Sean on holiday

Sean in Torremolinos with new friends, 2007

Sean in our apartment on holiday was such a rarity that my wife decided to record it

My wife, our daughter and Sean had four holidays in Majorca, Spain and Portugal when Sean was a teenager. From the time we arrived at our destination the rest of us hardly saw Sean at all, as he would be off making friends, socializing and having fun.

In Majorca in 2005, Sean had just turned 14. We were staying in an apartment/hotel complex used mainly by Irish holidaymakers; directly across the road was a more upmarket hotel occupied entirely by Germans. After a few days, Sean had befriended all the teenagers in our hotel, and must have felt the need to extend his scope. He started to go across to the German hotel and swim in the pool there, even though it was supposed to be for residents only (Sean always had a healthy disregard for every kind of rule).

After a few days, groups of slightly disoriented German teenagers could often be seen wandering around the swimming-pool area of our hotel, approaching people and asking, ‘Where’s Sean?’ Hotel staff told us that people from the two hotels had never mixed before.

One day there was an incredibly heavy rain storm, and the road between the two hotels quickly turned into a flowing river. People rushed indoors. My wife and I surveyed the scene from the balcony of our apartment.

After a while, 50 metres or so up the road, we saw someone lying on a lilo and floating along. My wife said, ‘Who is that eejit? The water must be filthy.’ I looked more closely, and said, ‘It’s Sean!’ And of course it was. He was waving nonchalantly to the people on the balconies of the German hotel, who were cheering and applauding. Someone threw him a bar of soap, and he washed himself ostentatiously.

We shouted to him, and told him to come up to the apartment at once. Eventually he complied. We were annoyed with him, as he might have caught some disease from the water. He was annoyed with us. He said, ‘Why did you make me come up? Those Germans were going to give me money for taking photos of me!’

On the same holiday, Sean was playing pool one night and there was a big crowd round the pool table. An Irishman with whom we had been playing football said to me, ‘See that kid, Sean? He’s a great young fella.’ He then told me how he’d seen Sean and a girl kissing in the swimming pool, and thought it was really sweet. I told him that I was Sean’s dad, and I knew very well what he was like … I’d seen him and a girl kissing in the swimming pool the year before.

Sean showed another side of his character in Portugal in 2007, when he had just turned 16. He was sitting on a wall outside a bar one night with a friend, and saw a young woman being beaten viciously by a man. Sean intervened, and took a few punches for his trouble. Although young, he was tough from playing rugby. The friend ran into the bar and shouted, ‘Sean’s in trouble!’, and a group of people ran out and held on to the the assailant.

The police arrived and, Sean said, took the perpetrator down an alley and beat him with batons. Then the woman’s father arrived and beat him too. Sean didn’t mind the punches, but was profoundly shocked by the idea that a man could attack a woman … for Sean, it went completely against the grain.

He was irrepressible, and I’m glad now that we didn’t try too hard to repress him.



Filed under Anecdotes

33 responses to “Sean on holiday

  1. I have edited the caption to the pic, but the edit doesn’t show. It was actually 2006. Sean is the one in the centre.

  2. Marya

    Great memories of Sean, Brendan. Thank you for sharing them. The ‘lilo’ episode is a classic .. I am still smiling.

  3. Thanks, Marya … we’ve been smiling a lot too. Sean was quite a character, and we’ll be hearing stories about him for a long time to come.

    A picture on Facebook shows a group of his friends sitting in the dark with candles on the night of his funeral, in the forest where they used to go to have a drink together.

    • Marya

      I hope they found consolation in their memories there,Brendan .. close to the healing power of nature’s beauty illuminated by candlelight.

      Marya x

      • Thanks, Marya. On of the people involved – now a ‘Facebook friend’ of my wife – said that he would take us to show us the place. We do have a lot of support.

        • Marya

          Such a wealth of support, Brendano, is a tribute to Sean’s great qualities and to those of his loving family.

          Marya x

  4. papaguinea

    Irrepressibly Irish! I love it! I have posted a “Snow poem” inspired by Sean’s antics near Rooskey and my feelings that Sean has been called to a wedding. (It’s with the ‘snow’ picture.)

  5. I tried looking at the F.B page but came up with 1,400 Sean O’Briens. You could have named him Xavier;)

  6. Cymbeline

    Thank you for the other pictures and anecdotes about your beautiful, irrepressible boy. So young, and yet an example to us all.

    Dark nights of the soul. Old wounds re-opened. I have expressed my rage and bitterness at such tragic loss of life and youth, but those feelings are selfish and evil because they are of no help to anyone. We must get up in the morning, we must carry on, we must know that love and light conquer all. We must care about those around us and believe that life is meaningful. There is no other way, and we have to accept that we will never understand everything. May nothing let us waver, may our hearts and heads always be open to the light.

    Because I have been reading your words for a long time now, I feel that I know you. You have given me so much light. I never thought that I would be able to feel such sadness and distress for someone I have never met in the flesh. I have not been able to sleep, I cry, and I cannot concentrate on life’s everyday jobs. I have always admired your extraordinary love and kindness, and I know that your power will give you and the people around you great strength. I am not surprised to hear of all the friends and neighbours you have helping you and supporting you – light like yours reaches everyone.

    Family are coming to stay for two weeks, so I will not be writing for that time. I shall have to put on a happy face for them. I had been looking forward to seeing them, but I would rather sleep in a darkened room. But shutters must must must be opened.

    Dearest, dearest Brendan, I am thinking of you, Sean, and your family all the time. My head and my heart try to keep the light shining for you all, for us all. It is so hard, and I do not possess your strength.

    Your friend, Anna

    • Thank you very much, Anna. That is a wonderful message … because of other commitments I don’t have time to try to do it justice with a proper response now.

      Earlier I went to the town with some of the people here; when I got back, three of Sean’s friends and his girlfriend were chatting to my wife at the kitchen table. Then another of his friends arrived. We had a beer and told a few stories, along with my wife’s brother and brother-in-law.

      This is a good template; it is easy and natural. There is a sort of unity in loss that enriches those that remain and makes them more loving. We will hold on to it. It affects even those that have never met, it would seem.

      Anyway, best wishes to you and your family, and all the other kind people.

      • Rainer the cabbie


        I have read all your post, moved by them, and tried to rack my brain as what suitable response I can give them.
        I feel a bit like Anna, in the way that these terrible news have affected me, not to the extend that Anna feels it, but by the realisation that the hardest thing for any parent is to lose your child before you die yourself.

        It seems that in the moment you are still being cared for by friends, neighbours and family, taking attention away from what has happened.
        Soon, when life will return to normal, the pain may be accelerated.

        If this happens please remember that Sean would not like to see you or your wife in that misery and wants you to remember him with the love he gave to you, and the love you gave to him.
        His spirit is still around you and he will never forget his loving parents and family.

        He has passed on, but the next time you see a beautiful flower, sunset, tree, hear a magical tune, read a message of hope and love, Sean’s memory and spirit will be embedded in that.

        Never let go of the beautiful memories that this wonderful boy has given to you; let go of the grieve because that is what he wants you to do.

      • Anna, you might be interested to know that in his last text to his mum, on the Saturday, Sean said, ‘Look out for a bronze angel’. She had said that they were going up a tower in Lucca, and I had asked him to tell her this.

        She saw the bronze angel.

    • I’d like to sit by you without speaking in silence, Cymbeline.
      God bless you.

  7. Great story Brendan.
    I hope you have a big kitchen table!

  8. papaguinea

    Brendano – I have had another shot at the Snow poem. I very much hope you and your family like it. (I was lying in bed awake between 4 and 5 – it just wouldn’t go out of my mind!)

    • I have read it and I like it very much. My wife was touched by the first version; I will show her this. I know very well that feeling of working on words in the head … words that won’t go away.

      Thanks for everything.

  9. Hello Brendan,

    I hope the second phase will be easier for you.

    I’m waiting for the day to meet Sean.

  10. Thank you, Marya and others. This time last week, the world had just fallen apart. Today it is lovely and sunny here. We still have visitors, but things are gradually moving towards a new kind of normality.

    A man called to us during the week whose 23-year-old son was killed in a car crash the same day as Sean died. This man had been a teacher in Sean’s school, and used to play football with Sean and others after school. The funeral was at the same time as Sean’s.

    I said to another of Sean’s old teachers during the week, ‘Sean thought very highly of you … he said you were brilliant at maths.’ The teacher said, ‘I hoped you were going to say “football”!’

    In Sean’s school yearbook for the year he left school, he gave ‘Most embarrassing memory’ as ‘Losing 14-3 to the teachers in after school soccer!’

  11. When I was at the supermarket checkout on Friday, an elderly local man I knew slightly approached me to ask how we were. We hear this morning that he has died. Strange days.

  12. Tony D

    This will probably come out all wrong… but what happened to Sean, and what is happening to you and your family now, doesn’t just bring sadness but also an element of joy and love into the lives of people who don’t even really know you, apart from some ephemeral contact in cyberspace.
    Reading your blog and reflecting on what happened has, perhaps only briefly, made me appreciate and love my own children just a little bit more. Sean is my 12 year old son’s name so there was an immediate resonance when I read what had happened. And in moments of difficulty and anger with him or his five sisters I have been reminded to keep some sort of perspective.
    I hope never to have to suffer what you have suffered, and I know that I would never be able to face it with the resolve and dignity that you have . But even in death Sean is spreading a little bit of joy and love to people he didn’t even know on the other side of the world.

  13. Hello, Tony. Thank you very much for this.

    I’m glad if Sean’s death causes other parents to stop and value their children a little more … it’s easy to forget in the day-to-day whirl of life that we don’t have them for ever. Sean and I had our moments of friction … he was stubborn and I was stubborn. Never anything serious, I’m glad to say.

    A lot of small positives have come out of Sean’s death. I think it has brought the local community closer. (Someone said to me yesterday, ‘I’m proud of the parish’, and so he should be.) We are closer to Sean’s friends, and they are closer to each other. Even some people far away are affected. It may sound clichéd, but there is a lot of love.

    The small positives don’t outweigh the one big negative, but they do help.

    • Tony D

      But how quickly we forget the lessons we should learn. I have just sent Sean out the door to school with a flea in his ear and without the usual kiss. I guess the minor lapses are unavoidable in the daily pantomime that goes in our mad home.
      Maybe I will head up to the playing fields at lunchtime and give him a wave.
      Maybe it’s middle age, but when I read about your Sean and other tragedies a sort of mild despair falls on me. I read yesterday of a 25 year old teacher, brushing her teeth at a camp ground, shot dead by a stray bullet from an irresponsible hunter. Maybe it would be easier to get my head round if I had some sort of religious convictions but I have never managed to muster any since leaving school. I hope you do somehow get to see Sean again.

  14. Thanks very much, Tony. Minor lapses are certainly unavoidable in a house with six children, I should imagine. 🙂

    Yes, it’s hard to get one’s head around these things. Perhaps somewhere, somehow, there is a greater purpose and a greater plan. I always thought so.

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