I've just paid a very brief visit to Ireland, so I thought I'd post some reflections. The first thing that struck me was the journey. I used to work at Gatwick Airport, and rather prefer it to Heathrow. But, honestly, the experience of flying out of it was not pleasant. I felt like a hamster, being fed along tubes made of cardboard at high speed, the ceilings only just above my head and the heat oppressive. And then being made to stand for over half an hour in one of these minuscule airless corridors while people jostled and pushed for prime position before being allowed on the (Ryan Air) plane. A lot of nasty things are said about Ryan Air, but in the end, you get what you pay for, and at those prices, you can't expect caviar and champagne. But the airport really could sort things out a bit better.
Dublin airport was a huge contrast. It's changed out of all recognition, of course. I well remember, when departing, being able to sit in the bar in the concourse sipping a last pint of Guinness, and, a couple of minutes before the flight, sauntering past the officials checking tickets (How'ya; grand day; 'tis) and onto the plane without raising the temperature one degree. Now, Dublin Airport is like the set of Gattaca; an utter contrast to Gatwick. Vast echoing granite and marble halls and corridors; the only sound being the clack-clack of heels and the rumble of those suitcases designed to trail behind you and trip people up. All the accents you hear are angular and Slavonic—a brogue is rare—and you are hustled from one place to another, not rudely (this is still, just, Ireland), but not nicely, either. On leaving Ireland, once you have been strip searched and the sins of your entire ancestry enquired into, you are squeezed into the most intense shopping mall I have ever seen. Ever since the compulsory lay-over for all transatlantic flights at Shannon, Ireland has been famous for its duty free shops. And at Dublin it feels obliged to continue the practice. But it doesn't really want you to enjoy the experience. The shops are a horrid bottleneck, full of people; there is nowhere to sit down and take a pause in your shopping; the only seats are at the flight gates, and once there you can't return to the shops (even if you felt inclined to walk several hundred miles back again). And the prices are truly appalling. €31 for a 70cl bottle of ordinary spirits! €5 for a limp sandwich in a plastic box! Forget it. I did pay €4.50 for a pint of Guinness, though—I hadn't had a chance at any other point in my trip—and enjoyed it. The flight home was delayed by an hour and a half, and I was very glad that I was in Dublin, not Gatwick. At least I could breathe there.