Monday 17 June 2019

David Robbins: Once more unto the beach -- cold comfort for those courageous tourists

David Robbins

There is a certain kind of tourist who comes to Ireland much in the same way that David Attenborough might go into a tropical jungle: that is, in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

You can see this kind of tourist on the beaches of the west of Ireland at this time of year. They venture on to the sand tentatively, gingerly, as if taking the first steps on to an unfamiliar planet.

For a moment, their gaze takes in the grey clouds, the majestic mountains and the tumbling surf. And then there is a gasp, as they catch sight of an Irish family in their swimming togs.

There is an excited babble among their group, as they gesture and point. It is as if this sighting was the whole point of their trip from the baked central plains of Germany or the sun-drenched massifs of France.

They themselves, of course, are dressed head-to-toe in North Face waterproof gear, underneath which they wear arctic fleeces and the long underwear they bought for last year's skiing holiday to Verbier.

The native Irish family on stay-cation are not that easy to spot. Usually, they are hidden behind wind-breaks or between the clefts of rocks, where they shelter from the northerly winds.

They emerge only sporadically to run down to the water's edge, where an age-old ritual takes place.

They bless themselves, splash handfuls of Atlantic sea water on their arms and chest, and wade into the sea. They stand waist-deep in the water for a considerable time, summoning the courage for the final plunge.

It is during this pause that the tourists take out their cameras. Their friends back in Bavaria or Clermont will never believe this, they think.

The swimmers, meanwhile, take a final deep breath. Some merely sink down into the water, as if genuflecting before its almighty power. Others dive under the water, like seals, while yet others make a show of arm-waving before total immersion.

Not matter how they "get down" into the water, the response when they stand up again is almost universal. "Merciful Jesus!" they cry. And then, as they pass other swimmers on their way out, they say: "It's actually lovely once you're in."

I'm not sure whether it was me or the dog who first saw the German tourist the other day on a beach in Ballyconneely, Co Galway. Certainly, the dog's reaction was more pronounced.

The tourist was one of the tribe I have just described, swaddled in polar expedition clothing and brandishing an expensive camera. She was making her way towards the water's edge, where my wife, daughter and a couple of cousins were steeling themselves for a swim.

I was at that delicate post-swim stage where I had taken off my togs, but had not yet put on my underpants. My lower half was discreetly covered with a large British Airways towel of unknown origin.

The dog (also of unknown origin, by the way; we think she is half whippet, half Jack Russell terrier) took off over the sand, low, fast and full of intent. She began to bark at the German tourist.

Although I was officially on holiday, I was conscious of my dignity as an Irish Independent columnist. I called to my wife to deal with the situation.

But she was too far away and merely waved back at me cheerily. Gripping my towel about me, I too took off over the sand.

By this stage, the dog was running frantically in circles around Brunhilde (as we subsequently named her), darting in every now and then to try to nip her ankles.

I was forced to do likewise, circling the poor woman as if she were a maypole and flapping at the dog with my togs (or perhaps they were my underpants).

I could hear the laughter from the girls at the water's edge, and wondered if the other tourists were capturing this new Irish beachside ritual on their camera.

By now, I had done about 20 circuits of Brunhilde, and the dog and I had made a rather beautiful pattern in the sand. Sometimes, I passed so close to her that my shoulder brushed against her.

Finally, I managed to grab the dog, pick her up and apologise to Brunhilde, who was very gracious about the whole incident.

I watched as she made her way back to her group. I could imagine what they were saying to each other: "They'll never believe this back home in Bavaria."

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