Irish eyes aren't smiling

Reuters News Agency Friday, July 5  Globe and Mail Online Edition, Posted at 10:00 AM EST

Dublin In misty Ireland, where people have many ways to describe precipitation, the latest rallying cry of the rain-weary Irish is "get me out of here."

After the wettest May in 20 years, a June that was no better and July starting with soaking downpours, Ireland has virtually sold out of package tours to sunshine destinations. "Irish people are just desperate for a blast of sunshine," said Niamh Hayes, marketing director for Budget Travel, which has a 46 per cent share of the Irish package-holiday market. The only tours available, she said, are cancellations, and even those are snapped up in a matter of minutes.

Stephen Sands, manager of one of Budget Travel's branch offices, said the crunch began on Monday, when it was particularly cold as well. "This weekend is completely full," he said.

The line in one Irish newspaper quoting a desperate sun-seeker telling a travel agent: "Look, I don't care where it is, mushroom picking in Chernobyl, anything as long as it doesn't rain" may be a bit of blarney, but after two months of near steady rainfall and overcast skies, sunshine deprivation is becoming acute.

Lawyer Fiona McAleennan took advantage on Thursday of a brief interlude in the usual morning downpour to ogle a travel agent's window advertising holidays in sunny Cyprus, Egypt, Spain and Tenerife. "We're actually going away in August," she said, admitting her window shopping was more for fantasy than practical purposes.

In Ireland, where rain can be described as "gentle," "soft," "spitting," "drizzling" or "mild," the word for the weather on most people's lips this year is just plain "awful."

"Basically the last time I saw the sun was when I went to Thailand in March," said Patrick O'Grady, 30, who works as a freight forwarder. "Today I'm just thinking how miserable it is and I need a holiday. Psychologically, it just kills you. ... Your whole frame of mind just goes down."

Nor is it a figment of the imagination that the Irish summer has got off to a particularly sodden start. In most areas, May was the wettest in 20 years, while in County Kerry, the Valentia Observatory marked it as the wettest since records began 60 years ago, forecaster Michael McAuliffe of state meteorological service Met Eireann said.

May is usually Ireland's driest month, but this year rainfall was 150 to 220 per cent above normal, making it wetter in some areas than December, which is usually the soggiest month, Mr. McAuliffe said. Nor is the outlook encouraging. "We don't look too far ahead here, about five or six days, and in that time there's no joy, really it's the same, very mixed and unsettled," he said. "Beyond that, there's two months of summer to go yet. Let's hope some corner is turned somewhere."