I’ve been meaning to write a post on our summer vacation in Ireland for a while but kept procrastinating. I think it was quite a confronting holiday on many levels as it was painful to see Ireland go from fairytale country (voted by the Economist as the best place to live IN THE WORLD in 2004) to modern day economic wasteland. As the Irishman said, it felt more like a documentary than a family vacation.
One of the first things which was pointed out to us in Dublin was an entire multi-storied office building in Dublin’s premier business park which had just been force sold for 800,000 euros, not even the value of a shoebox apartment in the equivalent area in Singapore.
Nobody goes to Ireland for the sunshine, but it was the wettest and coldest summer on record in Ireland for 50 years and even when the sun graced us grudgingly for the most parsimonious of spells, it felt like borrowed time as the ever present dark clouds lurked on the horizon.
And if you don’t go to Ireland for the sunshine, you go for its charm. Now the long countryside walks, sailing trips and exploring ancient stone ruins were not quite as endearing in the pissing rain, and the subprime crisis had taken its toll on the famous Irish smiling eyes as well.
Shopkeepers were dour in general and complained of a terrible summer trade partly caused by locals who had decided to fly to Portugal or Tuscany instead of brave the Irish weather.
At a pharmacy in Cobh in West Cork, the entire queue in the pharmacy was held up for 20 minutes by a man who was depressed about the cost of his anti-depression medication arguing with the pharmacist. Needless to say, it was depressing. We did a day trip to Bandon which was so dead that we christened it ABandon. Our 13-year-old suggested that we should next visit the neighbouring villages Etmeoutofhere or Uckthis.
Yes we did have a convivial evening at the pub catching up with old friends over copious amounts of Guinness. But the conversation largely revolved around falling property prices, the gloomy state of the country’s economy and how difficult it was for Irish women to have careers given their many young children (the Irish birth rate is highest in the EU at 2.1) and the high costs of childcare. Just about everyone thought they were worse off now than they were 15 years ago, a sobering thought indeed.
One afternoon, we decided to avoid the lashing rain by taking a excursion to the Model Train village at Clonakilty where we had the most memorable experience of sitting on a modified train with wheels which took us on a tour about the tiny town of Clonakilty, so small that we trundled along every one of its streets thrice while the tour guide pretended that there were new things to see.
“Look, a Bear on the streets!” enthused the guide as our train wobbled past a dubious looking man shouting indecipherable slogans . “How many animals can you see? Ooo there’s a Lion!” exclaimed the tour guide dramatically as we craned our necks to look at a peeling papier mache sculpture in the lobby of some shopping centre.
The icing on the cake was when this deranged guide drove the train/bus thing into the derelict industrial parks surrounding Clonakilty and started giving us a diatribe on which businesses and institutions had closed down, pulled out and left Ireland and which other ones were on the way, (“Ah yes, and this was the famous XYZ factory, but of course, it’s empty now… and there is the Stadium which was going to be finished, but of course it never will now…”. By the end of it, my 3 year old was quite familiar with the terms “Loan to Value” and “Forced Sale”, which will come in useful if she ever decides to Occupy Grafton Street….
Then one day, we got lost in the countryside and a car stopped to help us. Ah, we thought, that’s the first friendly Irish person we’ve met on the trip. Turns out he was German.
On the bright side, At the Four Seasons Hotel, low occupancy rates meant that we were upgraded to a suite big enough to host hurling for the Olympics. At the Harvey Nichols restaurant in Dublin, we saw a dinner special where adults could pay 10 euros for a dinner with glass of wine and up to 4 of their kids could eat for free!
And our kids had a great time. They were thrilled to have their extended family around them. I remember fondly the day that the Irishman’s father brought out a 100 metre long piece of nautical rope and the kids went bananas, turning it into a maze, a giant skipping rope, an obstacle course, tying it to trees and furniture and most fun of all, themselves.
Dylan and Finn swam nonchalantly clad in bathers in the 14 degree celcius freezing Irish water at Sandycove while Irish children around them shivered in their wetsuits. (A useful by product of their upbringing in the rural Australian countryside I’d like to think).
Many Nerf gun wars were staged by the boys while the girls put on fashion shows and made it their mission to sleep in a different bedroom of the house every night of the trip.
I wouldn’t say it was a relaxing holiday, but it was thought-provoking and did make us realise how fortunate we are to be in Asia, how lucky we are to have children who just never stop laughing, and how vigilant we must be in the world we live in. I also hope and believe that this is rock bottom, and things must only go up from here, which is why we’re looking at investing in Ireland. Never buy a house on a sunny day, as the old proverb goes.
The last day that we were there was the day where Katie Taylor won the Olympics Gold Medal for women’s boxing in a thrilling match which had everyone in the country on the edge of their seats. The entire hotel corridor reverberated with cheers when the results were announced. The beaming taxi driver who drove us to the airport said to us “Mark my words, this is the day the mood in Ireland turned”. Looking out, there wasn’t a cloud in the cerulean blue sky and I fervently hoped that that he was right.
Has anyone else had an interesting summer vacation? Send me a mail, I’d love to know your experiences as well.