The week before the bank holiday, I went with my eldest daughter and three grandchildren to Center Parcs in Longford for four days.
We had a good time, although the week was overlaid with a certain sadness.
My daughter Laura’s stepdad for the last 37 years had died very quickly of pancreatic cancer just 10 days previously, still young at the age of 63.
For some time it looked as if the trip, organised back in July, would be cancelled; but it was half-term in England, the ferries had been booked, my daughter had taken time off to mind the children anyway and the funeral wasn’t to be held until last Thursday.
It took a day to get into the swing of Center Parcs, but eventually I could relax into it and have a great time with the kids, taking part in lots of activities – especially the outdoor rapids, bowling, archery, fencing, mermaids, Segways and the Teddy Bears Picnic.
The picnic had me following Thomas, my three-year old grandson, as we toured the sports centre shouting for Chestnut, a giant squirrel. I can only hope I wasn’t spotted.
There was also plenty of time to talk to Laura over dinner in restaurants while the children were entertained in soft play centres.
It was good that she and the children had travelled over in the Peugeot 5008, which I had recommended that she and her husband should buy as the best and most practical SUV/people carrier. She is delighted with it.
The 5008 has a real premium feel, absolute oodles of space and seven seats if you need them. We only needed five, so everything – including, I think, the kitchen sink – fitted in the back. They have a roof box at home when even more luggage is needed, or wine is being taken back from France.
We really sped down to deepest Longford and the Center Parcs site near Ballymahon. The roads have been greatly improved and it is almost like a convoy as SUVs with bikes on the back, many with GB plates – this was half-term in England – veer off the motorway to the forest site. It is good to be able to see a car in full use. The 5008 was brilliant, even though once we got to Center Parcs, it stayed in the car park.
What really made the holiday was the sheer enthusiasm and friendliness of the staff at Center Parcs, whether it was in the restaurants, activities, massive pool complex or shops.
Many were local and the place has been a boon for the local economy.
However, there were some employees from the English Center Parcs who had initially come over to train, but had decided to stay for the friendliness of everyone in the Longford complex.
Our favourite staff member, among a very long list, was the talented Tyrone Taaffe from Longford, who could amuse babies, adults and very demanding children while all the time serving very professionally in Cara’s Restaurant and Bar. It also turns out he was a GAA colleague of Sunday Independent sports editor John Greene, whom he claimed was one of the greatest free takers.
It was the sort of local touch that really made the holiday and lifted a daughter’s sadness for a while.