Sunday 19 November 2017

Summer days: The great seaside getaway

As Dubs quit the capital for the caravan parks of Courtown and Rosslare, we find out what life is really like in the sunny south-east

Glenda O’Leary and her children (left), Jessica (5), Amy (7) and twins Ben and Charlie (9) enjoying the sunshine on Morriscastle beach, Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford
Glenda O’Leary and her children (left), Jessica (5), Amy (7) and twins Ben and Charlie (9) enjoying the sunshine on Morriscastle beach, Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Every summer, on the very first day of the school holidays, Jeannine Burke packs her three excited sons and her four even more excited dogs into her jeep, hops behind the wheel, and hits the road south.

It's less than an hour from their home in Tallaght to the Arklow Holidays site in Ferrybank, Co Wicklow, where the Burkes have a mobile home, but for Jeannine (34), and sons Lee (15), Evan (8), and Karl (7), it's a whole world away.

The kids play with their friends and roam freely around the holiday site, enjoying the balmy, long summer evenings, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Jeannine's husband Karl, who owns Ballymount car dealership Burke & Sons, stays in the city to work but joins the family at the mobile most evenings after his day is done.

"It's very secure here and we feel really safe, compared with back in Dublin, where we're constantly looking out the window and telling the kids not to go off the road," says Jeannine. "Here they have so many friends to play with, and we have to drag them in for their dinner."

Lured by the open spaces, the beaches, freedom, and the fabled warmer weather of the sunny south-east, the Burkes are among thousands of Dubs who take flight from the capital for the long, hot summer months, returning only when September - and school - comes calling.

Diardra Litton Leech relaxing with her daughter Emilia (4), niece Lola (6) and son Mikey (7) at Tara Meadows Holiday Park in Ballymoney, Co Wexford
Diardra Litton Leech relaxing with her daughter Emilia (4), niece Lola (6) and son Mikey (7) at Tara Meadows Holiday Park in Ballymoney, Co Wexford

From Arklow to Rosslare, and every coastal town in between, the mobile home parks and holiday enclaves are teeming with jackeens, and you're as likely to see a blue football jersey strolling along the promenades as a purple and gold one, while in the aisles of Tesco in Gorey, Dublin accents of every shade, from inner-city to classic SoCoDu, mingle with native Wexford ones.

And ah yes, the sunshine, the biggest draw of all. It's not just a myth that the weather is better here. According to Met Éireann, Wexford is the sunniest part of the country, with Rosslare receiving on average 4.38 hours of sunshine per day during the summer.

"We first came down six years ago to visit friends and ended up falling in love with the place," says Jeannine. "I twisted Karl's arm to buy our own mobile here, because it's so peaceful.

"The new road is brilliant, because it only takes Karl 30 minutes to get down in the evenings now, and there is so much for the children to do."

It helps that the resorts of south Co Wicklow and Co Wexford are far enough away from Dublin to qualify as being away, yet near enough to be convenient, especially for those who commute during the week.

The cherry on top is that the new 16.5km Arklow to Rathnew motorway link opened earlier this week after two years of construction, shaving 20 minutes off the journey time from Dublin to Wexford.

Jeannine Burke with her sons Karl (7) and Evan (8) and their dogs Ollie and Lola at Arklow Holiday Park, Co Wicklow
Jeannine Burke with her sons Karl (7) and Evan (8) and their dogs Ollie and Lola at Arklow Holiday Park, Co Wicklow

The drive is not the only thing that has improved. Most of us are still scarred by memories from our childhood of being crammed into tiny mobiles playing Monopoly while it rained outside, but mobile living has gone upmarket.

Jeannine and Karl have a three-bed, open-plan mobile with a garden, plus kitchen and sitting room, shower room and toilet. On their site there are tennis courts, basketball courts, a TV room and playground, and it's not unusual to find 20 kids watching a movie at night in one mobile.

The sites are all protected by electronic gates and CCTV cameras, so it's a great place for children to enjoy some rare freedom and parents some rare peace of mind.

"We've made loads of really good friends, and the memories the children are making will last forever," says Jeannine. "The girls get together during the week and take the kids off on day trips to places like the Kia Ora farm in Gorey or the local swimming pool. In the evening, some of the women will get together to go for a walk, and we would often go down to the Arklow Bay Hotel on Saturday to see a band."

While people who fancy the idea of a holiday home are naturally curious about the cost of it all, many presume it's out of their reach. Not so, apparently, as while prices went through the roof during the Celtic Tiger, with some people parting with up to €400,000 for a top of the range mobile, those days have long gone.

According to John Breen of Tara Meadows Holidays in Ballymoney, the average cost of a second-hand mobile on his site is between €25,000 and €35,000, while a new mobile costs from €40,000 upwards.

Once the mobile is purchased, it costs €2,500 annually in site fees, which seems like very good value as the site is open from March 15 to December 31. John has 137 mobiles in his holiday park, and says that 90pc of the occupants are from Dublin, with the rest from Carlow and Kildare.

"The mobiles are all owner-occupied, and we have plenty of older people as well, who have been with us from the beginning. Even though their own children are grown up, they still love to go golfing in the area and bring the grandchildren down. Families feel safe because they're behind electronic gates and there are security cameras installed."

Diardra Litton Leech from Ballycullen and her family have a mobile at Tara Meadows, and they bought it in 2011. Prior to that, Diardra spent 17 years working in the bank, and after she decided to become a stay-at-home mum, she and her husband Gavin bought their three-bedroom 12x38 foot mobile home. Gavin works in finance in Bray and commutes at weekends to see Diardra and their three children, Alex (15), Mikey (7), and Emilia (4).

Since then, friends from home who visited them have fallen in love with the lifestyle and some have ended up buying sites close by, which is how whole enclaves of friends and people from the same areas develop. It's mostly mums and children who are there full-time, although in some cases it's dads, and, in others, the childcare is shared between two working parents.

'There's a really good community feel and atmosphere here, without it being forced," says Diardra. "There are a lot of great facilities, and no shortage of entertainment for the kids, including movie nights, disco nights and dance camp, etc. Even though there's a great Wi-Fi service here, as far as my kids are concerned there's none, so they go out in the morning and play old-fashioned games like chasing and hide and seek instead of having their heads stuck in gadgets. It's really back to basics, and they come back filthy from head to toe every day after having a blast with their pals."

It's easy to see the appeal of the south-east, with white sand between your toes, clean swimming water, sail boats bobbing in the harbour, and happy, relaxed families thronging out of ice-cream parlours and amusement arcades.

It's a million miles away from the stresses of the capital city, and feels like a throwback to a simpler era.

"There are fabulous walks along the beach, gorgeous restaurants to try out in Gorey, and the fun of Courtown up the road," says Diardra. "If you were spending the days in Dublin, it would cost a fortune trying to keep the kids entertained and thinking up things for them to do. There is such a great social life here for adults too, as we have a meal for the mums every week, and there is also a dance camp for us one night per week."

Some people feel that they would go mad living in such confined quarters for a couple of months, but Jeannine and Diardra both insist that their mobile homes represent compact living at its finest. "You don't have the stress and bother of cleaning the house," says Diardra, "or the constant cooking that you do at home. The way it works here is that the mums take turns making dinner for everyone, so someone might make a big pot of bolognese and we'll all have it. Living in a mobile doesn't bother me in the slightest, although I can't answer for Gavin. I think that sometimes he longs for the luxury of our bed at home or the Sky box, but it's a small price to pay for the friendships we've made, and the freedom our children have to enjoy themselves."

Glenda and Colin O'Leary from Kingswood spend the summer at Ardamine Holiday Park in Courtown, with their four children, twins Charlie and Ben (9), Amy (7), and Jessica (5).

Glenda and the children stay down for the entire summer, while Colin, a self-employed plumber, commutes down at weekends.

The O'Learys first came to Wexford nine years ago. Having bought a two-bedroom mobile, they chose to locate it in Ardamine because it is 1.5km away from Courtown, one of the country's last traditional seaside resorts with amusements and plenty of family entertainment - ideal when you have small children. They love the fact that it's so accessible from Dublin.

"Colin was one of the first people to use the new motorway, and it took him an hour to get here, rather than an hour and 15 minutes," says Glenda.

"I stay here for the summer and only go up when I have to."

Glenda loves the freedom that the children have in the secure site, which reminds her of the carefree summers of her own youth. "As soon as they have their breakfast, they're gone to the playground, and they come back again when they're hungry," she laughs. "The parents text each other to say if the children are with them, and we all look out for everyone else's kids. It's a welcome break from our lives when we're at home, where we're ruled by the alarm clock, homework and after-school activities. It's a slower pace of life but the days still go by quickly, and when I'm here, it's the only chance I get to read a book all year.

"It's a much simpler way of living, and what I love most is that the children are creating great memories and friendships for life here."

Irish Independent

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