Irish people are not usually designed for the sunshine. In fact, the stereotypically Irish fair skin evolved so as to enable people to manufacture vitamin D under the murky grey skies of northern Europe. It’s therefore quite a shock to the system when Ireland, without warning, becomes a tropical paradise. We become fish out of water, floundering as we try to cope with these strange conditions. Dazed, we are found rummaging around in the bottom drawer for some long forgotten shorts, or ordering yet another choc-ice.
Yet, just as snow does occasionally fall in the Sahara, some rare meteorological happenstance can result in Ireland becoming temporarily like the Mediterranean, as happened last week, to widespread national consternation. This sudden reversal of meteorological fortune does however enable the Irish people to seamlessly transition from complaining about the rain to complaining about the “terrible heat”.
As the bizarre phenomenon of genuinely warm weather settled over Ireland last week, we were pleased to find ourselves on an island off west Cork, ideally positioned to make the most of it. Layers of sun cream were slathered on, hats were administered to the children – with strict instructions to actually wear them. Cool drinks were supplied in abundance. We were then ready to venture out. Even by 9am, it was baking. The water was measured at a remarkable 21 degrees in the sheltered, shallow harbour nearby. The usually essential wetsuits were forgotten and the old kids practiced taking running jumps off the pier into the bath-like water. The smaller kids were content with paddling, exploring rockpools or drifting along in a lifejacket. I’ve always been a keen sea swimmer and I was happy to join them for many happy hours splashing about.
The calm weather resulted in unusually clear water, which meant we could see starfish and scuttling crabs metres below. The older kids especially became fascinated with the revelation of the undersea world. Happily, I had packed a bag of old snorkels and masks and these were adjusted for the older kids. Having just really become competent sea swimmers last year, they were astonished to suddenly be able to see under the water. The bright sunshine and clear water showed us the undersea landscape in vivid technicolour.
We explored along rocky ledges, and through forests of kelp, discovering giant crabs, beautiful colourful seaweeds, shoals of shrimp, the odd tractor tyre, and – to add the spice of a little danger – there were also plenty of pulsing compass jellyfish to avoid. Sometimes, we glimpsed larger fish such as mullet or pollack as they flashed by. We explored reefs, where we discovered mysterious underwater caves. We experienced that sense of flying you get when floating serenely over underwater cliff edges. The kids were hooked, and wanting to go deeper, they implored me teach them how to duck dive.
When we made it back to the beach, we would find the younger kids, also fascinated by the creatures in the rockpools along the shore. Yet the older kids were overflowing with the wonder of what they had seen. They spoke excitedly about the marvellous creatures they had seen in the deep. Sensing their joy at their first glimpses of the underwater world let me see afresh the strange beauty of the ocean, and the subtle interwoven complexity of all forms of life.