As last week’s mildwave fades from memory, visitors to this country may have wondered at the brief mania that gripped the nation when the sun came out. To paraphrase the Bulmer’s ad from some years back, there’s something about this time of year that makes an Irish person’s thoughts turn to broiling themselves in the sun. (In case it never comes back). For many years I’ve been that broiler. I looked at the world through sallow-tinted glasses and convinced myself I could tan. In that I was not alone. I was simply following the Irish Tanning Curve (ITC). The ITC is my attempt to encapsulate the tanning experience for the majority of us. It’s drawn from years of experience and observation.

Figure 1 Irish Tanning Curve

The ITC has a number of important points that are worth exploring in detail:

1.     Trigger: A weather forecaster makes a statement like:

Well after the last three years of rain, it looks like the weather is settling down for a while and next week could see temperatures in the high teens.”

This sends the population into a temporary mania and there are ill advised displays of often veiny flesh.

2.     First Peak of Delusion. A person will experience amnesia about all their previous sunburn events and believe that they are, in fact, descended from some of the Spanish soldiers who fought at the battle of Kinsale. The peak is marked by someone close to them saying: “You got a bit of a colour today!

3.     Trough of Sudocream. Unfortunately, the colour they got was cerise. And the term ‘bit of a colour’ is sadly accurate, because the cerise is not uniform. There are a number of variations to the phenomenon of sporadic burning. If the victim was at a hurling match and stood behind one of the goals, depending on the orientation of the ground, they may be burnt on only one side of their face. This can lead them to resemble a villain in a superhero cartoon who has stumbled into a vat of radioactive sludge so that they are half human, half monster. They are constantly conflicted between doing good and evil (the villain, not the person with the sunburn). Another version is where the burnee has made a half-hearted attempt to apply sunscreen. However, they have done so unevenly and they have at least one white handprint on their skin. This gives them the appearance of being touched by some sort of ghostly pervert.

The Trough of Sudocream will usually involve at least one sleepless night where the sufferer is reminded constantly of their own stupidity, by the heat radiating off their own skin and the mixture of the smell of aftersun and burning flesh.

4.     Second Peak of Delusion Once the angry flames of the skin die down, the red may well turn to brown, leading the victim to conclude that they were right all along. They can tan. “Well my surname is Horgan, I’m probably originally from Arragon in Spain” to which their friend will reply “Arra go-on out of that!!”  and congratulate themselves on their joke.

During this brief tanned phase, the tanner’s self esteem levels will rise hugely. They derive great pleasure from examining the white strip on their wrist where their watch was. They will catch sight of themselves in the mirror and wonder – who’s that fox? If their legs have been part of the burning, they may sashay into work in shorts, perhaps racing a train on the way like that toolbag from the Berocca ad. The effect could be heightened by wearing a white shirt – open at the neck. In extreme cases of hubris, the tan may lead to the purchase of a linen suit like The Man from Del Monte.

5.     Trough of Peeling What goes up, must surely go down. The tan peels. It occurs – most heartbreakingly – at maximum brown-ness. You had thought you’d got away with it. That you had beaten Mr Genes. Then one morning you wake up and there’s a little bubbly feeling on the back of your neck. And then another, and another. Before long your precious tan starts to resemble the initiation scars of a Sudanese hill tribe. The bubbles burst, the beautiful brown skin is gone, to be replaced by a less brown under-skin. Before long you are two-tone. Like the kind of hairstyle hairdressers give each other. And then you realise the dream is over.

Yet each year we forget our inadequacies and think that this time it will be different. Like someone who stays with a philandering spouse, we keep believing that they will change. But they don’t. We get burnt again and again. Why is it that we continue to delude ourselves?

It may be the ingrained memory of that one year when the summer was so good, and you were young or unemployed enough to have the time to enjoy it, that the tan just happened. There was none of the chip-pan lunacy that has characterised the last three years when each April or May we emerged blinking into the light, smearing ourselves in lard and roaring at the Sun: “Cmon and BATE IT INTO ME, I don’t care about the warnings. If I’m going out, I’ll go out WARM

For people with red-hair, there is no such delusion. They can’t risk it. For them the Irish Tanning Curve is very simple.

Irish Tanning Curve (Red Heads)


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