An Irishman’s Diary on teenage days in Mosney
A recipe for fun in the sun in Meath
My friend Oliver and I would often cycle to Pat’s Supermarket in Laytown for 99s (with lots of sprinkles) – weather and inclination allowing, of course. If it happened to be a Monday we would sometimes stock up on cans of Fosters lager, bold teenagers that we were.
On our long breaks between the early and evening shifts in the dining hall, my friend Oliver and I would often cycle to Pat’s Supermarket in Laytown for 99s (with lots of sprinkles) – weather and inclination allowing, of course. If it happened to be a Monday we would sometimes stock up on cans of Fosters lager, bold teenagers that we were. Regardless of day, we would also usually try to stock up on Marlboro Red cigarettes or the cheaper Rolled Gold tobacco if funds were low.
Monday was the staff night for the workers in Mosney Holiday Centre, in Co Meath. It was also pay day, which of course had a beautiful symmetry as we were paid in cash and socialised at the on-site staff disco. The circular nature of our finances was not lost on the hundreds of teenagers who worked summers in the former Butlin’s holiday camp, now an accommodation centre for asylum seekers, but we didn’t really care.
It was all a definite recipe for fun – hundreds of teenagers from across Ireland working summer jobs together in one enclosed location, paid, fed and accommodated, catered for in every way that mattered for a young man or woman. There was even a church, if that was your thing.
It was the early 1990s and we were the chief dining hall porters, on £1.70 per hour, delivering thousands of dinners to holiday-makers who had travelled to Mosney for their summer holidays. Most of the visitors were from the big cities – accents of working-class Dublin, Belfast and Derry were to be heard most often.
Thousands of dinners were assembled in the huge kitchen area and loaded into mobile ovens called Jacksons, each containing a place for 104 plates. Our job was to wheel the Jacksons from the kitchen to the dining hall where they were plugged in to keep everything hot. We then distributed dinners to the waitresses who carried six plates at a time on specially designed wire holders. The waitresses collected the empties and brought them to the bays for separation – swill was loaded into a huge tractor trailer and brought to feed local pigs and rubbish into large bins for disposal. Afterwards, the dining hall porters swept the floors and mopped the tiled area and then were free to buy ice cream, beer, cigarettes, or plan that night’s entertainment.
The wages were pretty meagre and a lot of what we earned was “reinvested” at Shakers staff disco. All full-time staff members were assigned a staff chalet. Uniforms, in the case of dining hall porters – consisting of beige slacks with a blue stripe on the leg and a white T-shirt with a Mosney logo on the front – were supplied and cleaned for free. Breakfast, dinner and tea were free in the staff canteen and those of us who worked in the catering section could dip into the kitchen supplies whenever the hunger pangs hit. Gerry worked in the kitchen and could easily open the back door for us if we needed a meal.
Over the several summers that I worked in Mosney, I supplemented my income by variously working as a glass collector in some of the many on-site bars, as the operator of the Ladybirds ride in the amusement park, for about a day as a very slight, unenthusiastic security guard, and as a litter boy (my very first job there at the age of 15).
We made friends and met people from other parts of the country for the first time – the girls from Limerick; Marie, Anne, Jackie, Sean and Valerie from Kerry; and others too numerous to mention. Our adult bosses – Frank the chain-smoking Scottish dining hall manager sticks out in my memory – seemed to be having just as good a time as we were and it often felt like we were in an Irish episode of Hi-de-Hi. In fact some of the fixtures and fittings in Mosney were the same as those on the hit British television sitcom, and had been there since Billy Butlin installed them when the camp opened his first camp outside the UK in 1948. In the 50s my father spent a family holiday there and even won a small cup in a best-looking boy competition.
When the Community Games community took over the camp at the end of the season it was a sign that the long summer days were coming to an end and we all filed back to our lives. There were tears, promises of letters, swapping addresses; there was no Facebook, email or mobile telephony.
As I pass Mosney while commuting by train to Dublin, I wonder what life might be like in the camp now, and I get the odd flashback to what were the best of times and how simple and straightforward life can be as a teenager. If only I had realised it at the time.