Louise O'Neill: 'When it's fine, we believe we live in a tropical paradise, buying BBQs and garden suites'

Louise O'Neill: 'When it's fine, we believe we live in a tropical paradise, buying BBQs and garden suites'
Camping tent on beautiful coast in Ring of Kerry . Ireland

2020 has been interminable – what an episode of Reeling in the Years this is going to make — and it’s only July. I’m tired. 

I’m tired of people refusing to wear masks because they “can’t breathe” with them, seemingly oblivious to the irony of this statement given we’re talking about a virus that impacts your lungs. 

I’m tired of the quick, “don’t worry, it was socially distanced!” asides whenever anyone mentions any minute detail of their day. A walk?

Socially distanced! A glass of wine in the back garden? 2 metres apart, I swear! If I was told socially distanced sex was a thing now, I’d nearly believe it. 

And then we have Summer 2020’s ultimate buzzword – staycationing. Let’s get real. If my honeymoon to an all-inclusive resort in Mauritius had been cancelled and someone suggested a mobile home in Donegal as an alternative, I’d be fit to commit murder. Preferably the same person who suggested a mobile home in Donegal as a legitimate alternative to an all-inclusive resort in Mauritius.

But there’s nothing more Irish people love than gushing about how beautiful Ireland is or how this would be the perfect country if you could just put a roof on it. And what better excuse to talk about these things then going on your holidays to the wilds of West Cork or Kerry, but mostly Cork because it’s better here and it’s important the rest of you accept that. 

“I can’t cope with these photos,” a friend from London messaged me on Instagram the other day. 

"You live in a wonderland.”

My partner took this week off work. We hadn’t seen each other for four months due to the lockdown so it’s been a slow process of getting used to one another again, remembering the rhythm of a relationship. We walked the dunes in Inchydoney, we scrambled up the cliff walk in Rosscarbery before swimming at the Warren, grabbing 99 cones on the way home.

The car windows rolled down and ice-cream dripping on our fingers, Denise Chaila playing on the radio. Back at the house, we constructed the new garden furniture and by ‘we’, I mean, ‘he did it and got horribly sunburned in the process while I stayed safely in the shade and yelled instructions at him’. 

The next day, we hiked Sheep’s Head, stopping afterwards for a platter of mussels and chips and pints of Murphy’s. “When in Cork, ya know,” says he, smiling, with a foam moustache on his face.

The sun looks set to hold steady for the rest of the week and I draw up an itinerary accordingly- jumping off the rocks at high tide in Simon’s Cove. Schull and Mizen’s Head and canoeing on Lough Hyne. Dursey Island, perhaps, for I’ve never been and I learned recently that it was here my grandparents honeymooned. I would like to see it and imagine them there, together.

I know it is likely I have fallen prey to that most Irish of afflictions – a short memory. This is only applicable to the weather; when it is fine, we believe we live in a tropical paradise, buying BBQs and three-set garden suites for the heatwave we are sure is bound to arrive, didn’t the postman in Donegal say so? 

We’re constantly surprised by rain, caught out without umbrellas or rain jackets, staring at the heaving skies as if to say – what is this wet substance falling from the clouds? We’ve never seen your like before. And then we will forget all the good things we said about Ireland, we will ignore the little voice reminding us that our lands wouldn’t be quite as green or lush if it were not for these ‘grand soft days’ that so frequently plague us. 

Then we will curse our two-day summer and rue the day we ever heard of the word ‘staycation’. We will yearn for the scorched hills of the Costa Del Sol or a glass of Ouzo at a rundown tavern on a small Greek island, a flush of heat against our skin as we raise our faces to the sun. But I tell you, we must hold our nerve. Remind ourselves too, of the hassle of travelling. The forgotten passport and the missed flight. The arguments with Ryanair over baggage allowance, shoving as many small bottles of skincare products into a gaping plastic bag and saying a quick prayer to whatever deity is listening that you’ll get away with it. 

The terrifying turbulence, the plane shivering to such a degree that you’ve decided this is the moment you’re going to die. Sad, wilting chicken sandwiches, and the sound of an overly triumphant trumpet when an airline does what it’s supposed to do; get you to your destination on time. There is none of that with a staycation! We are saved! And so, I will continue to wax lyrical about the beauty of our countryside, the wildness of the sea breaking its spine against the jagged rocks below. I will keep talking about the incredible food and the friendly people. 

And maybe, as a last resort, I will refer to the cold truth of the matter either – that this crisis isn’t over, not by a long shot.

Louise Says:

Read: If I had Your Face by Frances Cha. This compulsive novel examines the lives of four women living in Seoul, dissecting beauty standards and capitalism with a gimlet eye.

Listen: R&R Rated. This podcast provides insightful cultural analysis of the most infamous sex scenes in movie history. What more could you want?

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