Thursday, November 11, 2004

The myth of rip-off Ireland?

Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Mr. John O’Donoghue, speaking in Killarney on Thursday 4 November 2004, is reported (Irish Times 6 November 2004) to have called for an end to “the myth of rip-off Ireland.” Sorry, Minister, it is not a myth; it is a reality. And the sooner you face up to it the better.

This recent experience of mine is, I am sure, typical of many people’s experience in Ireland. On Monday 8 November 2004, I stopped in the Castle Arms Hotel, Durrow, Co. Laois, on the way to a business meeting in Co. Tipperary. The hotel is a very ordinary, characterless establishment; in many ways, a typical midlands hotel. It was just after lunch, about 2.30 p.m. when I arrived. The hotel was very quiet, with a handful of customers finishing lunch and only one man drinking a pint at the bar.

I dropped in to prepare for my meeting and to have a non-alcoholic beverage. I went to the bar and waited almost five minutes for anybody to appear to serve me. Eventually, a woman arrived. She didn’t greet me at all – no “hello there, how are you today? Nice day, isn’t it? What can I get you?” No, it was just a bit of a grunt of enquiry as to what I wanted. I must have been interrupting something far more important that she had to do because she still had her overcoat on as she went about her business behind the bar.

I asked for a 7Up, which is a white lemonade of sorts, but tastes basically like sugary water. I was presented with a small bottle of 7Up, about 33cl. I proffered a 5 euro note for this beverage and was handed my change. Still no cordial or friendly exchange, no “Ireland of the welcomes” or “Cead Mile Fáilte” here! Just an empty transaction that reminded me of Yeat’s reference in his poem, 'The Circus Animals' Desertion', to “that raving slut who keeps the till.”

I went to one of the many empty seats – a double seater couch – that was to be found in the very ordinary lounge. Although the table was clean, I could not help noticing the large number of crumbs and other bits of food scattered on the couch as I sat down. I brushed the crumbs away from where I sat and, when I left some 30 minutes later, they were still there.

Checking the change I received, I counted 2 euros and 20 cents remaining of out of my 5 euros! I could not believe it! I had been charged 2 euros and 80 cents for the 7Up! That’s about $3.60 or Stg. £2.00! I can buy a 500 cl can of this stuff in my local shop for about 35 or 40 cents!! 2 euro 80 for this!! The liquid almost stuck in my craw as I lowered it. Was I getting anything special for this outrageous cost? Nothing that I could see - and certainly not a warm Irish welcome.

I left after my drink, vowing never to return to that establishment again. Rip-off Ireland a myth? I don’t think so, Minister. But then, in your fancy state-funded and provided car and with your expense account, you probably don’t have to worry too much about the cost of a 7Up in a midlands hotel.