\"People

People enjoying a music festival in Co. Westmeath on Saturday.

Irish go mad in summer heat wave

\"People

People enjoying a music festival in Co. Westmeath on Saturday.

Mad dogs and Englishmen, Go out in the midday sun! So goes the chorus of the famous Noel Coward song about how, in the days of the Empire, the natives in the colonies hid away from the fierce heat in the middle of the day but their English masters carried on regardless.

It was probably true to some extent -- stiff upper lip and all that -- although it's far more likely that most of the British were sheltering inside and forcing the locals outside to work on through the heat.

Mind you, many of the lower rank officers and officials in the Empire were not English at all. They were Irish, which is something that tends to be forgotten these days. Maybe Coward should have been singing about mad dogs and Irishmen!

Certainly it's true that the Irish can't get enough of the sun, and that is just as true today as it was back when Coward wrote the song in the 1930s and in the days of the Empire.

The Irish go a bit mad when the sun comes out for a few days and shines with real intensity like it did here last week. We had what passes for a heatwave with highs around 80 degrees in the middle of the week.

And as usual everyone here went a bit crazy. One of the newspapers even sent a reporter out in Dublin to see if he could fry an egg on the bonnet of a car parked in the sun.

Maybe it's because we're stuck out in the Atlantic on the edge of Europe and it rains so much that makes us lose the run of ourselves when the sun shines for a few days straight.

As people here say the weather in Ireland is "inclined to be changeable," meaning that even in summer the winds off the ocean can switch the skies from sunshine to cloud and rain several times in an hour, never mind a day.

So on the rare occasions when we get a settled area of high pressure above us that gives us clear skies and intense sun for a week without a break, allowing a heatwave to build up, it's an opportunity to be grasped like it may never happen again. Or at least for another year.

It's a national signal to down tools, escape from offices, rip off shirts, lie out on the nearest patch of grass or beach and ignore all the health warnings as skin turns a fiery shade of pink.

Most Irish people enjoy the good weather without causing any problems for themselves or their neighbors. They eat lots of 99 ice creams and plaster the kids with Factor 30.

But there is a sizable minority who are like the mad dogs in Coward's song and who go lunatic when the temperatures soar. They are mostly teens and young adults from the poorer areas where unemployment is high and the opportunities for entertainment are limited. A heatwave always sets them off, and last week was another example.

These kids can't imagine going to the beach without plastic bags full with cans of beer and bottles of cider or even vodka. For some reason they associate the sun with getting out of their heads on alcohol, pills and anything else they can get their hands on.

As a hot afternoon wears on and they get louder, more obnoxious and more disruptive, they make life miserable for everyone else out trying to enjoy the glorious weather. It gets even worse when arguments start, turn into fighting, and then bottles fly through the air and the atmosphere shifts from nasty to dangerous. That's when families with children pack up and head home and old folk cower in fear and pray their bus comes soon.

There were several examples of this last week, including in Howth, the fishing village on the Northside of Dublin where I live, which has good beaches and is easy to get to because it's the last stop on the Dart commuter train out of the city. There were similar incidents in the nearby Portmarnock seaside area, in Galway on the other side of the country and in other places here as well.

Last summer when we had another heatwave there were pitched battles on the beach in Portmarnock involving hundreds of young thugs, and in Howth mobs of teenagers took over one of the piers and had an impromptu drunken rave which left the harbor area littered with broken glass, food containers, discarded clothes, vomit and worse.

The Gardai (police) have learned some lessons from that, and last week when it began again they were better prepared. The commuter train out of the city was stopped short of the beaches and the Gardai were on hand to confiscate booze from the kids as they emerged from the station that was open. But this only partly worked.

The problem is the numbers of kids involved and the way the so-called "flash bash" incidents are arranged over social media. Flash mobs are for dancing. Flash bash mobs are for fighting, usually between kids from different areas (it's like West Side Story only far more vicious).

A couple of weeks ago there was a flash bash between kids from Tallaght and Ballymun who had come to Howth not to enjoy the sun but to get drunk and fight.

This is bad enough for local people in Howth and other seaside villages near Dublin, but these places are also popular destinations for tourists taking a break from Dublin city center. What they saw last week will have scared and shocked them and added to the stereotype of the young Irish as mindless, drunken and violent.

The way the Irish police deal with this -- like the way they deal with late night drunken violence in towns across Ireland at the weekends after pub closing time -- is one of containment rather than intervention. So the kids who arrive in the seaside resorts from the inner city and the poorer suburbs laden down with booze are corralled in one area while they drink/fight it off. In Howth that means the main pier becomes a no-go area for several hours, and the spectacle is disgusting for everyone else.

The aftermath reveals another of our problems here -- the avalanche of litter which is left on our beaches and parks after a sunny day. It's not just the cans and bottles that the boozing kids leave behind. It's all the other debris, from food containers to soiled diapers, that are left behind by adults when the crowds depart.

It's hard to see this and not think that the "dirty Irish" stereotype has a lot of truth in it.

Two weeks ago I spent a few days at Lake Garda in northern Italy and there was not a single piece of litter to be seen anywhere, either on the lake surface (which is as big as an inland sea) or around the shore. I swam in the lake every day and the water was so clean you could see all the way to the bottom and drink the water. Given the volume of tourism in the area and all the towns around the lake I thought this was remarkable.

There are places in Ireland where this is also true. Killarney, beside the famous lakes, has won awards for being one of the tidiest towns in Ireland in recent years and it has to be one of the most litter free beauty spots in the country despite having heavy holiday traffic. So it is possible.

But in general we still have a major litter problem here which gets completely out of control when the sun shines. Too many Irish people have no concept of cleaning up after themselves and either bringing stuff home or putting it in a bin. They simply stand up and walk away leaving beaches and parks festooned with rubbish. There are litter laws, but no enforcement.

This has been a problem here forever. I remember that after a family holiday on the Jersey Shore in 2008 writing about this in the Irish Voice. We had been in New York for a week and then spent a week in Wildwood, one of the busiest blue collar holiday spots on the U.S. East Coast.

I was amazed that, despite the volume of people on the beaches at Wildwood every day, the sands were pristine every evening.

At the time I wrote: "I went jogging down Wildwood Crest beach every evening I was there, and where thousands of people had spent the day no litter was visible. I go jogging down the beach on the Northside of Dublin where I live and after a sunny day when the crowds are out, the bottles, cans, plastic bags of half eaten food, even baby diapers, are strewn across the sand.

"The difference is simple. Americans take pride in their beaches because they are their beaches. They have a sense of ownership. They have a sense of pride in doing the right thing.

"Maybe it has something to do with 800 years of colonialism, but too many people in Ireland lack this sense of ownership so they leave litter behind them, and there are no beach patrols anywhere to stop them."

That was six years ago. Nothing has changed here in the meantime.

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