Yes—sunburns in Ireland. The weather in Dingle, all over Ireland, in fact, was crazy in July. It was sunny, hot, and mostly dry. There was very little rain and only for short periods of time. A fierce dry spell, as the Irish called it. The weather had been this way for at least three weeks. I noticed how hot it was when I drove from Dublin to Dingle. I had rented a car without air conditioning because I was sure I would not need it. I won’t make that mistake again. The weather was completely different from what I was expecting: cool, overcast, and rainy.
After five days at the Alpine Guest House, a superb bed and breakfast in Dingle, I went to the front desk to see if I could talk to the owners and pay up early. I was going to stay there two weeks. Kristin, the young woman who worked at the desk, told me that the owners were at the beach with their kids. With a laugh, she said that almost everybody in town was taking advantage of the hot, sunny weather and going to the beach. Some locals were even closing their businesses to go to the beach—just for a day or two. I truly began to understand just how rare this hot, sunny weather was in Dingle if local business owners were closing up shop during the height of tourist season and were willing to lose a great deal of money so that they could go to the beach.
Kristin asked me why I was not at the beach. She was obviously curious.
“I did not come to Ireland to go to the beach,” I blurted out. “Obviously! I get all the sun I want in the mountains in Colorado. Besides, I burn really easily.” And then, laughingly, I joked, “There is a redhead who lives inside my body.”
“Em, what?” (This is the word most Irish folk use when pausing to think. It takes the place of the “uh” and “um” that other cultures prefer.)
“You know. Redheads burn easily. Like my brother. He has red hair. Fifteen minutes in the sun and he looks like a lobster. I’m not kidding.”
Kristin laughed. “We’re just not used to so much sun here. It’s Dingle, after all, home of the Rain Festival. I wonder how long it will last?
I knew nothing about a Rain Festival. She explained that it was a joke the locals would mention because it rained so much in Dingle. There were many more days of rain there than sun. Many!
I had to go to Bally Ferriter for a cultural event at the Gaeltacht school early that evening. We were going to learn Ceili dancing and listen to a seanchai, a storyteller, who is a very important figure in the community and is awarded great respect. Seanchai have been captivating listeners for millennia, telling tall tales, perpetuating myths, and, most significantly, ingraining in listeners a sense of their heritage and what it means to be Irish. Contemporary seanchai are perhaps more likely to be songwriters or singers. We were fortunate. This seanchai told enchanting stories and also sang charming traditional Irish songs—that also told stories.
Hard to believe, but I got lost driving to Bally Ferriter, even though I had driven there thee times before. The road to Bally Ferriter is a really skinny road, and the sign indicating where to turn was small and partially hidden by trees. I was thinking about what the evening might be like and not paying attention. I turned on the wrong road. Not unusual for me.
After about a mile, I realized that I was on the wrong road because I had not seen the two landmarks I had come to recognize: a wonderful tiny house made of big stone blocks and a small rural pub advertising Guinness and ice cream—what the locals called a gathering place.
As I pulled into a driveway to turn around, a man came out of the house. I greeted him in Irish: “Dia Ghuit. Conas atatu?”
He grinned, and, walking towards me, responded in Irish, “Taim go maith.”
I then told him in English, since my knowledge of Irish at that time was extremely limited, that I was studying at the Gaeltacht school in Bally Ferriter. I asked him if it was okay to turn around in his driveway.
“Ta. (Yes). Are you out lookin’ at the evenin’?”
“Not exactly. I took the wrong turn to get to Bally Ferriter, and now I am lost.”
He explained how to get to Bally Ferriter. Then we started talking about the weather. Everyone in the area was talking about the weather. I could have been in Iowa. Everybody there talks about the weather, not just the farmers. The crops depend on the weather, and Iowa’s economy depends on a good harvest. This man, James, was hoping that it would stop being so “powerful hot,” sunny, and dry.
“I am worried about my flowers. Not so good. If this scorchin’ spell continues, they will not last long.”
Looking at his lovely home and gorgeous flowers, I realized that this scorchin’ spell t’was between him and all harm.
That night I turned on the tiny television in my room for the first time to watch the news. One of the main news stories was about the weather. I could hardly believe what I heard. The emergency rooms in hospitals in cities and towns all over Ireland were being inundated with people who had extreme sunburns. Sunburns bad enough for them to seek medical attention. What? Didn’t they know about sunscreen? Didn’t they know to limit the time they spent in the sun? I guess they were truly bedazzled by such unusual weather that allowed them to sit in the sun and roast, or, rather, burn.
I was amazed by the whole situation. Yes, I knew that the weather in Ireland was usually misty or rainy, but still I thought they would know about how perilous too much sun could be. Then there was the temperature. The Irish are used to and prefer cooler temperatures. Now, the temperatures were at record highs: above 27 – 28 degrees Celsius. That is equal to 80 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The Irish consider that to be extremely hot. Hmm. Like them, I think that 80 degrees is hot. And 85 degrees: I am inside or at least under a shade tree. The Irish rarely have 80 degree weather. I suppose that explains their complete state of unawareness of the power of not only the glaring sun, but also such brutal heat.
The next morning when I saw Kristen at breakfast, I told her what I had seen on the news last night.
“Oh, yeah. I have seen so many people here with bad sunburns. Two of my friends do. You should see them! They are so red and they complain now about how it hurts and they can’t sit down without hurting. Isn’t that funny?”
“Uh, well, sorry, but I don’t think that’s so funny. Have you ever been sunburned?”
Again, I was amazed. I just had to say something. “Why aren’t any of these people wearing sunscreen if they are going to spend so much time in the sun or at the beach?”
Kristen asked, “What is sunscreen?”
I was pretty sure she was serous. That just couldn’t be. Did they really not know? I replied with great emphasis, “It is lotion or spray you put on your skin to protect yourself from the sun so you don’t get a sunburn.” I sounded like my dermatologist.
“Oh—that. We never have much sun, so we never get sunburns or even tans. We don’t use anything like that.
“But in weather like this, shouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, I suppose. We just don’t think about it because we are used to mostly cool and rainy weather in Dingle. You know what? T’is 27 degrees today. The sun’s splittin’ the stones! I’m goin’ to the beach tomorrow. It is my day off.”
All I could do was look at her for what seemed like a long time. This lovely, fair, pink-cheeked young woman with strawberry blonde hair was the perfect candidate for a really nasty sunburn, and she would not take long to burn, not long at all.
I finally said, “You should get some sunscreen. Hey, you can borrow mine. I have really strong sunscreen because I burn so easily.”
“Oh, thank you, but there is no need for you to mollycoddle me. So sweet, you are, then. But I will be okay. I don’t need it.”
“But what about your friends? They got sunburned. . . .”
“Them? They were just silly. I’ll be fine.”
I wonder if that is what all of the sunburned people who went to the emergency rooms thought: “I’ll be fine. I’m just going to have fun. I won’t get sunburned.” They probably didn’t even think about the possibility of getting sunburned.
That afternoon I looked all over; there was no sunscreen in Dingle. I was so glad that I brought my own. Dingle is known—humorously—for its “Rain Festival,” which “runs from February to December.” No sunscreen required.