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Memories of golden summers: Writers reflect on happy times

School’s out and the holiday season is here, and three Belfast Telegraph writers look back at those special years that meant most to them growing up.

1977: Maureen Coleman

It was my first summer of love, a seminal moment in my childhood that can still make me smile. The year was 1977, the month August and Elvis Presley had just died. I remember it well because in true Father Ted style, a priest celebrated Mass for the singer at our holiday home in Donegal, bursting into Blue Suede Shoes before the Prayers of the Faithful.

It was also the first time I set eyes on Klaus, a good-looking young German, who was touring Ireland with a group of fellow students.

Two of my rather glamorous aunts had stumbled upon the handsome Klaus and his friends in a singing pub in Kerrykeel and invited him home to dinner. I'm not sure what happened to the rest of his friends, but the blonde-haired, bronzed Klaus made a lasting impression on my aunts, for obvious reasons.

When this gorgeous 19-year-old strode into our house, English dictionary tucked safely under his arm, I was enthralled.

I was in the throes of a pre-pubescent crush on Starsky and Hutch actor David Soul and couldn't believe that such an exotic lookalike creature as Klaus had appeared on my horizon. He literally swept me off my feet, lifting me off the ground to say hello. It didn't matter that he spoke little English and had only eyes for my aunt, I was captivated. We all were.

Women of all ages throughout Fanad fell for his deep brown eyes and cute smile, from the teenage girls living on a nearby farm to the elderly biddies, propped behind the counter in the sweet shop.

Not even my grandmother was immune to his charms. The following year when Klaus returned to Donegal, having decided to write his university thesis on tourism in Fanad, he spent several months ensconced in her summer retreat. We all had a good chuckle when my gran expressed some concern about the living arrangements. “I don't want people thinking he's my boy toy,” she explained to my mum, not quite grasping the phrase.

It wasn’t just women who took Klaus under their wing. He befriended the clergy, the fishermen, the farm hands and the local TD. If he wasn’t supping tea with the parish priest, he was out on the boats on Mulroy Bay.

Unbeknown to me, my younger sister Kate had also been enchanted by Klaus. I can still picture her, as a freckled-faced five-year-old, clinging to the gate, tears streaming down her face, as Klaus bade us farewell. As for me, I kept my crush to myself, counting down the months until he walked back into my life.

And return he did, year after year, spending lazy, hazy holidays with us in Donegal. My aunts had both married by then but I still had much competition from the females of Fanad.

Then I found myself a boyfriend, more Starksy than Hutch, and my crush on the German evaporated into thin air.

After a break of a few years, he came back to Belfast and my crush, not surprisingly, was reignited. I remember him picking me up from my old office one day and the women I worked with swooning around him as I jumped into his car. He still had it, for sure.

But like all great unrequited love stories, Klaus went home and got married and I got on with my life. In truth, I’d matured and my infatuation had faded. The pretty pin-up of my childhood years moved to Dusseldorf and had three children. Contact minimised over the years, save for the odd postcard or Christmas card.

However, when my father passed away on Valentine’s Day four years ago, Klaus got back in touch and we’ve maintained contact ever since.

It’s been a while since he's visited Ireland but he insists he’ll return some day to see us again.

I never told him, all those years ago, how I mooned and pined for his boyish good looks and broken English. But in all fairness, he probably knew.

Looking back on that summer stirs up so many memories: Elvis’ death, picnics on the beach, sunsets over Ballywhorisky Bay, sunburnt shoulders, Loop the Loop ice lollies, Football Special drinks and Klaus. It was a summer when I first felt the bittersweet sorrow of parting and the joy of an anticipated return.

It was a summer that will always stand out in my mind.

Our heaven in ’77

We were watching hunky cop duo Starsky and Hutch on our television screens along with Morecambe and Wise as our top Saturday night entertainment.

 A young John Travolta strutted his stuff in Saturday Night Fever as we listened to the Bee Gees, Abba and Elvis Presley.

At home, Northern Ireland’s last Prime Minister, the unionist MP Brian Faulkner, died in a horse-riding incident in March. We celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee throughout the province in a memorable visit by the Queen in August.

The world’s first personal all-in-one computer, the Commodore PET, was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago.

1988: Una Brankin

All my memorable summers began gathering peas and broad beans on a sloping field that overlooked a lake with the wing of a World War II Wildcat poking out from its shallow waters.

The talk at the time was that it was a Spitfire, so my sisters Patricia and Joanne and a couple of primary school-friends and I — heavily influenced by comics and the Famous Five — formed a gang named after it (in the plural, The Spitfires!) and went on expeditions through the meadows and reed bank leading to the shores of tiny Portmore Lough, to get a better look at the wreck. Alas, the ‘glar’ — mud with no bottom — always got the better of us and we had to turn back.

By 1988, the fighter plane had been hauled out and restored, but my sisters and I still found ourselves on that hill with the sun beating down on our backs as we filled bucket after bucket with fat pods.

It was just our luck that it would rain when we’d have to pull and pre-pack scallions; the eyes would be cut out of us as we snapped elastic bands over the small slippery bundles. We’d huff a bit sometimes; it was lengthy manual labour but it gave us a very good work ethic and tenacity.

And nothing could beat the taste of home-made jam sandwiches and tea in the open air for lunch — except, maybe, the fruits of our labour at dinnertime, served up with Dad’s big floury potatoes and a slab of butter. Our fingernails would be green from the shelling and skin pink, invariably, from the sun, and it seemed like torture when we had to go and “stook” bales in the evenings (for those strange to our countryside ways, that’s basically piling them up in wig-wams).

My inner arms would be red and scored from the straw, and my sisters would be wheezing from the fumes. There was nothing for it but to go to the pier down the road and jump into the lough — Neagh, in this case.

The water always looked greenish and murky, and there was the fear of stepping on an eel, or one of them wrapping around your leg, but that cool fresh water was bliss on my prickled skin.

We were still getting the odd eel dropped in to the house by local fishermen in 1988, and we’d watch squeamishly as they leapt on the hot pan. My youngest sister Angela was particularly averse to the water snakes, and I’m not sure she ever got over it when the middle sister Joanne snatched one fresh from the catch and stuck it down the back of her blouse. I’ll never forget the screeching that went on while the culprit locked herself in the bathroom, laughing her head off at what she had done.

It’s a different sister in the graduation photo with me from 1988. I’d done a post-grad degree; Patricia qualified as a teacher, and we ended up graduating in the same year.

I’ll always remember the sense of anticipation the afternoon I went to get my results in the quad at Queen’s. I’d taken a day off from the field and decided to go it alone. Instinctively I started taking deep breaths as I approached the board; never having been a true swot, I was a bit nervous. But there it was in black and white at the top of the list: my name with an MA (Master of Arts) after it. In one fell swoop all the intellectual insecurities of my youth were banished.

It sounds egotistical to choose, as a most memorable year, one with such a perceived big boast in it. This is not the case. I chose it because it was the last of a chain of idyllic summers at home in Feymore, Upper Ballinderry, in the fields and meadows and the lough.

When I went back to the peas the day after my results, a younger cousin, Nuala, asked me what on earth I was doing there with all those qualifications “and that great tan!”

She reckoned I should have been off touring the Greek Islands — or at least waitressing in Wildwood, New Jersey — with my fellow students. I don’t regret missing out on either. It was my last summer at home and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

‘88’s highs & lows

The hankies were brought out when we watched Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene’s (Kylie Minogue) wedding on Neighbours and danced to George Michael, Five Star, and Bananarama on Top of the Pops.

At home, the Troubles were at their height and on March 6, the Army killed three members of an unarmed Provisional IRA active service unit — Mairead Farrell, Danny McCann and Sean Savage — in Gibraltar.

Ten days later, loyalist Michael Stone went on a rampage at an IRA funeral for the three at Milltown cemetery service, killing three men and wounding 70 mourners in a gun and grenade attack.

At the March 19 funeral of Kevin Brady, one of the men who died that day, two soldiers — Corporal Derek Wood and Corporal David Howes — were set upon by a crowd when their unmarked car drove close to the cortege. One soldier fired a warning shot and the men were dragged away to be beaten, and later executed by the IRA in an incident that shocked the world.

1967: Alex Kane

The thing about holidays — irrespective of how good they are — is that you are almost always trekking in the footsteps of others. You are seeing what millions have seen already and following itineraries gathered from Google and travel guides. “Did you see the Grand Canyon?” “Yep and it was wonderful. Did you see the photos we posted on Facebook?”

Other memories are more personal, of course. A holiday romance. Teaching the children to swim. Skiing down your first slope. Or, in the most unexpected of places, eating the best meal you've ever eaten. So yes, I've had some great holidays over the years and seen sights that thrilled and inspired me at the time.

But the holiday memory that lives with me, the one I can still recall almost every detail of more than 50 years later, was in Glencolmcille in the southwest of Co Donegal.

It was August 1967 and I had just turned 12. We were staying in a row of former lighthouse keepers' cottages, with a great view of the sea and strand. It was quiet and it was sunny; there were donkeys and horses to ride and a shop that was a treasure-trove of stuff that dated back to the 1940s — including some of the magazines.

It was another world, a sort of Enid Blyton world of picnics, bicycles, little old ladies, passing nuns, ruddy-cheeked men in waders and a parish priest who always had a whiff of perfume and whisky about him. And goats — goats coming at you from every direction.

Our cottage had a backyard. You were supposed to be able to park your car in it, but it contained a couple of coracles, a tin bath, a pony trap and a mountain of fishing nets.

On our second morning it also contained a dog: a beautiful, black crossbreed Labrador, with a white splodge on his chest and ears like bats. According to my dad, he was a few months old. He and I fell in love with each other at first sight.

We checked around the other cottages to find out who owned him. Nobody knew and nobody had seen him before. He followed us as we headed down to the village: those were the days when cars were still few and far between and roads tended to be used by wheezing antiquated tractors, traps, sheep, cows and goats. Nobody knew who owned the dog. We asked the local Garda (a very pleasant man who sat outside the pub most days and only put on his cap if you spoke to him about official business), but no luck there, either.

The dog followed us back to the cottage. My mum cooked him a couple of sausages and some porridge and left him while we took the car to travel to some local beauty spot. When we came back he had snuggled into the fishing nets and was fast asleep. We checked again to see if anyone owned him. Nobody had heard anything. The Garda, now joined by the priest, told us to hold onto him until someone turned up.

We were there for three weeks and nobody ever turned up for the dog. By the second day he had become an ex officio member of the family and was allowed to sleep in the kitchen. My mum refused to give him a name (apparently it would only confuse him when his owners returned) and my dad refused to allow him in the car (he didn't like mess and my mum and I were lucky to be allowed in). He stayed in the backyard every day and was always there when we came back.

On the final day, with the cottage tidied and the car packed, the dog and I looked at each other. He was on a lead and being held by the Garda and I was in tears. My dad was at the driving wheel. Then my mum opened the back door of the car, nodded at the Garda and said, “Ok, come on Toby.” And that was how I got my first dog! Years later my dad told me that my mum hadn't even told him we were keeping Toby.

He was a fabulous, loving, patient, good-natured and eccentric dog. I remember him at the foot of the bed when my dad died a decade later. I remember him sitting at the gate waiting for me to come back from school and from Queen's at weekends. I remember him licking my face in the mornings. I remember petting his head and weeping over him when he died in 1979. Happily, albeit spookily, he lives on in our present dog, Bo, who is his mirror image.

Follow Alex on @AlexKane221b

Rocking the Sixties

We were rockin’ and-a rollin’ with The Beatles, the Stones and Cliff Richard, while across the pond American rock gods The Doors released their self-named album.

Bare-footed Sandie Shaw won the Eurovision Song Contest with Puppet on a String.

At home, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed.

England’s World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey was knighted and captain Bobby Moore received an OBE.

Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that the UK had decided to apply for EEC membership in May and in July, the first television broadcasts in colour were transmitted on BBC2.

In the US, boxer Muhammed Ali refused military service; he was later stripped of his boxing title and prohibited from fighting for three years.

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