Holiday hell

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – FEATURE: Riots, shootings, burnt out homes: my holiday from hell in wonderful Waterford

I had imagined a cottage in Ireland set amongst rolling green hills. I had imagined strolling down to a merry music-filled bar and downing pints of Guiness with friendly Irish locals. This was the image I had of my holiday last summer portrayed by the holiday company Imagine Ireland. On every page of the brochure were beautiful pictures of the perfect vacation. It was everything I had imagined Ireland to be. Oh dear.

The deal: a week in a house in Waterford in the Republic. We knew it wasn’t a cottage overlooking a sandy bay as we’d seen it on the internet. We’d be staying in a modern house on a new estate with all mod cons. Which was fine. That’s why the price was lower than the neat crofts, elegant farm houses and holiday apartments depicted in the brochure. But it was in Waterford, and we knew the city famed for its crystal glasswear, was one of Ireland’s most fascinating places.

Travelling by car with my wife Linda, son Lawrence and daughter Milly, we took the ferry from Fishguard, landing in Rossclaire and drove the short distance to Waterford. For years we had holidayed in Pembrokeshire, so the drive through Wales was familiar. The ferry crossing was peaceful and we arrived in Waterford in good time, just as dusk was falling.

Imagine our shock as we followed the directions and found ourselves driving straight to the town’s rubbish dump and landfill site. We checked the address, but sure enough, the small estate was right next door to a towering hill of rotting garbage, and a mecca for thousands of seagulls.

We parked and went into the house. The property was fine. It was a modern semi, well appointed inside with a new kitchen and comfortable beds. But the view of the landfill site was not what we’d expected, and a call to the Imagine Ireland did not achieve anything. They had not given us any misleading information they said.

“Make the most of it,” we thought. “Afterall, we’re on holiday.” A sleepless night followed – caused entirely by barking dogs from next door. Their sound could only be deadened by keeping the windows closed on the hot August evenings – which at least kept at bay the flies attracted by the rubbish dump. The next morning, we discovered even more horrors. The landfill site was in constant use by lorries and businesses delivering rubbish or items for recycling. And the roads around were littered with offerings from fly-tippers: old fridges, bottles, binliners filled with kitchen waste and piles of building rubble. A walk around the block was not really an option.

The friendly music-filled pub that lay 400metres away (according to the brochure) had steel grills over its windows, and had the impression of being a place under siege from vandals. We were located in the middle of an area of town that took in a large council estate, an industrial trading estate and the landfill site. But there was worse to follow. Around the corner from our road was an illegal gypsy site. Dozens of caravans were parked on the pavements and lawned areas by the local primary school. We knew it was illegal as there was a feature on the local radio station about the problem. The authorities had spend many euros attempting to get the gypsy residents to move to an official site, and there had been constant unrest between different gypsy families and people living in the area.

On our first day we explored Waterford and found the historic centre of town to be an attractive and pleasant place. Yes, it was a little scruffy in places, but on the whole it was no different from most towns in England or Wales. It’s part of the charm of exploring a place, discovering the shops, investigating the attractions and taking in the atmosphere. But the atmosphere shouldn’t have included a riot.

The second night in our holiday home was just as sleepless as the first. The dogs were barking as usual. But this time they were joined in a cacophany of police sirens, shouts, screams and gunfire. I woke up and looked out of the window. Something was definitely going on up the road, and there was the distinct smell of burning. I went back to bed feeling somewhat troubled.

The next day I went for a jog before breakfast. Within a short distance the road was cordoned off by the police. There were police cars, firefighters, ambulances, and even a television crew. Up and down the street were strewn shoes, smashed bottles, burnt out cars, overturned caravans, burning tyres and all the debris of a battle. A house on the other side of the street was still smouldering, it’s roof having collapsed, and its walls blackened by smoke. “Oh my God,” I thought. I went back and got my camera, but it was difficult to get close to the scene as the police widened their cordon as it emerged that a man had been shot during the disturbance.

Apparently, two rival gypsy families had fallen out and had declared open war on each other. Both had summoned re-enforcements and all hell had been let loose. The events were the main item on the television and radio news, and the local paper had images of the aftermath on the front page.

So we did what any self-respecting family from England would do: we went for a picnic. In fact, everyday we went somewhere, as staying in was not an option. A daytrip to Dublin was wonderful, a walk around the JFK Arboretum was relaxing, and a visit to the enjoyably tatty seaside resort of Tramore was fine. We went for a meal, went shopping, went to the cinema and even went swimming in the sea at Youghal. In short we did everything we could think of to escape the war torn estate.

We did complain by phone, letter and email. Eventually we received a letter and a voucher for £50 redeemable against our next holiday with Imagine Ireland. Imagine what we thought of that.