Paul Healy’s Week – 19th August

Paul Healy with a ‘camping in France’ special…featuring Ivan Yates, two clowns, one Gene Hackman lookalike, fifteen stressed salt-of-the-earth English campers, the beautiful French countryside and missing most of the Olympics and all of the hurling…and not forgetting Pat’s dressing gown…

We left the dog at the Cloverhill kennels and left the Olympic Games in the telly. We allowed over four hours to get to Rosslare and weren’t too alarmed to see the dreaded ‘Diversion’ sign a few miles from our destination.

Major roadworks, it turns out, a few kilometres from Rosslare, where our ferry to France awaited. This year, our trip to France would be a short one.

In the past, we’ve often gone for two or three weeks, staying in a mobile home or wooden holiday home on one of the superb parks. This time, we travelled with four children and two tents – for four nights. The delays lasted close to half an hour but we reached the Irish Ferries check-in point in good time.

On board the Oscar Wilde ship, we savoured the experience, as we always do. It’s about an 18-hour trip to Cherbourg, but the time passes quickly, with entertainment and dining and shopping options before bedtime. Some of the entertainment – the dancing girls and the grinning guy – was described as ‘cheesy’ by some of our kids, but I guess that’s the type of family entertainment that works on cruises.

A great 74-year-old musician, who isn’t cheesy, sang Ed Sheeran, Elvis and much more. Later, a magician/clown kept the smaller children amused with a performance that alternated between funny and slightly strange!

In one of the bars on the ship, I waited patiently to order a drink. Two Irish men jumped the queue.

They got their order in and began to talk about the traffic on the way to Rosslare. They agreed that it was very bad around Enniscorthy, and that ‘they’ – i.e. the powers-that-be – would have to bypass it.

‘Anyways, I believe the roads over in France are good…?’ one of the men said.

“Oh, they’re mighty” said the other, who had obviously been before.

The first man changed the subject. “Is there any chance we’ll see the hurling over there?”

Meanwhile, former Newstalk presenter, minister and bookmaker Ivan Yates strode past with his wife, Deirdre. He’s taking a year out and while he spoke of spending a lot of time in America, France was obviously also on the itinerary.


After we disembarked in Cherbourg, a pleasant enough French policeman checked our passports and waved us on. The weather was very sunny and the drive to La Haye-du-Puits took just under an hour.

Putting the tents up took much longer. I don’t know why it took the kids so long to get it right.

Our first impressions of the campsite/park were that it looked lovely. As ever on French campsites, the facilities are very child-friendly.


A walk into La Haye-du-Puits – 12/15 minutes from our camping location – revealed it to be a really nice town.

As in so many French towns and villages, a very old Catholic Church is centrally located, a big and calming presence. Invariably these Churches are well worth visiting.

A few times each day, and about ten minutes before the hour, a very committed bell-ringer rang the Church bells loud and long! The town had a nice selection of shops and services.

Our first day trip is to Barneville, and later we will visit Granville, a lively, busy town that is close to our hearts.

That old stereotype about the French not being that friendly has long been rubbished by us. In our experience, they are very friendly and welcoming people.


There’s a little lake on our site and each morning, from around 7 am, its banks are dotted with anglers. They are campers, mostly French and British.

We are very centrally located, a Dutch family to our left, French people to our right. Further up from us, it’s a mixture of French and British holiday-makers.

Later, we meet a few Irish. There’s an extended family of English people near us, about fifteen of them in all. They are salt-of-the-earth, veteran campers.

Across from us, the patriarch and matriarch have hitched their caravan on to their jeep, but now the jeep won’t start. A family member is summonsed and arrives in her small car. The jump leads are out, but half an hour later there’s still no sign of the jeep starting. Other family members arrive with a very old male relative, who is helped into the passenger seat of the jeep.

Everyone else crowds around the bonnet of the jeep. Tempers become slightly frayed.

A tool box with hundreds of bolts and nails and knick-knacks is placed on the back seat. Everyone is trying to help, but there are too many cooks and this broth is in danger of being spoilt.

Someone puts the two family dogs into the back of the jeep. ‘That’s my bag, love’ says the patriarch to the matriarch, but she shoots back ‘It’s my bag, darling, the one I put my feet on.’

Still the engine won’t start.

A door of the jeep is opened and the tool box with the hundreds of knick-knacks in it tumbles on to the grass, bolts flying everywhere. Finally, with the younger woman revving heroically, there’s a glorious breakthrough and the engine of the old jeep roars into life.

Relief all around. Hugs and kisses. ‘Safe travelling.’ ‘See you later.’

Family members disperse back to their tents or caravans. The patriarch and matriarch and the two dogs are ready to go. The tools are back in the jeep.

But now, a discovery. The passenger seat is empty.

The old man is gone. He had to be helped into the passenger seat, but in all the to-ing and fro-ing and stress and commotion, he’s somehow done a runner. Everyone looks for him.

Thankfully, he emerges from around a hedge, slowly walking back to the jeep, smiling in the sun. All is well again.

Camping is so relaxing.


Five minutes after the extended English family left, a young couple moved in with their tent.

Life moves on. That chapter in the lives of the veteran campers from the UK is over, the memories filed away.

A new story is beginning. I left the Olympics inside our telly back in Roscommon, but I check in every now and again on the old internet.

Never even saw Usain Bolt, but then I suppose neither did his opponents.

We see the hurling results, but we don’t see the hurling.

In reality, we are delighted to be away from it all, enjoying the slow pace of the camping experience, with barbeques, books and bonjours.

Today, there’s a wedding in the local Church and the bell-ringer is in his element. We happen to be passing. The happy couple and guests emerge into the glorious sunshine.

The bride is wearing white and red, the groom is wearing all white. A man who is lighting up a fag and who has seen it all before is wearing the expression of a man who has seen it all before.

The bells are going full belt, loud and long. The bell-ringer isn’t going to miss this opportunity to let loose.

Two tiny pageboys in white suits skip up and down the steps of the old Church and a stony-faced old woman walks by in a world of her own. She may have much on her mind; maybe the bells have stirred sad memories.


It’s been a short but great trip. The sun is beating down as we pack up. A couple from Galway have arrived to begin a ten-day stay.

The journey back to Cherbourg is leisurely. The countryside is beautiful, the villages quiet and pretty, each one containing quaint old stone houses, a Church, and a Tabac (French for ‘tobacco’) Café. There are flowers (boxes, hanging baskets, displays) everywhere!

The return ferry journey aboard the Oscar Wilde is very enjoyable. There’s a new clown tonight.

New musicians too, and their high-tempo Irish music (complete with brilliant mandolin-playing) has the French visitors enthralled. By the way, there are hundreds of French visitors on board, en route to holidaying in Ireland.

Later, having a quiet pint on his own, a Gene Hackman lookalike in the corner suddenly becomes animated when the band plays Leonard Cohen’s ‘I’m Your Man.’ Every time the key line – ‘I’m Your Man’ – is due, the Gene Hackman lookalike breaks into a private smile, nods his head, taps his hand on the table and sings the lyrics. A happy man!


On the Oscar Wilde, the ‘new clown’ is off duty. He’s having a serious conversation with some passengers about the Irish economy, while still dressed as a clown.

After we disembarked in Rosslare, an Irish Garda sang a song as he checked our passports and waved us on. Welcome to Ireland! Minutes later, we’re crawling in a brutal traffic jam due to those ongoing roadworks near Rosslare.

Welcome to Ireland, French visitors!

Still, it hardly matters, on what is a beautiful day. And the Wexford countryside is on a par with what you see in France.


I’m back in Roscommon, back in the office. I’m not sure what I’ve missed in Ireland over the past few days.

Probably not much… I mean, it’s not as if the Olympic Council of Ireland President has been arrested in his dressing gown in Rio or anything, is it? Oh, apparently he has.

Oh dear, that’s not good for our image, is it? Arrested in his dressing gown?

I am reminded of what Groucho Marx said. ‘This morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas I’ll never know.’

Olympics update

7 pm, Wednesday evening: As news bulletins worldwide report on the Pat Hickey allegations, I’m taking a ten-minute stroll through the Sacred Heart Church grounds to ‘clear the head’ just before we go to press.

It’s raining, it’s a little dreary. In the landmark sports field beside the Convent National School, a teenage boy is practising alone.

To my surprise, he’s shot putting. I have never seen anyone shot putting in Roscommon before. And he’s impressive…diligent, committed, oblivious to the rain, and throwing a good distance!

Midst the doping and the dressing gowns, maybe the Olympic dream is alive after all.