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Week Three in the School Holiday House

Posted on: Saturday, 20 July 2013

So I have just returned to Belgy after five days in Ireland on my own because that's what all the cool kids do these days - you know, go on holiday by themselves and get lost on buses and end up in Tesco Extra buying a nectarine because they need an excuse to speak to the checkout girl to ask directions. 

It was kind of an experiment because, I suppose, if in future I'm going to have two months holiday in the summer (WOE IS ME), I kind of need to sort out what I can do with all that time (DOUBLE WOE IS ME. My brain hurts from all of the mental sorting out). 

So I came to Ireland, on account of it being a bit safe and easy. I've grown up going to Ireland (though not this bit) so I sort of know the score on all the important stuff, like which flavour of Tayto crisps is the best (salt and vinegar, duh) and that Fir and Mna on toilet doors are the other way around to what you'd think. Be warned. 

Wicklow is a bit of a funny place, really; funny in that it's kind of like Cornwall or the Isle of Wight or somewhere else beautiful but not really Irish. Don't get me wrong, it's stunning. Over the last week I've walked the Bray's Head to Greystones coastal path and back and marvelled at its Riviera-esque beauty (the 30+ degree temperatures aided that comparison, admittedly). Hmm. Maybe it's the accent, which is often quite Dublin-y and perhaps to my English-attuned ears sounds a bit standoffish. Maybe I'm just feeling bitter because an American guide to Ireland that I found in the B&B doesn't even MENTION Sligo. Not a word. Gah. Dunno, it just feels different. Jeff, the B&B owner, was telling me (completely unverified fact coming up) that two thirds of Ireland's population live in Dublin and the three counties around it - so Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. So if that's true, I suppose it's not that surprising that they feel a bit different. It's all a bit less personal, more savvy, more attuned to the tourists. 

Ireland in loads-of-blue-skies-and-green-stuff-shocker.

I visited two Ancestral Homes, too - beautiful big old estate mansions and their grounds owned by influential English landowners whose titles were created for them by Queen Elizabeth I or King James. I was ready for a big Irish history geekathon; I was fully expecting lots of colour displays about the Famine and Fenian uprisings and maybe a box of dressing-up clothes where kids could don the garb of Irish peasants. So many former estate houses were destroyed in the Irish Civil War, but what was the craic here? Why did these survive? I paid my 8 euros and I wanted ANSWERS - and mebbes a cup of tea. 

But there wasn't a sign or an exhibition to be found. Not even a sniff of a leaflet. There ARE tour guide booklets with photos of Earls with non-Irish surnames smiling benevolently in open collar and tweed, but they advertise events like falconry and farmers' markets and berry-foraging and bee-keeping days. The tea rooms are painted in sherbert shades from Farrow and Ball. Given the amount of coaches that were tipping old ladies out before midday, I'd say the pensioner pound is pretty strong; the gift shops were piled with packets of flower seed and tasteful mugs and natty stationery. Beyond the carefully pruned formal gardens, the wildness looks in. The whole thing is all very lovely, but also a little...curious. They've got ultra-modern refits and wifi and wedding packages and suddenly they've been neutered. What history? Oh, this little old country pile? 

So that was a bit strange.

But then it's still Irish in lots of regards. I was staying at a delightful B&B about 2 miles from the nearest village, and the owner dropped a group of us down in the village one evening for a meal. There was an American lady and her German partner in the back (now there was an interesting pair - there must have been twenty years difference between their ages minimum, perhaps more like thirty, and she was all yoga-taut with scary Madonna arms and intense eyes and lots of very high-tech walking equipment and the first time I came across them in the communal room they were dancing - like, 'we're-oblivious-to-everyone' twirling each other around and around - and yet they were in separate bedrooms. What was this? A marriage of mutual convenience? A meeting of pen-friends? The mind boggles). American Lady was asking about food options.


Good luck with that Gwyneth Paltrow, I thought to myself, you're about as likely to get some weird LA-inspired low-carb nonsense here as you are a gilded unicorn horn. You're in IRELAND pet. There's a pub and two takeaways. It's something deep-fried or nothing. I can recommend some good Tayto crisps if you like.  

And at that I felt smug and quite at home. 

Here are some more, less political thoughts/observations:
  - Five bus journeys, only one of which was completely in the wrong direction. That's good going for me. 
- Saw Christy Moore live in a tiny venue. My mum is totes jel.
- A Dublin chav (female, completely off her tits) on O'Connell street shouting at a girl wearing a headscarf: 'Tha's not roigh'! Bein' oll covered up!', then trying to stop random passersby to ask their opinion on aforementioned lady's clearly outrageous decision to wear a HEADSCARF ON HER OWN HEAD* in an aggressive manner. 'Whaddya think? Whadda YOU think?' *deep sarcasm, obviously. 
- Had 'the best coffee in Dublin' (so says the sign) served by The Bald Barista, who has that very phrase 'The Bald Barista' tattooed onto the back of his baldy heed*. *Geordie accent. Take note.  
- 'IT'S IRELAND'S BIGGEST WATERFALL I UNDERSTAND'* *a special prize if you get this reference. 

Anyway must dash, I have raging sunburn to attend to (sad face).

Have you been on holiday on your own? Was it weird?

Also, please let me know if your sunburn is worse than mine. It would make me feel less of a penis. 


  1. I have holidayed on my own when visiting friends who were living over seas. I think I'd have found having a whole trip by myself a little wierd but going off for midweek adventures whilst they were at work & returning for weekends together was lovely.
    Reading about your Irish stately homes reminded me of Elizabeth Bowen's House of Love set in a pile in Ireland. Exquisite writing, sentences to savour & mull over.

  2. Oo, I shall check that out, thanks for the tip.

    By the way Rachel, do you subscribe to the Writer's Almanac? They send a poem and literary information titbits every day. It's great. Some lovely choices.

  3. This made me chuckle.
    I went to oz by myself for a few weeks and I meandered about, ate too much and realised that reading a book while eating spag bol ain't exactly as good as I was expecting...sauce and elbows every bloomin where

    1. Also I am jealous you saw Christie Moore


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