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.