We’ve all seen those Fáilte Ireland adverts on TV or on social media and thought: “What were they thinking when they made this?” You can bet that at least one of the following images will be included: a sweeping, breathtaking shot of the Cliffs of Moher, ludicrously photogenic people overenthusiastically pulling a pint of Guinness at the Storehouse, a group of tourists enjoying a céilí in a pub in Temple Bar, bright smiles smeared across their faces, unaware that they’re definitely being fleeced. One has to question whether this is really the best advertisement we can offer to convince people to holiday in Ireland. Why would anyone come to Ireland after this inauthentic, fairly uninspiring portrayal? Indeed, why would anyone stay?
“It’s an Irish rite of passage, like not enjoying your Debs or realising that your biggest regret in life will be that you didn’t get on RTÉ’s ‘Quizone’.”
The term “staycation” is becoming rather irritating, but if one was aiming to entice more people to holiday at home this year, a good start would be to highlight some of the underrated pleasures and forgotten joys that accompany a sojourn in another part of Ireland. It’s certainly worth looking outside of Dublin for your vacation needs. For generations, Dubliners themselves have used the summer to leave the stifling city in their rear-view mirror, heading to some rural paradise on the far side of the Shannon. Meanwhile, those beyond the Pale have often traded worlds for their holidays; westerners exchange Clew Bay and Connemara for the stunning shores of Cork and Kerry, while Limerick and Tipperary trek up north to that backwards, mysterious region otherwise known as “Donegal”. Every Irish person has shared the experience of such a trip at one time or another. It’s an Irish rite of passage, like not enjoying your Debs or realising that your biggest regret in life will be that you didn’t get on RTÉ’s ‘Quizone’.
If the weather is good, technically it doesn’t really matter where you are in Ireland, although when the sun hits right, those long, hypnotic Atlantic beaches are pretty difficult to top. The dreadful weather is a key element of the classic Irish holiday. The constant threat of rain injects a healthy dose of risk into proceedings; you’re all too aware that your plans could be spoiled at any moment by that godforsaken and inconsiderate rain. In any case, it wouldn’t be an Irish county without a pervading quilt of grey clouds serving as the backdrop.
“After all, this is Ireland, where anything in and around room temperature is considered a ‘scorcher’, and enough of an excuse for you to don your swimsuit.”
After all, this is Ireland, where anything in and around room temperature is considered a “scorcher”, and enough of an excuse for you to don your swimsuit, or, failing that, a fetching pair of GAA shorts, and sprint down to the beach or the pier. You might bring a football or a frisbee, but that comes with the caveat that the wild winds common on Irish beaches will ensure that your pass is bound to go anywhere except towards its intended target. You’re better off donning a pair of aviators, which you insist you can pull off despite what your friends say, and lying back on the soft, comfortable ground.
Once you’ve finished cloud-bathing for the day, it’s time to head back up the beach for that staple of the Irish summer diet: the 99. Everyone has their own nominee for the best one, but every time you’re convinced that the village shop in your chosen destination has taken the top spot. There are few visual pleasures more titillating than seeing the connoisseur behind the counter carefully pour the creamy delight into a golden cone, swirling it like a fine wine, finishing with a Tintin-style quiff and the obligatory chocolate. 99s are like housemates: you don’t know a good one until you’ve had a bad one.
“This type of holiday liberates you in the best sort of way.”
But even a poorly made ice cream does very little to upset that sense of full-bodied bliss. This type of holiday liberates you in the best sort of way. Free from the restraints of the mortal world, you seize the opportunity to indulge in the almost hedonistic pleasures that social convention would usually forbid. There’s time to engage in some of the traditional activities of a holiday at home, such as complaining about the horrendous coverage your phone gets in this part of the country, or trying, and failing, to adequately explain the rules of a card game you recently learned to the rest of your travelling party.
There’s no need to wait for the sun to pass the yardarm; you can start drinking as early as you like, beautifully pairing a can with a slice of leftover takeaway pizza, best served cold. It’s also a rare opportunity to see those cousins you never get to see because your dad and your uncle can’t stand each other. You all agree that this current feud will soon blow over and after a night of reminiscing, they’ll forget why it is they were even fighting in the first place.
“It’s a specific type of excitement, one which fills you to the brim with boundless energy.”
And then, around the midpoint of your holiday, as you’re digging into your Irish salad, an unorthodox variation on the dish with ham, grated cheddar cheese, chips and sometimes even a boiled egg, you’re overcome with a bizarre sensation, one which washes over you like that initial cold blast of water before the shower properly heats up. It’s a feeling you haven’t experienced since you were younger. It’s a specific type of excitement, one which fills you to the brim with boundless energy. Suddenly, everything stimulates you. It’s almost like you’ve transformed back into a child.
That’s the ultimate appeal of an Irish holiday – that for a brief moment, you can return to childhood and see the world through innocent, optimistic eyes. In that instant, there is the potential for unlimited joy. That restrictive cord has broken, allowing you to be fascinated and thrilled by each tiny moment. It’s a change of perspective, one which casts things usually described as “crap” in a different light – things like those off-brand ice creams sold by the local shop because they don’t have the usual ones in stock. The holiday doesn’t make these things any less terrible, but you’re in more of a mood to embrace their crappy nature.
“Because eventually, reality will pull you out of that reverie and plant you unexpectedly at the other side of the holiday.”
Because eventually, reality will pull you out of that reverie and plant you unexpectedly at the other side of the holiday, and you’ll have to start packing up, digging through the empty cans and carelessly strewn clothes. You’ll soon be in the car on the way home, listening to One Day by Kodaline as you gaze out the window at the passing blur of the countryside. Unfortunately, it’s all over, but as you stuff your suitcase with laughter, inside jokes and embarrassing stories, you realise that the memories will accidentally cross your mind at some stage, perhaps while studying for an exam or sitting on a bus that is going nowhere with a phone freshly out of battery. Forget the Cliffs of Moher or Temple Bar or even the Guinness Storehouse. The real Irish holiday consists of a rich collection of small, slightly underwhelming moments, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.