The time has come to plan where we are not going on holidays, and this year we are spoiled for choice. A certain virus has meant that I am able to legitimately tell my kids that we can't go overseas this year because of something other than my inability to earn a crust. Sorry kids, I had planned on all of us traversing the ancient Silk Road from China to Italy but sadly this darn plague means we will simply have to enjoy a cold wet Irish summer. Ah well.
Last year's jaunt to Spain set a high bar and I am worried that they might think that trips overseas are something that happen on an annual basis, so best to end that fantasy right now in case they get notions. Also, I am at the point in life where I am starting to realise that I don't really know Ireland.
I have a friend who worked as an electrical contractor for many years and he went where the work was, which in the mid-to-late Noughties meant he went everywhere. Any time there is an incident of note in some previously unknown hamlet, borough or barony that only exists on maps from the 1700s, he will have spent a week there in 2007, and will be able to tell you where to find the best carvery, the cleanest B&B, and the fastest route from there to east Cork on a Friday afternoon. I, on the other hand, would struggle to find my own house on Google Maps.
For me, Ireland is an undiscovered country. Some may yearn for weekend mini-break in European capitals, but I am slowly realising that it will be a great tragedy if I go to my grave without ever having set foot in Donegal.
Of course, this sudden love for Ireland is built on a foundation of meanness, as is my love for the Office Of Public Works. Hearing reports last month that the OPW operated the national monuments at a loss of several million euro last year, my only reaction was thinking 'good'.
These sites should be free or very cheap as they belong to us all. I don't especially want to see them monetised, or turned into a theme park, as their simplicity is part of what makes them so appealing - no tat, no frills, just history.
I regularly drag my children to these places so that they will have an appreciation for their homeland; granted, I often have to sell it to them by telling them that the Rock Of Cashel is really quite like an extraordinary Minecraft build.
But once you get them there and let them off the leash they can explore and enjoy and even roll down grassy slopes of the cemetery, not a care in the world as they race through the headstones, getting covered in crow poop. It's hard not to stand in Cormac's Chapel on the Rock and not be awed by its thousand-year history, even if my reverie was shattered by my five-year-old climbing into a sarcophagus, to the horror of our guide.
When I tell others about our trips, most people don't seem to have been, or if they have, it was with guests from overseas. As we lurch into a future where we count the real cost of cheap flights, and a summer season hammered by COVID-19 and Brexit, it feels right to say, this year we stay at home and spend our money in Ireland, to treat the island as though we are here for the first time, to see how close to Donegal the people carrier will get us before bursting into flames.
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