Mayo is mecca for tourist-watching
I have a penchant for good-looking men. (Aesthetically speaking, of course.) My particular interest is in tourists of a certain age who smoke the occasional Gitane, carry Le Monde or The New York Times and drink espressos outside cafes on sunny streets or expensive brandies in sumptuous lounges where the background music is jazz.
Such a shame they are always accompanied by lithe and sophisticated women whom – despite years of marriage and annual holidays way out here on the edge of Europe – they appear to still like.
The thing about tourists is they come and go, so you don’t have to get to know them warts and all. Although in a town like Westport, at the height of the summer season, it can get close-up and personal, particularly in traffic jams where your little banged-up bumper is schmoozing and canoodling with waxed Jaguars and RV Motorhomes that trundle along Bridge Street and across the Mall like pre-historic mammoths who have risen out of Clew Bay on the last high tide.
Unlike us natives (oops! blow-ins), they are never in a hurry and have all day to stare at Matt Molloy’s traditional fenestration or sit for five hours over a glass of Guinness in the hope of meeting the Chieftain flautist. Or if they fancy one of Donard McGreevey’s famous 99s – churned from one of the few self-pasteurising ice-cream machines in the country (just ask The Irish Times) – they can approach the conical treat like a work of art. No slurping or dribbling as they indulge in the ecstatic experience while lazily watching the rest of us rush back to work or to that dreaded dental or banker appointment.
Why would they be in a hurry when they decide to meander out to Croagh Patrick or hire electric bicycles and cycle the Greenway from Newport to Achill, stopping off in Mulranny for some afternoon tea or a hot-stone massage.
And can you blame them for assuming that nobody in the dinky little towns and villages of Mayo is in a hurry? So naturally when they drive up to a sign-filled junction, they suddenly stop dead in their tracks, in the middle of the road, no indicators, no hazard lights.
Sure what harm is there in having a nice relaxed conversation in French, or German, Catalan or Italian about whether to turn left for Leenane or right for Louisburgh, or was that left for Ballycastle and right for Carrateige?
After all, they are on their holidays far from the hustle and bustle of the high-rise world of grey concrete, conference calls and daily deadlines. And, Mon Dieu …Hierher … Stone the Crows… they can be forgiven for treating our backyards and boulevards, boreens and byways as places of fascinating interest, open-air museums and galleries for their delectation and pleasure.
So what, if the entire heritage town of Westport becomes engulfed in diesel fumes and one great big traffic jam for the entire months of July and August. Or that every waitress and barman is ready to keel over from being friendly (yet efficient); chatty (but not too intrusive).
As the old aphorism goes, you need to make hay while the sun shines (even between showers) and tourism is big business these days here in Mayo. From the Greenway to the Wild Atlantic Way, our spectacular land and seascapes, notwithstanding the wrath of storms earlier this year, needs to make big bucks for our flailing economy.
It is no surprise then that local Minister of State for Tourism, Michael Ring, recently welcomed official figures showing the average domestic visitor stay in Mayo in 2013 was 3.8 nights, an increase on 2012 and higher than the national average of 2.9 nights.
It seems Mayo has become Mecca for both domestic and international visitors who are embracing the great outdoors with an almost religious fervour. The value of this resplendent resource must never become just an economic commodity to be exploited.