Fifty unlovely things about Ireland…

In yesterday’s Tribune, Geoff Wallis listed his top fifty things he doesn’t like about Ireland.By Geoff Wallis

I FIRST arrived in Ireland in 1982 with the foolhardy notion of cycling from Rosslare to west Kerry and back on an old Raleigh bike with just three gears . . . slow, slower, and pedal like fury to get away from that dog . . . and managed to achieve the feat, though each time I drive up that vertiginous hill outside Ballinskelligs I grimace at the memory of a two-hour trudge, pushing said bike up the incline.

Over the succeeding decades I paid many a visit to Ireland (both north and south) and came to love and loathe the country in many ways, though the former emotion still far outweighs its antithesis. Since 1997 I’ve been co-authoring The Rough Guide to Ireland and, through researching its last four editions, stayed in more hostels, B&Bs and hotels than I care to remember, visited many others in the process and enjoyed (or not) the fodder provided by hundreds of restaurants and cafes. If there’s a historic site, museum or other attraction, then I’ve probably explored its delights. I’ve travelled on many a bus, train or ferry and, all told, have probably seen more of Ireland than most of its own population.

There now follows a list of my 50 greatest hates, though, before anyone starts hurling hatchets, next week’s edition will describe my half-century of adorations.

And, yep, I’m an outsider, but one whose loathing list regarding the current state of the UK would exhaust the Sunday Tribune’s supply of newsprint.

1. Ferry terminals The land of a hundred thousand welcomes has clearly stinted on the greetings when it comes to its ferry ports. Larne remains the grimmest and a chastening reminder of the town’s love for all things Catholic, but Dublin Ferryport comes a close second with virtually non-existent facilities and an unnumbered Dublin Bus which charges over the odds to lumber its passengers alongside the Liffey to Busaras (trying to ascertain its timetable is akin to cracking the origins of the Turin shroud). Then there’s the glossily named Rosslare Europort, a place renowned from the days when arriving passengers could watch their so-called train ‘connection’ departing from the station just as their boat was docking.

Nothing’s improved and even the tourist office has been replaced by that new age devil, an interactive touch-screen. At least Dun Laoghaire feels clean and modern, but lacks even the obvious signposting to the DART station across the way.

2. Busaras It would be insulting to say that this dismal, grimy bus station resembles an airport terminal in one of the least developed of the developing nations, but only to said underdeveloped nations.

Nowadays the place seems just like a pickpocket’s training centre and whatever happened to the theatre?

3. Coleraine Northern Ireland’s bleakest town provides a telling reminder that the presence of an adjacent university provides no guarantee of a lively nightlife. Indeed, Coleraine’s streets are largely deserted after 6pm in the evening, after its numerous religious bookshops have closed, and visitors are hard-pressed to find anywhere decent to eat and, far worse, anywhere decent to drink.

4. Coffee Metropolitan Ireland has certainly caught the coffee bug, but it’s bypassed the myriad small-town cafes and B&Bs that insist on serving a cup or pot of dissolved brown granules or powder masquerading as coffee (and many of these are equally capable of murdering tea). The cappuccino revolution still has a long way to go.

5. Mansions The bungalow-building blight was bad enough, especially along the west coast (check out the run from Derrybeg to Glassagh in Donegal as an example), but it has been completely surpassed by these multi-bedroom monstrosities. Why does a family of four need six bedrooms and three en-suite bathrooms (one next to the front door)? Even worse, some of these atrocities attempt to mimic national schools built in the 1920s and 1930s. We need to track down their architects now and force them to inhabit these premises.

6. Stone eagles Said mansion-builders are also equally prone to planting a pair of matching white eagles (though many look like depraved seagulls) on the pair of equally matching gateposts which provide access to their mansions. However, even these eyesores are surpassed by the luminous, lime-green and, at night, illuminated miniature version of the Statue of Liberty that overlooks the N56 between Naas and the Gweebarra Bridge.

7. Fresh fish Forgive me, but Ireland is an island, and, unless I’ve lost track of current developments, fish continue to inhabit the sea. So, when I’m in Kilmore Quay, why am I expected to pay 40 for a piece of turbot caught only hours previously and sold to the restaurant at one of whose tables I’m sitting by a local fisherman for a mere 4? What happened to the other 36? Someone’s taking the piscine.

8. Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Yes, I know, it’s the saviour of the tradition and all that, but try a night in its Monkstown HQ or one of its Teach Cheoil evenings (which run from June to August in various locations) and you’ll soon realize that CCE’s vision would have Darby O’Gill heading for the hills as fast as his tiny feet could take him. It’s not just the twee aspect of it all, but CCE’s determination to represent women as mere vessels for costumes embroidered with nonsensical symbols and buttresses for extravagantly tressed hairstyles really gets my goat. And then there’s its Bru Boru centre in Cashel which recounts far less about Ireland’s traditions than you’d previously imagined was possible. The fleadh competitions form the worst diversion of talent in modern history.

9. Heritage Centres Ireland is rife with these and many owe their existence to European funding.

Unfortunately, the vast majority charge 5 or more to tell you less than a little about not a lot.

10. Lasagne Ireland is not renowned for its Italian cuisine, so why do so many cafes, pubs and restaurants sell this stuff?

Presumably, it’s freshly cooked on the premises. I think not.

11. The price of basics Bread, eggs, cheese and butter all cost a bomb . . . now remind me about the EU subsidies.

12. Tipperary Tipperary farmers in flat caps who have no hesitation in boxing in your parked car while they just pop into the butcher’s for five minutes which extends into 30 as they discuss the appallingly low levels of subsidies for egg, cheese, butter, etc.

13. Anne Doyle The perma-tanned, tinsel-haired captain oozes gravitas from the helm of RTE One’s flagship news broadcasts, albeit with an aslant downwards look towards her viewers as if the latter really do not understand that a story such as ‘World Ends at Midnight . . .

Laois Publicans Request Extension Until 1am’ is of equal merit to ‘Offaly Man Stung by Wasp Demands New InsectRelated Tribunal’.

14. Tribunals Why has the bould Bertie never established a tribunal to investigate the workings of tribunals since none ever seem to achieve anything?

15. Chips It is an extraordinary indictment of Ireland that the land whose whole existence was once dependent upon the potato now does not possess a solitary manufacturer of processed chips. Sure, you can still get four differently cooked versions of the tuber on your lunch plate in Castlebar, but the origins of your late night bag of chips spread far and wide across the globe.

16. Abrakebabra Was there ever a worse name for a takeaway chain? Yes, there was and it was called Spud U Like. Yet it’s Abrakebabra’s hint of Ali Baba and the mystic East which gets my goat. The only ‘open sesame’ describes the bun surrounding your recently purchased burger. Every Irish town now seems to have a branch and they seem to serve no purpose, especially culinary.

17. Passing lanes Now whose idea was that? So, I’m driving along at the speed limit of 100 Kph and some tailgating idiot, usually in a blue transit van, is flashing his (it’s rarely her) headlights demanding that I pull over into the yellow pock-marked jungle to allow his vehicle to overtake, thereby risking the demolition of various fruit, vegetable and flower sellers and several Traveller caravans in the process.

18. County Longford Most Irish counties seem to have a point, but I’ve yet to find one for Longford.

19. Price cartels Forget 150 a night in Kilkenny during The Cat Laughs festival. Why do so many B&Bs in that well known international tourist resort Belmullet quote the same price, regardless of quality or location?

20. Car-chasing dogs I’ve never discovered the reason for this phenomenon, but canines in Clare, Donegal and Kerry seem to be the most clueless. It must be all that fresh air.

21. Opening times and hours What’s so important about Mondays that the Irish Museum of Modern Art has to close on that day? Then there’s Glebe House (which closes on Fridays during the few months of the year it’s actually open) and Westport House whose opening schedule would test the code-cracking powers of Enigmabreaker Alan Turing. And don’t even get me started on the National Trust in Northern Ireland!

22. Mobile phone networks Those claiming comprehensive coverage across the whole of Ireland . . . a statement whose actuality does not seem to include Westmeath or any offshore island.

23. Exotic vegetables (or, rather, the lack of them) Why do green, red and yellow peppers cost 99 cent throughout the whole of Ireland (apart from that Indian shop off Adelaide Road in Dublin) when you can buy them for a third of the price throughout the UK? And why does no shop outside the cities ever sell garlic?

24. Loose chippings Ireland’s greatest conspiracy and the combined work of not just the companies which repair road surfaces, but manufacturers of replacement windscreens and ‘touchup’ paint aerosols . . . not forgetting all the puncture repair firms.

25. Any place beginning with ‘Bun’ Bunratty, Bundoran, Buncrana, Bunclody, Bunmahon . . . they’re all amazingly naff. I’ll make the exception of Bunbeg, but I’m still waiting to meet Bunny Connellan.

26. The death of the apostrophe It’s not just the pubs (Wards, Whelans, McCarthys, etc. ), but the apostrophe’s apparent disappearance from all facets of Irish life which involve public signs, advertisements, supermarkets, market vegetable stalls, etc.

27. Bouncers Do city centre pubs in Belfast and Dublin really require suited, shavenheaded, bulldog-browed, more testosterone than a rugby club’s primates checking entry at 3pm on a Friday afternoon? And, if so, why?

28. Begrudgers It’s a little known fact that Ireland has the highest proportion of begrudgers per capita in the western world. Those who claim to ‘have known ye before ye were famous’ are bad enough, but achieve even the most minor success in Irish life and the begrudgers will be down on you like a tonne of the old griddle cakes which Bewley’s used to sell. And don’t get me going on the closure of Bewley’s. . .

29. Deregulation of price of a pint Time was when every Irish pub displayed that wonderful old mimeographed sign from the Licensed Vintners’ Association detailing the exact cost of your pint, glass or bottle.

The price range varied little across the 26 counties, though one always knew that certain places tended to be more expensive (Dublin, Galway, Wexford) or cheaper (Cavan, Leitrim and Donegal) than the norm. Then some eejit decided to abolish the whole thing allowing publicans to charge as much as they could get away with.

30. B&B decorations Where do the owners acquire these appallingly kitsch artefacts and why do they insist on planting them in the most visible spaces in their establishment’s hall or breakfast room? Trenchikoff paintings, daubed religious icons, crass souvenirs from their honeymoon in Ballybunion . . . there’s only one phrase for the phenomenon: ‘welcome to schlockamaura’.

31. Signposting Try driving around the lanes of counties Meath, Clare or Kildare reliant solely upon the few available signposts and their installers’ wicked sense of humour. And then there’s the (often erroneously described) ‘scenic routes’, featuring either a lack of signposting or contradictory pointers. Ever tried the Cashel-Kilkenny? It’s a gem.

32. St Patrick What’s all the fuss about? He wasn’t Irish and was certainly not the first Christian missionary to arrive in the country (probably St Declan), nor did he drive out any (non-existent) snakes, and you don’t even know where he’s buried! Whatever the case, there’s nothing we know about St Patrick which suggests that he would have enjoyed funfairs or a ceili mor staged in his name.

33. WB Yeats Possibly the most trite and annoying poet Ireland has produced, yet you can’t visit Co Sligo without tripping over some aspect of his memory and, amongst all the laudations, everyone seems to have forgotten his toying with somewhat fascistic forms of mysticism and the fact that none of his dreadful plays are ever revived. He must have been one of the few poets continuing to produce juvenilia throughout his entire writing life.

34. Unhelpful Tourist Offices In particular, those employing staff who are either completely ignorant of their locality or far too protective. Q. “Can you recommend somewhere good for lunch in Dungarvan?” A. “I’m afraid that I cannot recommend one local provider over another.”

35. Mean-minded B&B landladies Apart from the one who wanted to charge me extra for using the en-suite shower more than once or another who had removed seemingly every essential light bulb (on the grounds of ‘economy’), the worst was one in Wexford who stated, “I don’t see any reason to change the sheets when the previous guest only stayed one night!”

36. Iarnrod Eireann’s timetable Designed by idiots who couldn’t give a monkey’s when and whither people want to travel. And the company’s ticketing system just beggars belief.

37. Dublin epithets Who started all that rhyming business in relation to local landmarks (‘the tart with the cart’, ‘the hags with the bags’, etc. ) and why are most of them patently sexist (apart from ‘the stiletto in the ghetto’)? Let’s track him down and force him to face ‘the slug in the mug’.

38. Grafton Street’s buskers I saw an eight-foot leprechaun the other day, but couldn’t find my Uzi.

39. The full Irish or Ulster fry It should be impossible to mess up an Irish breakfast but a cohort of landlords, landladies and hotel chefs continue to do so, especially in the west of Ireland. Cold plates or food swimming in grease are a regular feature and, five years on, I’ve still not managed to delete from my memory the smell of rancid lard, as used as a frying agent by a Leitrim landlady.

40. The Fields of Athenry If I ever hear this song again, I’m going to hire a JCB and head directly for those pastures.

41. Misinformation In particular pubs which advertise traditional music when, in reality, the landlord has booked a local singer only capable of murdering assorted ballads to the accompaniment of a beatbox.

Then there are those that advertise ‘food served all day’, only the day was last Tuesday and it was only between noon and 2pm.

42. Limerick ‘Stab city’ has all the attractions of a funeral parlour and certainly less of the life. If there’s a grimmer or grimier place in Ireland, then please don’t let me know its identity.

43. The Guinness Storehouse I don’t think Arthur would be amused when paying 14.50 to look at some old barrels though there’s an admittedly great view of Dublin from the seventh floor and, curious notion, a ‘complimentary’ pint when the entry price clearly includes said beverage.

44. The Late Late Show The programme which has stifled RTE One’s Friday night scheduling for far too long was on its last legs well before Gay Byrne accepted his retirement chit. His replacement, Pat Kenny, struggles gamely on, like a minor county hurling side, refusing to admit defeat though the score’s 6-14 to nil and there’s only a minute to play.

45. Mary Harney and the PDs After much consideration I’m still puzzled regarding this party’s policies.

What do the PDs stand for and why does the electorate stand for them?

Helicopter-riding Harney’s continuing role as Tanaiste must represent the best piece of bargaining in political history.

46. Celtic mythmaking Not a comment on the wonderful myths themselves, but their exploitation by heritage centres, publishers and record labels all keen to abuse their memory via, respectively, ludicrous multi-media displays, books which claim some form of ‘twilight’ vision, and all those awful CDs (much loved by those who select the music for hotels’ lobbies and lifts) and usually bearing a title such as ’50 Haunting Celtic Melodies’.

47. Doolin Forget Killarney, Doolin is the real exploitation centre on Ireland’s west coast. Lured by its reputation for traditional music, countless tourists head there, only to discover one of the country’s least attractive villages, overpriced B&Bs and restaurants, pubs packed beyond capacity and music being played by people who are not from Doolin, or even Clare, or even Ireland.

48. Ian Paisley Junior The latest and greatest believer in conspiracy theories (of whatever manner related to the possible weakening of the North’s ties with the UK) probably lies awake at night wondering whether Gerry Adams’s dog is busily undermining the Union by not decommissioning its assortment of bones acquired from Falls Road butchers shops.

49. The weather Let’s face it, it’s crap.

50. The last one The price of everything and the value of nothing.

The 8th edition of Rough Guide in Ireland by Paul Gray and Geoff Wallis will be published in July 2006, priced £13.99

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