If, like me, you didn’t get your finger out early enough to organise a sun escape you have probably spent the last few weeks engaged in re-marketing the situation to your family as a positive and that staycations are what it’s all about – knowing all the while that Irish holidays, being the stuff legends, are what most of your young memories, and scars, are made of. It’s one thing to holiday here when you are not from here, sort of like visiting the zoo, grand because you know, you can leave, it’s another thing to opt for it, and the mercy of our weather, where you have to prepare for everything. You can check the weather but what’s the point, Irish meteorology laughs in the face of apps and satellite technology, with a separate microclimate every 200 yards, technology is useless here.
Which brings us to our first comical episode of the Irish family holiday, packing. You need to pack EVERYTHING. Snorkels, togs, sun cream, jumpers, thermal underwear, wellies, flip flops, rain coats, winter socks and sun hats. One-half of these items may just spend the entire holiday laughing at you from their rolled up position in the drawer but there is also a strong chance you will be wearing most, or some of these items all at once – the flip flop and raincoat combo being a particular Irish speciality.
Then there is the car journey. You need: music, popcorn, Tayto, jellies, pillows, blankets, screens, sick bags for the bog roads and a dish for the dog. When the 3G signal becomes patchy, you need to immediately break into She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain until the signal kicks in again. Hopefully, people will sleep, and you dearly hope that slowing down to pay the fifth toll charge (must remember to sign up to that eToll system) doesn’t wake the youngest one up. Then you need to get as close as you can to your ultimate destination – before everyone is at breaking point – whereby you stop for 99s and a chance to escape the entrapment of a steel cube hurtling along at 120 kilometres an hour.
You finally arrive and get everyone settled. The 20-degree heat you travelled down in can only bode well for the week. Yet you wake to find that a 60-kilometre dense mist has descended and any view you had yesterday has been completely obscured. Is it down for the day? You dare not check. You go to the local shop to stock up on provisions, where the shop assistant remarks on how wet rain the rain is, code for it being down for the day. She also drops in that last week the sun was splitting the stones.
As that fine mist descends upon you for the third day in a row, a glimpse in the car mirror reveals that your hair has gone all Chaka Khan circa the missing years, large and electric and expanded to the point of becoming a legitimate nesting point for any birds crazy enough to hang around this rain-soaked landscape long enough to couple.
Despite only peeping your nose out of the door that time two days ago, you have managed to procure several nasty insect bites. Another reason not to go outside again. Except that things inside are starting to take a turn for the worse and children are starting to get that half-mad look in their eyes as they begin to resemble refugees from their own lives, displaced, confused – slightly desperate.
It’s time to take action. The internet is scoured for any possible distractions in the area that don’t cost an arm and a leg and are not reliant on the weather. You visit Sean’s Wild Experience where you are towed up the side of a bog mountain in an old trailer by a tractor from 1967 as you are regaled of stories of the famine. From up there you can really see how far the mist stretches. By the coffee shop, which is selling one of the last remaining boxes of Club Milks in the Western world, there is a replicated early Irish settlement, complete with crannogs and personalised marsh. As you shelter under its thatch you realise there’s only one thing worse than dealing with constant mist and rain, and that’s dealing with constant mist and rain in a crannog.
Then, just as you feel there is damp now deep-set into your bones, something marvellous happens. Just when you’ve given up all hope, suddenly a strange bright ball appears in the sky and clouds begin to dissipate. Suddenly mountains and valleys and vistas that you never knew were there reveal themselves. Suddenly, it seems, someone has set up a cappuccino stand on the side of the road and picnic tables are filled with people. In a matter of minutes, summer is on and everyone behaves like this is how we roll all the time. The landscape becomes a thing of awe and wonder, beaches look they belong on a Lonely Planet book sleeve and you remember why you came in the first place – because there is nothing like this sodden country when the sun shines, and nothing like the sense that you stole some summer from the clutches of the perennial winter/spring.