The armchair view

I felt like a bit of a voyeur last weekend as I enjoyed a mini break in Killarney with my husband before the impending arrival of our second baby.

So obsessed have I become with the Buy Mayo campaign, shopping local and the basics of good customer service, that I feel like every transaction I’m involved in these days is a type of interview. The only problem is the poor unfortunates at the other end of the transaction do not know they are being assessed.

But I have to say that it was top marks to all in Kerry last weekend. I felt proud to be Irish given the level of hospitality and courtesy that was shown to us as visitors to the Kingdom.

Hotel staff, shop assistants, waiters, and bartenders were all extremely welcoming, greeted us on arrival, engaged in a bit of banter, and bid us farewell on our departure in a style that was befitting the title Ireland of a thousand welcomes.

It was a far cry from an incident we encountered during the summer when we were visiting Glendalough in Co Wicklow on a damp and dreary day. While my husband pulled our car closer to the site’s visitor centre during an awful downpour I asked a Bus Éireann coach driver, who was sporting a big brolly, to accompany myself and my baby girl to the car so the baby would not get wet. His reply was: “What about my umbrella”, before he turned on his heel and fled. I was so incensed with his attitude in front of a large gathering of American tourists. It wasn’t the fact that we were going to get soaked on the short 100 metre walk to the car, but more the fact that this tourism provider would be so ignorant and uncourteous in front of a busload of people who he was supposed to be showing the best of Ireland to. He was certainly no advertisement for Ireland of a thousand welcomes, but it feels good to have at last got that off my chest.

But back to Killarney. On Sunday we found a quintessential Irish pub, a real throwback to the fifties, to watch what turned out to be a thrilling All-Ireland final. And what a class of people the Kerry folk are. There was no complaining and moaning at the final whistle. They took the loss in their stride because, after all, they felt the better team had won on the day.

While the atmosphere was slow to build, and in true Mayo fashion we ensured we had prime position in front of the big screen in plenty of time, they were quick to liven up once the ball was thrown in.

Ireland’s tidiest town certainly didn’t fail to impress on this occasion. Nor did its neighbouring town of Tralee. In fact I commented that we did the real tourist thing of staying and Killarney and heading to Tralee for a spot of shopping. It was like all the tourists who throng to Mayo to stay in our fantastically beautiful seaside town of Westport, yet travel to Castlebar to unload a few quid.

And while we’re not used to watching football on the telly, we’re usually at the game, there is no fear of that trend changing any time soon. I don’t know what the etiquette is usually, but we were the only couple, apart from two others - a man roaring his head off for Dublin and his Kerry girlfriend - who stood for the National Anthem. I would have expected more respect.

What I took away from my trip is that Ireland remains a truly welcoming destination for those of us staycationing and those visiting from abroad. What I would love to do now is reverse the experience and see if a Kerry couple would receive the same welcome in Mayo. I’d like to think they would.

Toni Bourke

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