When the Irish dad visits the other Spain

Brendan Boyle
8 min readOct 27, 2021
Corners of Santiago de Compostela

The only Spain he knew was the land of cheap and cheerful package holidays. Spain was the dead, dry air waiting to smack you in the face as you giddily disembarked the plane; it was the fluorescent strips lined with knick-knack shops and generic Molly Malone’s and Rovers Return bars.

For many, this is Spain: a guarantee of scorching sun and cheap alcohol— a release. An escape. Once you were able to manoeuvre your way through chaotic airports, screaming children, and boozed-up passengers acting like kids on a school tour, the resort would be your oyster. Freedom.

This was the only Spain that the father knew before making the long trek — trains, planes and automobiles — from Kerry to Santiago de Compostela (“San Diego” as he continues to call it).

The clash between his expectations and my reality was always going to be fascinating, and the prototypical Irish auld lad coming to the northwest corner of Spain didn’t disappoint.

The view of Santiago from Parque Alameda

Two pandemics

Throughout Covid I have always had the sense of juggling two pandemics. Just as it appeared that we were edging towards the end of the tunnel in Spain, things would take a turn for the worse in Ireland, and vice versa.

While death tolls in Ireland remained low, the never-ending restrictions took a huge mental toll on the population, particularly on those living alone.

The father, meanwhile, was unable to visit Old Trafford to see his beloved Manchester United for the first time since the 1970s; there were no trips to his local pub to complain about the men in red to anyone who would listen. Even funerals were off-limits — the equivalent of taking Carnival away from a Brazilian.

Us Irish have an odd fetish for funerals. Earlier this year I remember him telling me that the previous morning he had watched a funeral of a distant family member in London (who I had never heard of) online. As he lauded the “great service” (the website, not the mass), I couldn’t help but imagine Sky Sports’ Martin Tyler proclaiming “AAAAAND IT’S LIVE” before the priest got the action underway.

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Brendan Boyle

Irish - living in Galicia. Write about Spain, its cities and culture; real people and places; current affairs. Supporter of real journalism.