What emigrants miss about Irish summers: the kick of a football, the bleat of a sheep
99s, impromptu pints and long evenings: there’s nowhere like Ireland in the sunshine
Irish abroad: Sarah Jane Colhoun, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, at Malin Head
Choc ices and 99s, windy beach walks and impromptu outdoor pints on a surprisingly sunny day: some themes recurred time and again when we asked Irish Times Abroad readers what they missed most about summers in Ireland. But one thing stood out above all else, featuring in almost every contribution: the grand ould stretch in the evenings.
Michael Russell, New York
“I miss the intermittence of Irish sun”
I miss the simple things: daylight stretching until 10pm, Teddy’s ice cream, the inky blue sky that lingers after sunset, the Twelve Bens against a cloudless sky, stargazing from Tara Hill in the footprints of druids, the voice of an excited Marty Morrissey over the Croke Park roar, bank holidays, driving through Phoenix Park with the windows down, and having a garden.
But what I miss most about Irish summers is not a thing or a place. It is the almost religious celebration of sunshine when it finally arrives, when the whole country stops to celebrate it, to praise it . . . to worship it. An Irish heatwave turns into a pagan festival. “Worship Helios, lest he disappear and never return!”
It is the intermittent and unpredictable nature of Irish sunshine itself that makes it so precious. Scarcity creates value, after all, and we Irish might value sunshine more than anyone else in the world.
The Irish sun is never heavy and humid; it always has a sense of salubrity: bright, light and vibrant, with a sea-scented breeze. It’s as if Mother Nature is rewarding us for tolerating her long winter nights and her perpetual threat of rain. Summer sunshine is her exhibition, the big reveal of the beauty she has been crafting all year long – her time to shine.
Marc de Faoite, Malaysia
“I miss the muffled kick of a football, the plaintive bleat of a sheep”
I live in Malaysia, where the lengths of the longest and the shortest days differ by only 21 minutes of daylight. This close to the equator it is summer all year long, and, although there are plenty of spectacular sunsets, nothing equals the long slow fading daylight of an Irish summer evening. Here sunset is a hurried affair, with very little twilight. The sun drops out of the sky (an illusion created by the way the planet spins) and night quickly falls. There are no long hours of lingering light and lengthening shadows, no glow in the sky beyond the horizon even long after the sun has gone down. I miss those magical evenings when time expands and slows and the mind becomes more reflective.
It’s not just the textured light of long Irish summer evenings that is so special. There’s a particular change to the way sound travels as well, not quite an echo but somehow more poignant than in the broad light of day; the muffled kick of a football, the plaintive bleat of a sheep. Perhaps it’s an effect of the slow change in temperature and the falling dew as the first stars appear, even as the sky still holds pink and orange memories of the sun’s dissipated glow. Or maybe my own memories are just tainted by nostalgia. Memories can be like that, especially at a distance.
Caroline Cobine-Boschult, Nevada
“I miss getting a choc ice or a 99 on a ‘hot’ day”
In Nevada there are beautiful snow-capped mountains, but it’s brown. We get 35-degree weather from June to September and 300 days of sunshine, which I like – I don’t miss the rain and the unpredictability of the Irish weather – but the drawback is that I spend more time inside with the comfort of air conditioning. The sun sets by 8.30pm even at the height of summer, so you don’t have the long evenings I remember growing up, playing outside until 9pm and going to bed with the curtains open, lying there, waiting for it to get dark.
I miss how green everything is. I miss getting a choc ice or a 99 on a “hot” day. Ice cream doesn’t taste the same, and there’s no such thing as a Cadbury flake; we have to put up with Hershey’s. I want my son to experience the Irish summer I remember, so we travel home as often as we can. I guess the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, especially when it’s brown.
Jane McCullough, Melbourne
“Most of all I miss the craic, the craic, the craic”
I’ve lived in Australia for 15 years. I miss many, many things about Ireland and Irish summers, especially the long evenings and the endless dusk, when everything glows and everyone looks beautiful. I also miss whipped ice creams, lying on the green, green grass in a park, the incredible atmosphere and smiling faces everywhere on a sunny day, barbecues in my parents’ garden, pints of Bulmers with ice, sitting out on the street watching the world go by, the view across Dublin Bay to Howth, going for a run along the seafront from Dún Laoghaire to Blackrock and, most of all, the craic, the craic, the craic. Electric Picnic is magic, although I haven’t made it in years. There really is nowhere like Ireland in the summer.
C Payne, Berlin
“I like soft rain. I like rainbows. I like the seaside”
Summers in Germany are hot, and the winters are long and cold. Hot summers don’t matter to me: a prune doesn’t benefit from a tan. In Ireland I like that you don’t freeze your tits off in winter or boil your face off in summer. I like that you can go sailing or sea fishing without a licence.
I like soft rain. I like rainbows. I like the Dublin seaside, the Martello towers and the empty west-coast beaches. I like the montbretia growing along west Cork roads. I like puffy Irish clouds. I like seagulls. I like the smell of coal smoke outside in the rain. I like being able to talk to people who know what a hot press or delph is. Every time I visit Ireland I feel at home just driving down the road. I’ve lived abroad since moving to the United States with my parents in the 1970s, but I would love to live in Ireland again.
Sarah Jane Colhoun, Melbourne
“I miss the funny headlines predicting 23-degree ‘heatwaves’ ”
I miss the funny headlines predicting “heatwaves” of 23 degrees on a sunny day in Ireland. These days I barely get out of my jacket until it hits 20 degrees. I don’t miss the disappointment when the “heatwave” ends before I finish work.
I miss the long days. It stays bright until 11pm in Malin Head, where I’m from; it’s a beautiful light. But I don’t miss the compromise of it getting dark so early in winter at home. As I type this in the office in Melbourne, it’s winter, it’s 5pm and it’s still bright outside.
I miss living in an area where hay or silage is cut, but I don’t miss my allergies. With the drier climate here in Australia I suffer less.
I probably miss my Irish summer routine the most, which involved horses and dogs. I haven’t quite got that sorted out here, but I will in time.
Donal Peoples, Berlin
“I really miss hopping in the car and driving to the beach”
I love the summers in Berlin; late bars with tables and chairs on the streets, where you can sip local beers on warm evenings. But being so far from the ocean is a drag. All the people of Germany share a small part of the Baltic, but that’s a three-hour drive from Berlin, and supercrowded.
I’ve been living and working here since September 2006, and it’s only in the past few years that I’ve been over and back to Ireland on a regular basis. I just spent two weeks at home, mostly in Donegal, where I’m from. I noticed that I really missed the freedom of just hopping in the car and driving to the beach in Rathmullan for a quick dip once temperatures soared above 20 degrees. I discovered places on this visit that I’d never been to in my life. It’s a beautiful county. I’d love to be able to move back.
Matthew Riordan, Dubai
“You just cannot beat a day in the bog”
I moved to Dubai seven months ago, and despite all the sunshine you get here I still miss the Irish summer. I was home for two weeks and could not get over the fine weather. Twenty-five degrees. Light breeze. Perfect. I got more of a tan in Ireland than I have here so far. It started lashing one of the days I was on my way to St Stephen’s Green, but I took no shelter. I missed the rain, not having seen any for five months.
Finally, you just cannot beat a day in the bog. There is no better feeling than bringing the turf home for the year in summer.
Julie Thornhill, Fremantle, Western Australia
“I miss the last-minute barbecues that always end in Tamango’s nightclub”
I love being able to rely on the good weather here, which makes planning barbecues and pool parties possible. I love spontaneous trips to the beach before or after work, automatically putting on “swimmers and thongs” most days, and all the summer markets and festivals.
But summer at home is beautiful. The Irish have a deeper appreciation for good weather, and the friendly atmosphere across the country during those two sunny Leaving Cert weeks can never be matched here. I miss the last-minute barbecues that always end in Tamango’s nightclub, in Portmarnock, trips to Low Rock in Malahide, where we pretend the water isn’t freezing, wandering in Deer Park, and waking up to the sun shining in my eyes as some eager neighbour mows the lawn far too early.
Even though it’s winter now in Australia, the skies are still blue and the sea still swimmable. Life is good here.
Sheelagh Douglas, Sydney
I have lived in Sydney for 26 years. My family still lives in Dun Laoghaire and I travel back often, usually in summer. A walk along the East Pier is a must every morning, then on to Sandycove and back. If my brother is home from Dubai he meets me halfway from Dalkey, does the same walk, and takes a dip in the 40 Foot; coming from 50 degree heat in Dubai, he loves it. No matter how long I’ve lived in Sydney, I’ll always try and have a dip in the Irish Sea with my mother, to show them all I haven’t gone soft.
I miss the long days of an Irish summer, sitting out the back garden with Mam and Dad, glass of wine in the hand, until 10.30pm when it’s only just getting a little bit dark. You don’t get them in Sydney.
David Keane, Montreal
In June, my family was lucky to visit when the weather was amazing. The children got to see their grandparents, uncles and aunts, and play with their cousins including two new arrivals since we left Co Waterford in 2015.
There were days spent on Tramore strand eating sandwiches and ice-cream, visits to deserted beaches and the mountains, and gatherings with friends and family we hadn’t seen in years. We went to the Doolin Folk Festival and cycled the Deise Greenway.
In Montreal, national parks and the seaside are quite far away. Simple adventures require at least a weekend holiday. The distance, insects, crowds and humidity take a lot away from what should be a great trip, not to mention the cost. But we will have to move with the tide here, and learn how to enjoy local endeavors such as canoeing and mountain biking.
It is true that a large part of an Irish summer consists of making plans that cannot go ahead due to weather, but when the stars align, it’s usually worth the wait.