From the Archives: July 11th, 1964

Cathal O’Shannon reported on the state of Ireland’s ‘premier seaside resort’ some 50 years ago, when the boom time of hungry British postwar visitors was already a memory

The man in the dripping wet plastic mac dug into his bag of chips. "It's not a bit like Morecambe, where I went a couple of years ago," he said. "But then we came here because we had been told it was a small place, and nice and quiet."

The mile-long esplanade of Bray, Co. Wicklow, was washed with rain-squalls. Mr. Elam Taylor, a woodworker from Edinburgh, was one of a couple of hundred visitors sheltering in the new pavilion from the frequent showers and the high winds. For a couple of days last week plastic macs were essential uniform, for Bray – "Gateway to the Garden of Ireland" as it likes to describe itself – was getting its share of the high winds which battered the east coast.

"It's a fine place for folks like us," Mr. Taylor went on. "But it's not much for the teenagers. I don't mind a spot of rain. We can get a bus into Dublin, or go to Dun Laoghaire. And it's fine for the young children. But there's not a lot for the older kids. In Morecambe when it rained there were theatres where there was community singing, and there were indoor trampolines, and community singing and all that."

Bray has always suffered from comparison with seaside resorts in Lancashire. It is not typical of Irish resorts, depending on something more than 70% of its annual guests from the mill towns of Lancashire, from Scotland and from Northern Ireland. Bray is no Brighton, no New Brighton, though at one time it had certain pretensions towards being so. Compared with any of the big British resorts its amenities are few, even antiquated.


At each end of the esplanade there is a cluster of shops, amusement arcades; the houses are Victorian, unimpressive, respectable, a monument to William Dargan, the 19th-century railway entrepreneur who really created Bray. It has no historical pretensions; pre-Dargan Bray was mainly a fishing village. Its beach is stony, and its level rises according to the strength of the winter storms. Bray between the wars bathed in an air of easy profits; and after the war, when the steak-hunters from a Britain still rationed poured in in their thousands, Bray boomed.

But it has been obvious to the Bray Urban Council and to a few Bray businessmen for some years that the days of letting things run along in the old way are over; that Bray needs more than its bracing air to win visitors from British resorts and even from some of the growing Irish resorts. Though the town itself is beautifully situated and is near to Dublin, though it has plenty of hotels and lots of guesthouses, Bray needs a lot of modernisation and must provide more amenities in the town itself.

There are some Bray residents who will claim that Bray has everything a South of France resort has except the sun. There are many others, however, who point out its many inadequacies – a theatre, for instance, for plays and variety shows. There is an awareness that holiday camps offer these facilities and, at last, some sort of effort is being made to bring Bray up-to-date.

It is not easy to get facts and figures about Bray at the moment. The town has 863 registered bedrooms for 1,219 persons, but unregistered premises can – and do, occasionally – accommodate more than twice that number. At the Urban District Council offices they cannot say what Bray's earnings from tourists are each year, but Bord Failte estimates that last season revenue amounted to about £500,000, and on that basis Bray would have had about 50,000 visitors during its holiday season last year.

Bray has bingo and one-arm bandits, boats and even a whelk, winkle, mussel and jellied eel stall. It also has lot and lots of landladies. I met only one couple – from Belfast – who complained of their guest house. “Horrible food and a right old bitch,” was the verdict on this unregistered premises.

But more typical is the registered landlady. Miss Rosaleen Smith and her mother operate a spotlessly clean guest house right in the sea front, where visitors get bed and breakfast. This is because the pattern of holiday-making is changing a little. More people go to Bray with cars these days, and drive around Wicklow and farther afield, having their meals out.

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Selected by Joe Joyce; email