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Karen Ireland: I fell in love with a handsome American... then reality came along in the form of my mum


By Karen Ireland

The younger Donna in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again resonated with me as she travelled the world having the time of her life and lots of carefree romances along the way.

In my late teens, I was a young Donna as I holidayed with my family in Portugal for three years in a row and all my best friend and I were interested in was the beach, discos and meeting boys.

We did all three in long carefree days, with lots of sad farewells at the end of the holidays and letters going back and forth in the aftermath.

I celebrated my 18th birthday in Portugal and that's when I had my longest holiday romance.

On that night, I was out celebrating in one of the local bars when I met a crowd of guys from Holland who were only too happy to help me celebrate.

Among them was a rather young looking but very handsome American.

We got chatting later on in the evening and he turned out to be 21, recently graduated from veterinary college and backpacking around Europe for the summer.

For the rest of my holiday we were inseparable. Days spent on the beach and nights in the bars.

I fell into heady, sunburnt and rose-tinted love and was completely heartbroken when we had to say goodbye.

This didn't feel like any of the other goodbyes and this time it felt like letters wouldn't cut it. I knew I wanted to see him again. When we returned home we kept in touch with weekly long distant phone calls and long, heart wrenching letters.

I thought my heart would break in two, I missed him so much. So, the summer after I finished my A-Levels, my parents paid for me to travel over to Boston to see him.

As a now mum of an 18-year-old (and two younger teenagers) I don't know that I would allow him to go halfway across the world to stay with a person and a family he barely knew, but my parents trusted me and they knew at the time nothing was going to stop me from pursuing this romance.

So, half elated and half scared to death, I set off on my first solo trip to the United States from Dublin airport with my heart beating in my mouth with every mile travelled. As it turned out, he lived a few miles away from a girl called Maura who'd been an exchange student at my school the previous year. They got in touch and picked me up from the airport.

I spent that entire summer before university with him and his family having the time of my life. We travelled, camped, went to family reunions, dined out and I became part of a family who remain very close to my heart today.

I was their Irish daughter and they were my American mum and dad.

The farewell at the end of the summer almost ripped my heart out and I spent most of my first year at university saving change so that I could go to the phonebox at the end of the week and make my weekly call to the States.

I spent three amazing summers over there. I was an adult but had no ties or responsibilities - life was good and I thought it would last forever. Reality came, as it always did, in the form of my mother. They visited Boston to be there for my 21st birthday and to meet the love of my life and his family.

Mum announced after a couple of days: "You are in love with a lifestyle, a family and America - you are not in love with him."

She was of course right, as she always was, and when I took off the rose-tinted spectacles I knew it. Things ended that summer and I came crashing back to Northern Ireland with a broken heart.

I didn't get Donna's happy ever after with Pierce Brosnan but I did get some amazing memories and the time of my life, which I will always treasure and never forget.

Belfast Telegraph

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