Thursday 19 July 2018

Teolaí - the Irish lifestyle trend - is the key to surviving winter

Scotland is attempting to rival the Scandi lifestyle trend, but we shouldn't be left behind. Tanya Sweeney introduces the Irish concept of cosiness and contentment

Close comfort: The Scandinavians have hygge — maybe the Irish version of cosy could be teolaí?
Close comfort: The Scandinavians have hygge — maybe the Irish version of cosy could be teolaí?

Tanya Sweeney

Winter had been enduring something of a bad rep until the Scandinavians came along and saved it. Thanks to hygge (pronounced 'heurgha'), the phenomenon that took the world by storm last year, the colder months became less about scraping windshields and broken boilers, and more about cashmere blankets, comfort food by the fire and a general sense of toasty, cosy calm.

Hygge has become so popular that Scotland has now declared its own homespun brand of lifestyle. VisitScotland has declared còsagach - an old Celtic word for feeling snug and sheltered - as the new hygge. Want to get away from it all and settle into a Highland pub with a hot toddy? Welcome to còsagach.

It does raise the question: what might Irish hygge look like? In terms of battling against the cold with warmth, cosiness and humour, we could probably give the Scandis and the Scots a run for their money. And taking a leaf out of Scotland's book, we could upcycle hygge into 'teolaí', the Irish word for cosy.

If you fancy giving teolaí a go this winter, here are a few pointers to get you started.

1. Michael D Higgins

Try as we might, we have been unable to locate Trump/May/Merkel tea cosies (or any kitchen accoutrements for that matter). But there's something perfectly fitting about our own president Michael D Higgins being turned into a tea cosy: he's warming, toasty and looks cute in knitted wool. In time, it will become a lasting artefact of legacy on par with the Mary Robinson tapestry rug. And Darach O Séaghdha, who runs the Twitter account @theirishfor, appears to have already recognised the warming qualities of our president. "Maybe the Irish for hygge should be O hUiginn?" he tweeted last year.

2. Tea

Whether it comes from under a woolly president or not, our enduring love affair - nay, dependence - on tea is pure teolaí. You'd be hard pushed to find something as toasty for the soul as a proper, stand-your-spoon-in-it cup of Barry's or Lyons). Add in a chocolate Kimberley and, really, what more could you want?

There's something perfectly fitting about our own president Michael D Higgins being turned into a tea cosy: he's warming, toasty and looks cute in knitted wool
There's something perfectly fitting about our own president Michael D Higgins being turned into a tea cosy: he's warming, toasty and looks cute in knitted wool

3. The Guinness Christmas advert

There's snow every which way you look in this Christmas Eve advert, yet even the deer in the Phoenix Park and the couple throwing ice at each other on St Patrick's Hill seem thoroughly toasty. Now airing on Irish screens for over 15 years, this ad, showing the Irish winter in the very best light, is as cosy as it comes. (See also, the iconic ESB ad where every light and electric blanket is put up to 90 before the homecoming of a beloved son).

4. Irish family

Blood is thicker than even Guinness in Ireland and while we bicker and fight like mad, we place a huge emphasis on family. From grannies to babbies, we love the calm - and the occasional chaos - that being around your family creates. Can there be anything more teolaí in the world than a cup of tea with your mammy (especially if she has the aforementioned tea cosy)?

5. The snug

The clue is of course in the name. Where snugs were originally a place for ladies, gardai and the parish priest to enjoy a drink away from prying eyes in a public bar, now a pub snug is the hottest seat in the house. A place of pure perfection, far from the madding crowd, to sink a few pints (or, if you're going the whole teolaí hog, an Irish coffee). You'll find no shortage of great cosy snugs in Ireland - The Sadler's Well in Athboy, O'Shea's in Borris and The Lord Edward or Kehoe's in Dublin.

6. Aran jumpers

The Scandis have their own famous Nordic knits, so it stands to reason that for real cosiness, Aran jumpers would feature quite prominently in teolaí. Originally created for fishermen to wear at sea, Aran jumpers are well able to withstand the vagaries of any Irish winter. By all accounts, real Aran jumpers were knitted using unscoured wool that would make them water resistant and wearable, even when wet. Which sounds very Irish to us.

The Lord Edward snug
The Lord Edward snug

7. The all-day breakfast

Whatever about its actual health benefits, the 'full Irish' can always be counted on to invoke a particular feeling of wellness and calm. For even more teolaí points, add Ballymaloe Relish, soda bread or a deliciously doughy Waterford blaa.

8. The 40 Foot (and other sea swimming spots)

This may not strike you as being immediately teolaí, what with the freezing cold water bit, but come Christmas Day, you'd be hard pressed to find people as happy as those who have managed to take a dip in the Irish Sea before tucking into Christmas dinner. The body produces even more endorphins than usual once you plunge it into cold water, and according to sea swimming disciples, there's no better feeling than leaving your problems on the shore. Given the interaction with nature, it definitely beats a treadmill as a way to stay healthy. The 40 Foot, with its close-knit community, is synonymous with wellness, but there's also Malin Beg in Donegal, Hook Head in Wexford and Derrynane in Kerry for anyone keen to check out the myriad benefits of sea swimming.

9. The Irish temperament

When it comes to cosiness and warmth, our very way of being would put the Scandis in the shade. Irish people are sunny side out, preferring to err on the side of optimism each and every time.

When it comes to strangers, we Irish treat them merely as friends we haven't yet met. If you want to be enveloped in the warmth of easy companionship and bonhomie… well, we're pretty good at that. And never underestimate the teolaí qualities of a good sense of humour. Wellness and contentment guaranteed.

Aran jumpers would feature quite prominently in teolaí.
Aran jumpers would feature quite prominently in teolaí.

10. Panto

There's nothing more reassuringly cosy than tradition and come winter, panto barrels to town as sure as night follows day.

Song, dance, slapstick, in-jokes and sexual innuendo - it's all there as part of a much-loved institution that parents and kids alike bond over and enjoy.

Whatever about its actual health benefits, the 'full Irish' can always be counted on to invoke a particular feeling of wellness and calm.
Whatever about its actual health benefits, the 'full Irish' can always be counted on to invoke a particular feeling of wellness and calm.
A shore sign of wellness: People take the plunge at The 40 Foot on Christmas Day
A shore sign of wellness: People take the plunge at The 40 Foot on Christmas Day

Irish Independent

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