Fashion face-off — dunchers, Donegal tweed and raincoats

Fashion face-off — dunchers, Donegal tweed and raincoats

As Ireland's weather dances between raindrops and sunshine, tourists grapple with packing dilemmas over what clothes to bring. MALACHI O'DOHERTY reports

In recent years we have wondered what climate change might mean for Ireland. Less so this year.

We had a hot June but most of us have forgotten that, the memory washed away by the wet July.

Holidaymakers will struggle to know what to wear here. Rainwear certainly, but something cool, for when the rain stops and the clouds disperse for an hour it is suddenly hot.

Bring a light raincoat but one with air vents under the sleeves to release the vapour of your perspiration when the sun breaks through.

In Donegal, tourists may be attracted to the local tweed, the traditional shield against the wind and the rain. If wool is good enough for the sheep it’s surely what we need, but have you ever seen a happy sheep in Donegal?

Shops stock naff wee multi-coloured patchwork dunchers. These are garish versions of the caps favoured by Peaky Blinders. No Irish person has ever worn one of them. Brashness about colour is entirely against the spirit in which the traditional mono-coloured duncher is worn. It is a humble, unpretentious cap.

And you don’t see tourists in them because they are too hot in summer now and they soak up the rain, get heavy and irritating about your ears in a shower and retain misty drizzle that might otherwise be cleared by a breeze.

Few of us still wear the plain sober single coloured ones. They used to be the standard head gear of farmers and horsey people. Now they are worn more as a badge of identity than as protection against the weather. They are ethnic. Fiddle playing buskers liked them for catching coins in but nobody uses coins any more now so we are all wearing baseball caps.

We don’t know what the weather is likely to be from year to year. Apparently this is to do with a fickle and meandering jet stream. We can at least credit that river in the sky with having some of our national characteristics, though perhaps the influence works in the other direction and we are as bipolar as we are because of the weather.

But I think we will have an increase in tourism next year and among travellers deterred by the Mediterranean fires.

Most of us have memories of past holidays in Ireland spent staring at the raindrops on the windowpane, or huddled in a caravan listening to the patter on the roof.

It is often said that there is no finer place than Donegal if the weather is right. But that weather was always so undependable that investing in advance in a holiday there was as reckless as backing a horse. You could be lucky. You were likely not to be.

But who wouldn’t rather risk having to sit in a dark pub all day or to play board games with the children than face into the prospect of having to flee from your hotel as the crackling flames on the hill behind you draw closer?

We have had nasty fires here too. Much of the gorse on Slieve Donard was destroyed a couple of years ago. And if that happened again and the wind was blowing the wrong way you might find ash in your ice cream cone on Newcastle strand but you’d not have to gather on the beach in scorching heat, among the beer cans and discarded condoms, waiting for an evacuation boat.

Where climate change has affected us markedly is in sea temperatures.

The Atlantic is about five degrees warmer off the Irish coast. That might normally make it more attractive to swimmers, even coax them out of their rubbery wet suits, but there are hazards with this too.

Portrush beach on the north coast has been closed to swimmers because of toxic algae.

Yet one of the attractions of the north coast is that it is a little cooler than the rest of the country during our now regular heatwaves.

The warmer waters have brought us octopi from the south and these are chasing our more familiar mackerel and cod further north, so that may lead to a change in our diet. Squid and chips, anybody?

But actually, so much of our fish is imported already that we won’t be the ones affected. We have a greater variety in our menus than our own seas provide.

Once in a Connemara hotel I asked what the fish of the day was and it was mahi mahi - from the Indian Ocean. The men in little boats we could see from our restaurant window were gathering in their lobster pots but not for our dinner.

Much of the fish caught off our coast is frozen and exported. Tesco brings lobsters to us from Canada, prawns from Vietnam and salmon from Norway.

Yet if you go to a sea front cafe in Corfu or Rhodes the owner will take you back into the kitchen to show you the fish fresh caught that day from the waters that are now glistening in the evening sun - if the sun is not shielded by smoke from forest fires, that is.

Here it is only the old familiar rain clouds that blot out the sun. Much preferable.