Monday 14 October 2019

Welcome to our very own sun-soaked Lovely Island

Body shapes and book choices decide the social order on unexpectedly sunny Irish beaches, writes Donal Lynch

HOT TOPIC: Laid-back ‘Sunday Independent’ writer Donal Lynch shows off his fab abs in the sun. Photo: Tony Gavin
HOT TOPIC: Laid-back ‘Sunday Independent’ writer Donal Lynch shows off his fab abs in the sun. Photo: Tony Gavin
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

We're that far into the heatwave now that it seems legitimate to fantasise that this is not just a warm spell but permanent climate change.

Complacency has kicked in. It feels like we have won the weather lottery and we're growing indifferent to the riches, even to the point of complaining. People have developed home-grown tans.

The plight of Irish Water feels gently amusing. Our whole cadence of living has changed - nobody's doing any real work, the afternoon is a sort of waking siesta in which you fantasise about showering the clammy office sweat off your body.

Every night is a blur of sport and al fresco pints. And our windswept coastlines, previously a stay-cation afterthought, have temporarily usurped the pub as the centre of our culture.

I've noticed we have our own ways of doing things. In some key ways, we don't ''get'' beach culture. We arrive too late to make the best of the day.

We're far too modest for Scandinavian nudity (locals are reportedly unhappy with the planned nudist beach in Dalkey) but, despite the absence of dangling bits, Irish beach bodies are obscene in their own particular way; pasty and gelatinous, like bin liners full of yoghurt.

The type of posing you see on Irish beaches depends very much on the age of the poser.

The young and beautiful (and they are beautiful like never before) have been in the gym all winter and for them, this is very much showtime.

Coco Chanel called the tan the ultimate accessory of the 20th Century - "kept" women would sport them to prove that their husbands could afford to send them to warmer climes - but it's pretty important in the 21st Century too because it goes so well with tattoos of which everyone under the age of 30 has zillions.

This demographic views the beach as a backdrop for Instagram. They arrive and begin, not by scouting the best place to sunbathe, but the best light for the camera, and the point with the strongest phone signal. They don't swim much because that would ruin their hair, but they look perfect, like contestants on an Irish version of Love Island. Lovely Island, perhaps.

Middle-aged people know they won't win the body battle, so their posing happens mainly through the medium of beach literature. A doorstep-sized Booker winner says ''my kids may all seem like they have Asperger's but they didn't get it from me''. A copy of Ulysses is the middle-aged male equivalent of trying to kick sand in the other boys' faces.

The rich-poor generation divide of wider society is also evident at the beach. The really expensive trappings of summer, the yachts, the second homes by the sea, the non-knock-off sunglasses are all held by the old. In Dublin, as elsewhere in the world, homes by the sea are fortresses of ancient wealth.

A day on the beach is an instant font of nostalgia, a connection to the past, a marking point in the year, like Christmas.

A genuinely balmy day always feels like an unexpected boon. Irish beaches are really for city people to feel like they are getting a moment of freedom. A plunge into the freezing water is as close to bohemian as many of us get. Most people who actually live in Irish seaside towns don't bother with the beach per se; a surprising amount of country people can't swim.

Summers by the sea were always slightly wasted on me. I worked in seaside towns on Long Island in New York when I was a student and it forever made me see in my mind's eye the army of dishwashers and skivvies that keep a beach resort moving.

Tourists add life but not necessarily character to a place. When I was younger, I thought of our childhood beach haunt as what Morrissey called ''the seaside town that they forgot to close down'' - light years away from any mischief I could get into - but in nearly middle age it feels like a welcome reprieve from the grime and grind of Dublin.

I'll skip foreign beaches this year, the heatwave has made travel a bit redundant, but I will spend a bit of time on the glorious Kerry coast.

For me, it's like going back in time. There's something lovely about being able to tell your bemused parents how many waves you "popped" while still ordering a skull-sized glass of white wine. And then, waking after as much sleep as you like, to find the beach all made new and pristine again, ready for you to do it all over again, but just slightly differently.

Sunday Independent

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