By Francine Cunningham
There is a strange Irish phenomenon that has only intensified in corona times. For some reason, Irish people like to drive to the coast, find a parking space just in front of the sea and…. sit in their cars.
No, they don’t drive there to have a walk at the seaside. They don’t drive there to join the cultish groups of “wild” swimmers with their full-length dry robes and flip flops. They definitely don’t join the “woo woo” crowd who like mediate on the beach at sunrise and break into the odd somersault out of an abundance of energy and vegan food. Nor do they show any evidence of having a dog that needs to be exercised.
Instead, they bring with them takeaway coffees and Sunday newspapers. Then they sit inside their vehicles, with the windows up, looking up between sups and supplements to see the waves breaking on the shore. Sometimes their car radio is on and the windscreen wipers are still going.
It’s a practice that I’ve observed in the past, but it seems to happen even more frequently these days. Is it because the sea offers a sense of space and a feeling of calm that we all yearn for at the moment? Or is it because the winter weather puts off all but the most hardy from venturing out along the blustery Irish Sea?
Yet a recent report by a European Parliament think tank on “How coronavirus infected sport” noted that while the pandemic led to the almost total shutdown of competitions at all levels, the restrictions have only increased the appeal of outdoor activities. Moreover, with teleworking and social distancing a daily necessity, the act of walking from the bus, train or car to the office has turned into a distant memory. It has therefore become essential for many people to find new ways of remaining physical active.
Nevertheless, this weekend will once again bring with it the sight of dozens of people lined up in parking spaces along the Irish coast, sitting in their cars. Is this not a great, lost opportunity? Even when the weather is wild, wet and windy, there is something uniquely energising about the sea air. So, maybe it’s time to wrap up, venture out of those SUVs or hatchbacks, and enjoy a bracing walk by the sea. You will certainly get a bit cold and damp, but you’ll head back to your car with wind-whipped cheeks and hair curling from excessive moisture, feeling alive.