Emer McLysaght: The seven people you will certainly meet on your holiday in Ireland

The old man on a bike, the person you are loosely connected to – we’ve seen them all

At any given time on any rural highway or byway in Ireland you can find an older gentleman dressed in trousers, jumper and jacket and tweed cap no matter the temperature. Photograph: Getty Images

At any given time on any rural highway or byway in Ireland you can find an older gentleman dressed in trousers, jumper and jacket and tweed cap no matter the temperature. Photograph: Getty Images

 

At any given time on any rural highway or byway in Ireland you can find an older gentleman dressed in trousers, jumper and jacket and tweed cap no matter the temperature, wheeling a bockety bike with a shopping basket cable tied to the back and with an ancient Jack Russell trotting just behind. The dog’s name is almost certainly Nipper. This man, no matter how suspicious he is of you and your number plate, will bless you with a languid yet practised raise of his finger. He’s definitely acknowledging you, is possibly warning you, and either way he is welcoming you.

He is one of the seven people you will certainly meet on your travels around this fair isle. And listen, I know I’m showing my arse somewhat as a Pale-dwelling Wild Atlantic Way boreen tourist by appearing to stereotype this old man of the land, but even in my rural childhood in Kildare we observed the one-finger salute for neighbours and farm vehicles of any description, even if they were cheerfully forcing you into a ditch. There is just something special about taking a long car journey and crossing the threshold from the alienation of the motorway to the comforting embrace of the waving local. Nothing screams “we’re on holidays, let’s stop for a 99” quite like it.

The French dad has clear skin and intelligent spectacles. You can tell he owns his own skis

As we head into a second summer of staycations – a brief pause here to acknowledge that the true meaning of staycation is to stay in one’s own home and discover one’s own locality, but I’ll let its misuse slide. Also, why say “staycation” when we don’t even say “vacation”? What next? Calling Lego “Legos” and tiles “tile” and reducing maths to “math”? – we are bound to tick off a cast of characters that populate every Irish holiday no matter your destination. When you stop for that obligatory 99 there will be the surly teen manning the ice-cream machine. You’ll watch like a hawk to make sure they’re giving you the large and they’ll ask you if you want “sauce” and you’ll say yes, because you’re on your holidays.

You might have been lucky enough to secure an Airbnb that doesn’t cost the same as a month in Portugal. However, if you’re bound for a traditional B&B you may happen upon a sausage-pushing bean an tí. If she’s old school enough she’ll raise her eyebrows at a couple who don’t have matching surnames. She’ll whisper to the kids that there’s Rice Krispies on the sideboard if they get hungry in the evenings. She’ll tell you the story behind the old man who just waved at you on the road and confirm that his dog’s name is Nipper. She’d rather die than not have enough sausages for the breakfast and she’ll tell you how to get to the local secret beach, dismissing your suggestion of Google Maps with a withering look. Google Maps isn’t going to take you across the Joyces’ field and down the cattle path to the glistening water below, is it?

Staring contest

Once on the beach you’ll encounter your first of many staring sand-children. The child will stop dead 4ft from you, eyes fixed on either you or the share bag of Hunky Dorys you’ve brought to go with the sandwiches. The child’s family are just glad of a few minutes’ peace and will allow the staring to continue just to the point where you’re considering giving them some of the crisps to encourage them to go away, before the family finally drag the child back to their own encampment of ham sandwiches and multipack brioche rolls.

The fifth nomad you’ll encounter will be a hardy French dad. Not even a global pandemic will stop him and his outdoorsy family from strapping on their Millet hiking sandals and cycling the Waterford Greenway or perusing the gardens at Kylemore Abbey. He has clear skin and intelligent spectacles. You can tell he owns his own skis. He calls his children if they wander too far: “Celine! Arnaud! Viens ici!” You hope they’re feeling welcome in Ireland and that the petrol station croissants aren’t offending them too much. You decide to throw a “bonjour” their way but despite attempting your best French brogue it comes out as “BUN-JOR”. Still though, you tried. As you move away from them Celine throws a tantrum and you’re pleased that French kids can be nightmares too.

Ferry around

On your penultimate day you decide to take a ferry trip made hugely popular by the fact that someone thinks they saw a dolphin in the area in 1997. You make best friends with a fellow ferry passenger who is also freezing. The warmth of the day onshore did not prepare you for the vicious breeze. This would not happen to hardy French dad. You compare notes with your new friend on various attractions you’ve visited and discover that your sister works with their brother and you were actually at the same wedding three years ago. You fail to see a dolphin, but you agree it was worth the money anyway. As you head back to shore you shiver and breathe in deep and allow the wind to whip your hair and “catch the heart off guard and blow it open”. Just then an extremely loud fellow holidaymaker nearly takes the ankles off you as they simultaneously FaceTime their mam and make a stampede for the yellow Snacks at the ferry bar. They’re number seven, and there’s always one.