We’re back from a few days in the mighty peninsula of Dingle, nestled deep in the heart of the Kingdom of Kerry, our first pandemic staycation. For those of you about to set forth, here’s a brief scéal – the pluses and the minuses.
Every place we went was all over the new rules and regs. When we walked into a family restaurant sniffing for a bit of fish & chips, they took our name and phone numbers while alternate booths were blocked off by tape, like a police cordoning off, only the tape was the familiar bright yellow with the dark lettering from the Health officials. Everything that can be pre-booked online, has to be – trip to the aquarium, staying in a hotel (they won’t take any drop-ins so sort all that stuff out before you hit the highway). It’s nothing new now to see the plastic transparent barriers at check-in, that was all grand. There was no servicing of the hotel rooms (no biggie, it’s not like I don’t know how to tidy and clean). The drinking taps in the gym were turned off. Everywhere has sanitiser, but when you’re being swung around by toddlers who decide to lick the windowpanes, it’s best to have your own handy. And everything is slightly more expensive to pass on the cost of the PPE and the fact that more space is required for less customers.
All the above washed over our backs and, other than the prices, didn’t produce an eyebrow raise. It was the accents that threw us. Look, I know the country is starving of money at the moment and tourism is a huge money magnet. And I know that the economy is a giant whirligig. The moola lost in tourism will affect a lot more than those in remote country – it will filter through and impact a damn load of us. However, I’d rather take my parents’, my parent-in-laws’, my neighbours’ – I’d rather have their lives than money. I’d rather they didn’t suffer.
And so that first afternoon in the town, after we caught the posh D4 accents while whispering to each other that it must be a shock to those guys not to be in Costa del Sunshine or the Bahamas or whichever fancypants place they usually frequent in their yachts; after we heard the Northern Irish accents and commented to each other that they had done a fairly good job of it up there so nothing to worry from them; it was after we heard the yanks and the Brits that we looked at each other, glanced at our kids, simultaneously thought of the grandparents and began to feel a twinge of unease. Oh, I just want to clarify here, we are not xenophobic – we are pandemic-phobic. Normally it’s a blast to chat to folks from different places, but not when you know that their countries appear to be embracing a virus. We didn’t pass too much comment at the time, however after that we headed away from the crowds. And that is the beauty of the staycation in Ireland.
Think about it – on this island, once you are outside of the few Big Smokes, we are wanton with space. Walks along the coast of the Daingean, with the ease of the dreary mist and unpredictable weather, meant socially distancing wasn’t an option, it was unavoidable.
We were on Inch beach, one of the all – time classics. It was such a sunny warm Saturday afternoon, where the call to the shore is like destiny, and it calls us all. So if you’d been hanging about in Club 55 in St Tropez, the stranger on a lounger next to you would be just that – literally inches from you, with both of you trying to avoid rubbing feet and looking at each other. On Inch, even though there were crowds of people, you’d have to go out of your way not to socially distance. There’s so much space. It’s such a long vast strand of sand. Add in the fact that the water was shockingly cold (although persistence does go a long way to Atlantic acclimatisation), and if you’re brave enough to enter, or if you have two nut case kamikaze kids with you, you have enough space to jump the waves without worrying about the two schools of surfers, let alone socially distancing from the other swimmers.
There were some other advantages to the socially distanced holiday. We didn’t engage in any random, superficial conversations that last ten minutes longer than either party wants. Also, everyone else was too terrified to send their young ones to kids’ club. They were expecting 50 and only 4 showed up. They managed to socially distance them and entertain them so well, that our kids loved it and were dying to go back every day. Brilliant. If there had been 50, I would have been out of my mind with worry. Pool sessions were limited but again, I think fear grasped others. We sometimes were the only family or one of maybe three clans, in a 20 metre pool. So we took the opportunity to break most of the pool rules, taught the kids to cannon ball etc.
Now maybe because we took our vacation early, we were lucky. Maybe as time wears away, people will fill up the pools, the kids clubs etc. Maybe we were lucky. Maybe later in the season it will be closer-packed. Maybe a second wave will change everything… I don’t know. But for now, I would suggest that it’s possible to holiday on this diamond of an island while also maintaining social distancing and staying safe. Of course, it’s just a question of whether people will do it; will opt to wear their masks and stay safe. I hope they do.