When I arrived in Ireland last July, I had a plan for Wednesday, my first full day in Dublin: I'd take the train out to either Portmarnock Golf Club or The Island Golf Club and tee it up. So there I was, golf bag over my shoulder, at the Lansdowne Road DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) station staring at a color-coded map of the train routes. I had no idea where I was going—it would have been way too easy to call ahead and ask—so I figured I'd buy a ticket to the town of Portmarnock, confident at least that's where Portmarnock Golf Club would be. However, I had a sneaking suspicion that I'd read somewhere (in my guidebook on the plane, perhaps?) that the club didn't allow visitors on Wednesdays because it's a members' tournament day. I asked the bored-looking fellow behind the ticket window if he knew where The Island Golf Club was. He shook his head.
"Okay. Portmarnock, please."
Boarding the train, I quickly learned that in addition to a world-famous golf course, there is also a very fine beach in Portmarnock. It was eighty-five degrees and sunny that day, so the train was packed with Dubliners, all freckled and alabaster-skinned (except for the few who were red as lobsters, having already taken advantage of the recent heat wave) and decked out in their beach best.
I'm guessing that Dubliners don't get to the beach very often: I've never seen such an eclectic mix of outfits and bathing costumes. (I can't bring myself to use a negative-sounding word like "tacky" because they all looked so cute.) It reminded me of the way kids dress (or, more accurately, how parents dress their kids) for the beach in America: neon swimsuits, cheap rubber flip-flops, oversize T-shirts that say beach baby or surf's up, and sunglasses straight out of a 1980s music video. It looked like everyone had just come from a blowout sale at the dollar store.
And then there were the packs of teenage boys taking obvious interest in the gaggles of teenage girls in bikini tops and short shorts. The boys nudged each other and strained their necks, leaning into the aisles and peering over their shoulders, trying to sneak a peek at every girl on the train. After spotting a particularly pretty or well-endowed young lady, they huddled together and giggled, threw punches and put each other in headlocks. When one lad summoned the courage to put himself forward, the exchange went like this:
"Where are you fine-looking ladies off to?"
"Malahide?Malahide's shite. We're going to Portmarnock."
"My granny's from Malahide. We always go to Malahide."
"Aw, c'mon. Granny'll be all right without you. How's about Portmarnock?"
"Malahide it is then, lads!"
Despite doing their best to appear uninterested, the girls seemed to enjoy this ritual just as much as the boys did, and apparently the boys were right about Portmarnock being the best beach, because 95 percent of the train got off there, including me. We all filed along the platform, up the stairs and down the street, a parade of trundling baby carriages, smacking flip-flops and crinkling grocery bags. When I reached the gas station on the outskirts of town, that nagging voice about Wednesdays at Portmarnock returned. I decided it was best to phone the club rather than walk the last quarter mile into town, blow five euros on a cab and then be turned away. (Common sense kicks in eventually.) My suspicion turned out to be true: It was tournament day and the club was closed to visitors. When I returned sweating to the station forty minutes later, the ticket agent recognized me and joked, "That was a quick round of golf!"