When The Sun Shines In Ireland

Bikini Hurling And Other Quirks Of An Irish Summer

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative,” said Oscar Wilde.

How unfortunate for Wilde that he spent most of his life surrounded by unimaginative folk.

“Mild, moist, and changeable,” is what we were taught of Ireland’s climate at school. Not particularly enticing to the visitor, but the whole topic of weather is what unites the Irish as a nation. It’s a conversation-opener wherever you go.

Ironically, the Irishman who tuts over the cold and the rain is equally unable to deal with sudden high temperatures of the summer. Anywhere near 70 degrees Fahrenheit is too hot to be outside. One week without rain and panic sets in that the grass is looking scorched: “Sure wouldn’t a drop of rain be grand…”

This is not that we’re entirely crazy. The problem is that it can go from 55 degrees one day to 80 the next (as happened in the summer of 2009) without a comfortable transition. The sun comes out and we’re scrambling for sun cream, tearing through closets for light clothing, and off to the shops for barbecue coals, chicken drumsticks, and salad dressing. The next day, it’s back to Irish stew…

Having just experienced the coldest spring in 50 years, a wetter and colder than average May (during which I happened to be in the wettest and coldest part of Ireland on vacation), we are now, this July, experiencing the hottest summer since 1995.

And, when the sun shines in Ireland, there really is no better place to be. Because the country is way down the list of sun destinations, Irish coastlines are, for the most part, well preserved and under-developed. Once you venture a few miles beyond the well-known beaches, it’s easy to find quieter coves where you can swim alone…or share the sand with just a handful of families.

What this recent Mediterranean-like weather spell has shown, though, is how ill-equipped Ireland is to deal with temperatures above 75 degrees.

The big thing you’ll miss, when the sun shines in Ireland, is air-conditioning. It doesn’t come as standard. Not in homes. Not in restaurants. Not in shopping malls. Not in cars. Last week, my sister arrived home from Abu Dhabi where temperatures are 110 degrees and higher. Leaving behind her air-conditioned world, she found the 75-degree Irish heat intolerable.

The best way to deal with the temperatures is to head for the coast and take a dip in the cool Atlantic. My favorite beaches are along the Copper Coast, a stretch of coastline that starts about 20 minutes from my home in Waterford City and is named for the copper that was once mined from the local rock (and still visible in the dramatic cliffs that provide welcome shelter along the beaches and coves here).

The farther along this coast you go, the quieter it gets. While this tranquility is something most of us welcome, it brings me to a few things you should know about Irish beaches–particularly those off-the-beaten-track ones.

Say goodbye to facilities

Going off the grid means leaving shops behind. You’ll need to pack a good picnic lunch and snacks–along with plenty fluids–for the day ahead. Toilets are a rarity, as are lifeguards.

Forget communication

On the Copper Coast, I have never been able to get a telephone signal. If you want to meet your friends at the beach, you need to get in touch with them in the early morning to let them know your plans. Personally, I love this chance to escape from the usual routine…and trade the trappings of our modern world for clear water, golden sand, dramatic rocks, and the sounds and smells of summer.

Call the fashion police

Because the Irish are unaccustomed to long spells of sunshine, we don’t all keep summer wardrobes. At the beach, you’re likely to see some strange combinations of tops and bottoms. Not to mention the classic “farmer tan” (brown only from the neck up and the elbows down).

Bikini hurling

While it may feel like the Med (water temperature aside), the Irish still manage to preserve their identity on the sand. At Stradbally Cove, County Waterford, we were amused to see bikini-clad young ladies, hurleys in hand, belting the ball over and back in the mid-day heat.

Of course, no would-be expat chooses to relocate to Ireland on the grounds of its climate. But, if you are considering the Emerald Isle, you can look forward to some glorious summer days. You just can’t be sure whether they’ll come in May, June, July…or as late as September.

Nor can you safely decide on a Wednesday that you’ll have a barbecue the following Saturday. You just have to be prepared to roll with it and have a Plan B…or a barbecue-sized umbrella…as back-up.

Lynn Mulvihill

P.S. If visiting any coastal area in Ireland, be sure to pick up the corresponding Ordnance Survey map. This will help you find beaches that you’d miss from simply driving the roads–ones that even the locals may not be aware of.

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