In our thorough, not to be out-witted preparations, blood thirsty insects had not featured. We are in Ireland after all. He sits by the fire with the kids as they enthusiastically toast – charring outer skins around lethal bubbling pink and white liquid sugar middles. I should be out there with them. Instead I sit on the floor of the living area, shining my torch around, mesmerised by the quantity, picturing all the red bumps and discomfort of tomorrow. Then I leap up and set about on a murderous squishing squashing spree. It’s surprisingly easy. They are laid back creatures. They do not fight their fate. They hang from the tent lining inviting my thumb. There is a speckled blood design taking effect in the front living area, chiming in with the rustic environs, enhancing the decor. At least there will be no vicious itching, scratching and bleeding amongst the crew.

By 11.30 the kids noises die down and we shine the torches at one another, wondering if we are too exhausted to eat anything ourselves. A massive box of food sits right beside us. We could rummage. Or we could just crack open another cider and be done with it. Which we opt for. And a few sips in we are taken by a fit of the giggles. All the planning. All the preparation. All the mini-scrapes. It’s got the better of us. ‘Da-ad the dog is trying to get into my tent’ marque 1 calls from yonder. We are laughing hysterically now. ‘Mum, what does neurotic mean?’ marque 2 calls from the inner tent. Tears roll to accompany the laughter. We are done in.


I am woken by something pinging off my face. I look around to see what’s thrashing about when it dawns on me. Rain. It’s pooling above. Pooling and then pouring inexplicably in. We’re sleeping in the living area and not the inner tent. I peep into the snoozing kids and it’s bone dry in there. In the grand design that is this monster tent, it’s fine for half of it not to be waterproof. We dive in on top of the kids and wait for the rain to clear.

‘Mum, Dad’ the roars of marque 4 and 5 echo around. ‘The dog is killing a sheep, come quick’. Sure enough our all night companion is down on the beach, straddled on top of a lamb, jaws clenched around the it’s neck. He roars, the greatest bellow he can muster, and the dog leaves the lamb who lies there looking pretty dead, but then springs up and jumps onto a rock in the sea. ‘Maybe they’re just play-fighting’ marque 5 suggests as the starving looking mutt scarpers. Indeed. Thankfully this incident puts them off begging to keep the dog.

We return to the tent and wait for the promised scorcher to arrive. He pops to the car to recharge his phone and listen to the news. Moments later he is back. ‘Pack up your stuff everyone, we’re leaving’. I look up for the wink, the smile, the little sign of a joke. ‘There’s a yellow weather warning for the country. Flooding, thunder. We have to get going or the cars might get stuck here’. We re-pack swiftly, albeit sodden, eighteen hours after our arrival. Before breakfast can be had. It’s just as well that we jam packed it in, creating the memories while the sun shone – we reckon that must’ve been the scorcher last night. This brief intense camping trip will be the highlight of the summer. They’ll talk about it as if we did nothing else at all. Meanwhile the pooped parents swear blind that they’ll never, ever do it again!



Very happy to receive the news that I’ve been picked as the winner of June’s international ‘Creative Writing Ink’ short story competition. The story, ‘Sunglasses’, has been published by the competition holders and can be read here.


Ellen Kelly

You want to go in with her. She’s seeing the baby on the screen and you want to see too. ‘Not today sweetheart, next time,’ she says but you know you’ll be in school next time. It’s midterm break and this is your only chance. [More…]


A recently purchased new-old second car has changed things. As he needs to be able to attend meetings here, there and everywhere, and puffing around on public transport, showing up wet/late/disorientated was beginning to lose it’s appeal, we began to moot the idea of a purchase. The mooting was seized upon and accelerated by marque 1 who happens to have an avid interest in cars. He set about researching for good reliable bargains with a touch of class, and before we knew what was happening we found ourselves at a garage gazing at what seemed to fit the bill exactly. Now taking a major steer from a 13 year old child on the purchase of something as significant as a car may seem like mere folly. Time will tell. I had to concede that the unusual dark colour – highlighted by the cream leather seats – was to my liking, and this fact combined with the bargain price ticked all my boxes. I took off in the tatty older synthetically upholstered jeep and let the lads ensure the mechanics were equally as appealing.

The purchase threw us into a quandary. For the first time ever we mooted the idea of taking two cars to the Connemara. He might need to be free to attend meetings from the holidays. To pop backwards and forwards. We could divide up the crew. Flexibility. Space. A no brainer really, except in my brain which had clocked up all sorts of potential difficulties, the first of which being the fact that I’ve never done the drive, and will probably end up in Sligo.
‘But you don’t know the way’ marque 2 chirped cheerily when we told him of our two car plan.
The second difficulty was how we would divide seeing as they would all, surely, fight to go in the ‘new’ car.
‘I want to go with you’ marque 2 announced immediately after possibly seeing a flash of a crest fallen face. ‘I want to go in the jeep with you’. Even though it’s tatty, the air conditioning doesn’t work, and I don’t know the way. Ah god, that’s loyalty.

Buoyed up by his support we put the plan into action. I was assaulted by niggles of doubt though. It was the choosing that did it to me. My mind set to catastrophic mode I felt like a bystander watching them select their fate. What if they choose me and something goes wrong? What if they choose him and something goes wrong? Marque 2 and 3 are thick as thieves and did not relish being separated for the journey. When it came to the moment, they left one another doing their secret handshake, promising to be reunited at the stop off in the city. What if?? On the plus side I could collapse the whole back row of the jeep and bung in all we needed with ease. I got to take marque 1 (directions), marque 2 (loyalty) and marque 5 (safety). It was argued that the jeep is safer than a smaller car, adding to my niggles about why the hell we were splitting up in the first place.

We nodded to one another, us parents, setting off on this perilous mission. And then I stalked him all the way to Galway. He did not make one lane change without me mimicking, and it turned out to be great cat and mouse fun. Marque 2 and 3 were skyping one another (ah god) and there was plenty of leg room and no complaints. It was all pretty civilised. Except for the one ultra hairy moment, when I thought right, this is it, brace yourselves.

20140714-212213-76933112.jpgThe sky opened to a torrent and no kidding, there was un-windscreen wiper-able whiteness, zero visibility, and I knew he was ahead but I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t see anything and we were on the 120 km motorway and I didn’t know if a vehicle doing the 120 ks was up my arse or not, so I couldn’t slow down or change lanes or do anything but keep going and pray that it’d be over as suddenly as it started. Which it was, in fairness.

We pulled in to our stop off place in Galway and parked side by side. Grinning it has to be said, all seven delighted to be reunited for the re-fuelling. My own grin wide and unshifting, chuffed – all safely here and not one car got between us all the way from Dublin. The lads swapped around cars for the last leg. Usually we arrive, all falling out of the jeep, sweaty, sticky, irritable after the cramped conditions. A civilised crew disembarked from the two vehicles, not a squabble in sight. Usually we feel we have to get them to the beach for a run, immediately. Not this time. We relax. Have a cuppa. Stroll around the town. They purchase body boards at a bargain price, stash them under their arms and stroll back around the town. People on the street put their thumbs up at the boys and say ‘cool’. One tourist, smiling, counting puts four fingers up and then asks ‘four?’. ‘Five’ I say smiling back at him and his smile broadens further. We have arrived.



You quickly remember all the little things you should’ve got done while they were in school. You’re so busy tying up all the ends that come with the closing of the school year that you put off some of the real stuff. The mind is clogged with collections for teachers. School tours. School tests. Sports day. Homework. Mums meeting evenings. Parties. Presents. All multiplied by. As one mum said it’s as frenzied as Christmas. And then it’s phew. They’re off. It’s over. Relax.

Except that you forgot to make appointments to get stuff done with the car. With the old subsidence issue. With the failing eyes. And now you must do all these things with the tribe in tow. Otherwise there will be no trip to the West. No lenses delivered. No house standing to return to.


You bundle four of them into the car for the exciting wheel alignment trip. But you are told that there is a dangerous fraying at the edges of the back two tyres. Blow-outs on the motor-way are forecast. You look at their little faces and the face of the sales-man. You wonder if you’re being had. The tread is well deep on them. You book for the tyres to be replaced anyway. Which entails ordering said tyres and returning the following day. You can`t even get this one off the list. You are walking on a water-filled mattress getting nowhere. A trip to Dealz lifts the spirits. Washing up brushes and face clothes to freshen things up. Everything costs 1.49. Even my new iPad pouch. Yeah! A trip to the chemist next door cheer things up further. A few little necessities for the holidays. The shop assistant lady is trying to show you that a free gift of lurid nail varnish looks a whole lot better when you paint glitter on top of it. Then she counts the kids and asks right there in front of them ‘how DO you COPE with FOUR BOYS?’ and she’s shaking her head while telling you that you don’t look like someone with four boys (whatever that’s supposed to look like) as you register them taking in the poor you attitude for the very first time. You consider the response options.
1) I find pinching them hard works a treat. This gets a laugh when someone comments on how well behaved they are and wonders how you do it. Not for here.
2) I don’t know how I cope, but I’m being punished for my sins, obviously. That might work here.
3) They’re great fun, I love it busy and all as it is with lots of kids. The truth. Not worthy here.
‘Five’ you say instead to the slack-jawed lady. ‘I have five boys’ and you smile to the horror stuck eyes, turn on your flip-flops and leave without your free gift.


They are well used to positive comments from adults about them as a tribe. ‘Make sure you tell your mum she’s really cool for having five lovely boys’ was one they reported to me last summer, beaming. It was in the West where celebrating big families seems natural. There’s no tutting, head shaking, raised eye-brows in sight. A calm nod of appreciation, a smile and a twinkle is the norm. I’ve even been told I’m a ‘good woman’ courtesy of the old breeding. And while the feminist in me rattles a little at this I leave it go. It makes for a nice change.

‘I don’t like it when someone comes straight out and says something negative like that. It doesn’t feel right. Why would she feel she can comment when she doesn’t even know us?’ marque 2 chimes, as precisely as I’m thinking it which is scary. Maybe I’ve been muttering over the years.
‘She’s just reflecting what she feels our family would be like for her. She’s not really commenting on us at all, but on herself’. Which is something I’ve learnt along the way, wise old thing that I am now. Don’t take other people’s comments personally. They are really only talking about themselves. Still an’ all, not in front of the children, eh?


We drop the car in the next morning and walk along for the sight test. By the end of the day both the eyes and the car will be match fit. I receive a phone call telling me that the brake pads and discs are worn away, scorched and dangerous. They will need replacing too. Of course they will. But would they if himself had put the car in? We end up car-less, parts to be ordered, traipsing home on the bus. Which is a mini-adventure as these inconveniences often turn out to be. I remember a Saturday a few years ago. We were on the N11 heading for a sun-shine filled day out in Powerscourt. A police check was along the road and we squirmed a little knowing that the tax had just gone out. The guard pulled us over.
‘Your tax and NCT are out of date’. Damn.
‘Yes, we do the tax online and it hasn’t arrived out to us yet’.
‘But you’ve no NCT either. This is serious. You do know that we can seize the car for this’. We do know you can do whaty whaty woo? Gobbledygook to us. We’ve never heard of a car being seized for out of date tax/NCT. Insurance we’d understand. What about a simple fine and sure we’ll book in for the NCT post-haste.
Nope. The guard insisted on seizing the car. Which in effect means being turfed out at the side of the dual carriageway. To get home however you will. Evicted on the spot.
‘Is that police-man going to take our car away from us’ one of the little marques piped up.
‘You get out and talk to him. See if he’ll let us get the kids home first’.
So I leapt out and gestured to the many a child in the car, including marque 5 who was still at a push-chair stage. He stuck to his line about seizing, but let us drive the kids home and return the car immediately. Proof of tax and NCT booking and a not immodest fee was what it would take to have the car released back to us on the Monday. But we had the best weekend, busing and training and doing things we just normally wouldn’t do.
‘I’m glad that police-man took our car. It’s much more fun without it’ marque 3 chimed. They would, they said, have so much more to share at news time in school, courtesy of the thoughtful man. Every cloud and all that jazz.

Later on when I get the bus with the tribe again to collect our out of the danger zone car, I’ll see if it still feels like an adventure. And next June I’ll be super. I’ll rise above the trivial clogging bits and remember to do all the important stuff before school ends. I swear!