Róisín Ingle: You can stick your foreign holidays where the sun always shines

Clare is the new Costa del Sol, sideways rain or sporadic shine

The first sunrise of the new millennium over the Burren in Co Clare in 2000. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The first sunrise of the new millennium over the Burren in Co Clare in 2000. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

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It feels like everyone is on their holliers in Ireland at the moment. “Mayo is the new Marbella,” as a friend, recently returned from that overrun county, said to me last week. A hardy hiker, she noticed people on her mountain walks who clearly weren’t used to holidaying at home. By their sparkly flip-flops and blisters ye shall know them.

You don’t need me to tell you that we are living through unprecedented times. Bantry is the new Benidorm, and Sligo is the new Sitges, and Achill is the new Alicante, and Kinsale is the new Kefalonia, and Portrush is the new Puerto Banus. You could go on and on in a frenzy of alliterative appreciation for our world-class homegrown holiday spots but the only one I can personally affirm, having recently returned from there, is the fact that Co Clare is the new Costa del Sol.

Even when the sol isn’t actually shining. Even when it’s raining sideways and the wind is behaving in a manner that would put you in mind of Teresa Mannion.

It’s still the new Costa del sol, just maybe with a very small, barely visible, s.

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless, actually no, do you know what, let’s ‘call him out’ as the modern parlance goes. We might even ‘cancel’ him if the notion takes us. A friend of mine called Paul Howard, author, and Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s main confidante, had great larks slagging the arse off me a couple of weeks ago as I enthusiastically posted photos on Twitter of my holiday in Costa del Clare.

Barack and Michelle Obama

It began when I posted a classic Irish holiday snap of my kids posing with the cardboard cut out of Barack and Michelle Obama at the Barack Obama Plaza. He seemed to think this was a bit tragic, instead of what it actually is: The Magical Start of an Irish Holiday Where You Stop For Sustenance At a Garage Forecourt Halfway There. (Carvery Dinner In The Middle of the Day, Optional.)

Barack Obama Place - The Magical Start of an Irish Holiday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Barack Obama Place - The Magical Start of an Irish Holiday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

He started a hashtag on Twitter called #BringHerHome which, when I put up a photo of my kids carrying surf boards in the lashings of rain at Fanore Beach (their unquestioned highlight of the entire holiday) he amended to #BringThemHome.

“Your holiday photos are making me want to turn on the Central Heating, Ró” he’d say. He even set up a GoFundMe page which I believe is still taking donations although I’m not sure I’ll ever see any of it.

“When are you coming back, Ró?” he asked at one point. “Asking for a friend and the Coast Guard and the Mountain Rescue Service”.

Chances are, I am not the only person with a friend who even in a pandemic is deeply sceptical when it comes to the merits of the classic Irish holiday. People who look at Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s jolly holiday snaps on walking trails near the Father Ted house and snigger about how far the avocado-eating, Barcelona-loving class have fallen.

The slagging off of my holiday was merciless

People like Paul, who think it’s not possible to have an enjoyable holiday on this island and instead are waiting until such time as they can once again jet off to Las Vegas or Beverly Hills or Manhattan and spend their time lying on loungers in guaranteed sunshine, going to Broadway shows and driving with the top down. Which all sounds highly overrated when you consider there’s an ice-cream parlour in Lahinch that will put pink fizzy sherbert on your 99 for only a small additional cost.

The slagging of my holiday was merciless. On one of the clearest days, we were lucky enough to catch the first tourist ferry to Inis Oirr since lockdown was lifted, a 15-minute service run by the brilliant Bill O’Brien. When I put up a stunning photo of myself and my mother on the deserted island beach, with the description “we had it all to ourselves”, Paul retorted “not surprised, Ró. I posted your itinerary yesterday. It’s rained everywhere you’ve gone. That’s why people are avoiding you. #BringThemHome.”

Patriotic duty

It is nothing short of our patriotic duty to do all we can to disabuse these Irish holiday refuseniks of the treacherous notion that staycations in Ireland are the holiday version of damp squibs.

Perhaps by telling them about the unexpected joys to be found all over this country, we might change their minds. For example, the joy of places like Hugo’s Deli,  a sublime bakery in Lahinch. They make the best sour dough bread in the country (yes, even better than yours), and it’s so popular you’ll happily queue outside for half an hour in the hope that there might be something left to buy: Cruffins (A cross between a croissant and a muffin that sounds so wrong but tastes so right). Sausage Rolls. (They are so divine we are considering a day trip from Dublin this weekend just to get some). Pastel de nata, those small, flaky Portuguese custard tarts. (You will not find finer examples in Lisbon).

In short, you can stick your foreign holidays where the sun always shines. Give me fish and chips in the Liscannor Bay Seafood Takeaway in Ennistymon - order the surf and turf burger. A swim at the Flaggy Shore. The majesty of the Burren. The farmer’s market in Ballyvaughan. A slice of cake at Liscannor’s Rock Shop. A pint at Lisdoonvarna’s Roadside Tavern. Smoked Salmon from the Burren Smokehouse and a tour around the beautiful new Taste the Atlantic interactive exhibition. Music in the garden of the Doolin Hotel. A drive down the corkscrew hill followed by a damp, dark walk through the Ailwee Caves.

Give me Ireland, Paul Howard, sideways rain or fairly sporadic shine.

Bring me home.

roisin@irishtimes.com