In Praise of Rain

We all know that water is our most precious resource so let’s hear it for rain, wonderful rain, says Joe Hughes. To a man who knows what drought is all about, our references to rain in last month’s ezine - Rachel Gaffney’s ‘Let’s Go Wild’ piece and the Editor’s suggestion that we should “take a cue from the Swedish ’rain city’, Gothenburg - struck a chord.  

One of Billie Holiday’s most famous lines goes invitingly ‘…don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain…’ Rain. Here in Ireland what should be our greatest natural asset is also the most grumbled about topic of conversation whenever people meet. We know that there’s rarely a day without rain and when we have a few days without it we declare a national drought. Why is our relationship with it so uneasy? It’s strange that we live with this treasure and yet we have never adapted to it, let alone given it the status it deserves.

Having lived in southern Africa for a decade during the 80’s I experienced six years of drought and so, after saving my shower water all that time to put on the plants in my garden or wash my dusty car, my attitude to rain is different to many of my friends and colleagues here at home. When I returned to Dublin from Africa I vividly remember the first time I experienced a rain shower on my face, and thinking how beautiful was this blessed rain!

When I take touring visitors around Ireland I am constantly delighted by the benefits of our liquid gold on the undulating landscape and hearing them marvel at the lush greenness and the profusion of wildflowers growing by the roadside. So I wonder why this special asset is treated with negativity and disdain – why do we not embrace what we cannot change?

Two hundred years ago Switzerland faced lockdown each winter. Snow fell and it isolated towns and villages – people prepared for winter, and they stored the provisions that would see them through the six months of impassable weather. The only means of travel was by wooden skis with poles like strange walking sticks. But a few intrepid visitors to the Alps found travelling by skis exhilarating and, never slow to see an opportunity, the inventive Swiss turned a negative into a positive and a billion euro business.

Why have we Irish - apart from the farmer who needs it to grow crops - never seen the positive benefits of rain? I’ve been questioning this for decades, but thinking ahead of your time can be almost as bad as not having an idea in the first place – or worse. I remember a Master Baker friend who invested and lost thousands when he introduced bagels to Dublin in the 80’s and people in the food and hospitality business laughed at him. Need I go on?

But, with attitudes to climate and the environment now changing dramatically, it’s a good time for our tourist bodies to market rain as a positive. Before that happens however we need a national plan, probably following similar lines to the Swiss and their snow.

Visitors should be able to hire the right ‘gear’ on arrival, boots, and outerwear – with airline luggage costs growing all the time, this makes good economic sense for travellers. From our point of view it offers business opportunities, and it helps reduce the carbon footprint of carrying extra weight to and from Ireland.

And so the visitors have arrived, and it is time to kit them out with online maps and GPS (a business opportunity?) to assist in the adventure whether it is walking, hiking, trekking, fishing, sailing, climbing, pony trekking etc - or even shopping. All adventurers could be presented with their own handmade Irish walking stick (another business opportunity) which could become a trip souvenir and perhaps engraved with the visitor’s name, maybe even in Irish and/or Ogham.

Specific routes taken could have eco-friendly refreshment stops at the beginning or end point (another business opportunity) and returning to their accommodation would mark the beginning of ‘après rain’ (or perhaps some unique Irish term) when visitors are met with an Irish Coffee or Hot Toddy. Then there are drying rooms to dry gear overnight ready for the next day’s adventure. Saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, Spas and such like offer the visitor an opportunity to relax and unwind before dinner, and blazing fires to warm the body and lift the spirit. The rest of the evening is taken care of with the hospitality that Irish people know best: good food, honest craic and plentiful ceol!

Of course, as it did for the Swiss, all of this involves financial investment. But it will extend the season into the winter months and create a whole new - and unique – all year experience. With the facilities in place there are opportunities a-plenty for summer rain walks all over Ireland - in the Burren, in Connemara, in the Glens of Antrim and in the fascinating boglands of the West and the Midlands…; the possibilities are endless, and it’s all over and above our standard provision.

We could also sell the benefits of fresh clean Irish rain for the skin – natural beauty enhancing products and pampering salves and pomades would provide adventurers with protection and an enhanced feeling of Irish wellbeing. A few creative companies are already looking outside the box – Magee of Donegal, for example, produce iconic clothing that works with the Irish climate – Winnie Magee owner of the Lightning Tree in Comber, Co Down produces the only waterproof Irish Linen outerwear in the world and her creations would look cool on any Parisienne boulevard.

Many cities around the world such as Seattle and Gothenburg have already begun to acknowledge that rain is something to be accepted and embraced instead of acting as if it doesn’t exist and feigning surprise when it comes down for the fourth time that morning. It’s all about grasping the nettle to make a saleable soup!

The most off-putting thing about rain is that moment when it soaks through to your skin. It is uncomfortable and downs the spirit, but if on your return you are met with warm cosy comfort and a way to dry clothing for tomorrow’s new experience then it becomes an exhilarating Irish adventure and one that is unique in world tourism.

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” Langston Hughes (no relation!)

Joe Hughes has spent over 40 years in hospitality, mainly in hotel management, and, with his earliest experiences having been in food and beverage, his passion for food grew. His work in hotels and restaurants has taken him to London, South Africa, the USA and finally home to Ireland, his first love. Joe is known to many for his work in the 90’s as President of the Irish Hospitality Institute. In more recent years he has worked in tourism and tour guiding - a surprise career change, but one that now gives him the privilege of sharing Ireland’s history, myths, legends, heritage, and more with culturally curious travellers.
Joe can be contacted by email at:



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