Ciara Kenny

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Take that, Asia! An emigrant’s summer holiday in Ireland

On returning home to take advantage of the great Irish summer, a cycling trip was full of pleasant surprises, writes David Burns

Fri, Aug 23, 2013, 00:01


David Burns

One thing I remember about the boom is summer holidaying in France. Every August, Mum and Dad would cram two weeks of T-shirts and suncream into a roof box and slap a Keycamp sticker on the boot, before heading off to Brittany, Normandy, the Dordogne or, of course, Disneyland Paris.

I moved over here to Paris after I graduated, and one thing I came to notice was that none of my French friends has had a similar experience. According to statistics, seven in 10 French people choose to stay in the Hexagon for holidays; France has it all, apparently.

So when word reached me in mid-July that I was missing the best summer yet back home, I packed my bags for the motherland. For the first time since waiting tables at 16, I would spend my summer funds in Ireland and see if the place had more to offer than Tallinn or Sofia. It wouldn’t be as cheap, so I decided to try a cycling trip.

A friend agreed to accompany me from Dublin to Wexford via the coast road. The morning we had scheduled to set off was windy with a chance of rain, and I was already regretting my romantic notions of rediscovering Ireland.

When we arrived at our destination eight hours later, sunburned, backs broken, we were ecstatic. My misgivings had been dispelled by scenery the N11 and M50 had never shown me. We decided to continue.

Planning the trip taught me about places I’d only taken a bus through: Monalin, Ramsgrange, Bunmahon, Crosshaven, Clonakilty. The names were like beads on a rosary: I’d never sifted through them, but my grandparents and parents had visited them all as kids.

We stayed with friends and family a lot. No couch-surfing or hasty on-the-train emails to hostels, just a text or a phone call.

At most service stations, we would totter in on our clip-in cycling shoes, steady as girls on vodka and high heels, to get water from the tap and directions. I used to hate the cliches about Irish hospitality, thinking myself too boom-worldly to buy into them, but the curiosity and friendliness of people we met overwhelmed my cynicism.

We made it out to Sherkin Island together, and I pushed on by myself to Killarney. The beauty of the region stunned me. All of it, including the heavy clouds, seemed to reach out and shake me for all those student holidays in eastern Europe.

On the train back to Dublin, quads like logs, I kept thinking about Clare, Galway, Mayo. I obsessed over these places on my smartphone; Facebook forgotten, Google Maps open. Caha’s Pass overshadowed the French chateaux I used to visit, and the Beara Peninsula lay like Asia in my mind.

The Parisians I work with think it uncool to like the Eiffel Tower or look up at Notre Dame. It seems silly to stare at the sky, like the old man from the fable, when you don’t know where your feet are planted.

This article appears in the Summer Living pages of The Irish Times today. Read David Burns’s previous article for Generation Emigration about how leaving Ireland made him realise he wasted his youth playing video games.