Bandit Country? Open Letter to Sunday Times

Like many people who work in the tourist industry in Ireland, we here at Murphys Ice Cream, have been fuming for a few days over an article published in the last Sunday Times. For those of you who didn’t read it, it’s called “Bandit Country.”

It’s hard to know where to start on an article with so many flaws, one so poorly researched and seemingly a sensationalist attempt to bring a bit of profile to the author (and that did work – she repeated her nonsense on the radio). For feedback on value in Ireland, she managed to find all of two tourists with whom to talk. In quoting her prices, she clearly did not research (or conveniently ignored) the prices elsewhere, or why would she mock the Dublin Zoo for being expensive, when it is €25 less than the London Zoo for a family of four? How could she mock €27 for a bus tour around the Ring of Kerry, when a comparable bus tour in Cinque Terre in Italy would cost €60? When a jarvey in Killarney, at €35 for an hour in the spectacular Killarney National Park, is half the price of a horse and cart in Central Park? When green fees at a Killarney golf course at €35 are less than half the price of a comparable course in the US or UK? And how could she compare a package holiday to regular hotel rates?

Throwing out prices without context is such nonsense. If I told you I bought a car for €2000, was that expensive? Cheap? It’s impossible to know without knowing more about the car.

The price of ice cream in Dingle came up in the article, but instead of showing some journalistic initiative and investigating herself, she used as her source a letter to the editor of the Irish Times (“Recently I purchased three ice cream cones in Dingle. The cost? €11.40. Is this a record?” the letter asked). The answer is no. There’s more expensive ice cream both at our shop and elsewhere in the world. We’re not even sure the letter was a complaint, since the writer doesn’t mention whether he thought the ice cream was worth the price, which would be the question we would have asked. However, this particular journalist doesn’t seem interested in such questions.

Here’s a letter to the editor that my brother wrote to the Sunday Times in response to the article:

Dear Sir,

I am writing in about Gabrielle Monaghan’s article “Bandit Country” from July 5, 2009. She uses the following, flawed logic: there are exceptional (and expensive products) in Ireland, therefore we are a race of thieves and you should not vacation here. Has she no pride in what Ireland offers, and will she only be happy when we are a bargain destination with third world wages and cheap products and services?

Mention was made of three ice creams being €11.40 in Dingle. If the author was referring to Murphys Ice Cream, our goal is to make the best ice cream anywhere, not to compete on price. To use us as an example of the cost of ice cream in Ireland is like saying Jimmy Choo is representative of shoe prices in London. Are New Yorkers bandits because New York is home to Tiffany? Are Parisians bandits because Paris, the #1 tourist destination in the world, has Pierre Herme or €2000 hotel rooms? Are the Japanese bandits because in Tokyo you can pay €150 for a single melon (or €7.50 for a scoop of ice cream)? Are golfers ripped off at Hilton Head or St. Andrews, both of which have higher green fees than Killarney?

Shame on the author for believing Irish people do not deserve quality comparable to other countries. Shame on the Sunday Times for calling Irish people bandits and for not believing Ireland can compete with the best in the world.

We have a beautiful country with world-class scenery, products and services. We have hundreds of thousands of Irish people who know this and will enjoy a dream holiday at home this summer. We will be proud to serve them.

Yours etc.

Sean Murphy

Murphys Ice Cream

It’s amazing to me, that with almost half a million Irish people out of work and thousands of tourism jobs at risk, an Irish journalist would tell people to holiday elsewhere and call Irish people bandits. These are Irish people who are trying to offer great products or services to our visitors, to make a living and to provide employment in difficult times. They are not thieves.

I wish there was more pride in what Ireland has to offer and more understanding of how connected we are in this small economy. We can survive this downturn, but we are going to need a lot more positive thinking and a lot less of this kind of destructive vituperation.

Ireland is still a great place to holiday. Although it’s expensive, there are world class attractions. There are also bargains to be had at the moment. We invite anyone who can to come and see for themselves and to enjoy a wide range of offerings amidst spectacular landscapes.

Meanwhile, we hope that Ms. Monaghan takes her own advice and heads away to Crete. Permanently.

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18 thoughts on “Bandit Country? Open Letter to Sunday Times

  1. I too was disappointed with this article. I even felt compelled to leave the author a comment. However, the 300 character limit was not enough to even touch on the topic.

    Your research on prices revealed exactly what I suspected. And why wasn’t this type of info included in the original article??? The author’s seemingly random examples sounded more like a pub rant than news.

    And what was with all the dissing of Irish places and products? Her examples were quite situational… €600 is not the average price for weekend accommodation in Killarney and a family can easily visit the Cliffs for €8 (the price of parking).

    That said, the article does bring up a sentiment shared by many… Ireland has gotten more expensive… and I guess editors are looking for content that simply echoes those feelings and say nothing more.

    The timing is quite strange as well. Travel prices have dropped to 2006 rates and there are more bargains to be found in Ireland this month alone than in all of last summer. That sounds more like a news story to me.

    I wonder where Gabrielle Monaghan will be spending her holidays, and will her package tour live up to its bargain promise?

    BTW – If I had to choose between €5.25 for three Magnum ice cream bars or €11.40 for fresh, homemade icecream, I’d choose the latter. That’s the foodie in me.

  2. I faced the same problem, which is why I wrote this here! I also know someone who wrote a 300 word reply only to have it never show up on the website. I guess they are very selective in publishing comments…

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. My grandfather Kookie (Krahling’s Bakery in Washington, DC) charged 7 cents per ice cream cone, when the going rate was 5 cents per cone for ordinary ice cream. Quality ingredients cost more, today, as well as, one hundred years ago. If you wanted homemade fresh peach ice cream in summer, homemade fresh orange ice, or homemade almond macaroon ice cream you were happy to pay for it. Some things never change.

    One of my favorite sites, thank-you.

    By the way, do you ship transatlantic? If only.

  4. Hi
    with the sterling/euro exchange rate the rest of the world seems expensive to us Brits at the moment but, frankly some things are worth paying for, and your quality and ambience certainly fall into that category. When we didn’t show up at Easter you may have thought we weren’t coming, but brace yourselves for August!
    looking forward to quality time and quality icecream & coffee
    Andy et al

  5. Didn´t I pay 11 euros for two cones in your shop last year? Yeh, I think I did, but actually we paid the same price in Spain years ago. So the ice cream-example was a silly one, I agree.

    Earlier this year we went by train from Tralee to Dublin for 20 euros, that must be one of the cheapest fares in Europe, and we stayed in a 4* hotel in Dublin for 25 euros/pp.

    BUT still I agree with some of the points in the article. Coming back to Ireland since early 70s I still can´t understand Irish prices, specially food prices.

    I keep coming back because I love the country, but my selfcatering holidays in Dingle with three children some years ago costed me a fortune, still we did not afford same food as we eat at home. No beef, no fresh fish, no fruits. I can´t understand why same fruits imported from same countries are four times the price in Dingle compared to my local shop in Sweden. I can´t understand why fresh Irish potatoes can cost up to ten times more in a Dingle supermarket than our local potatoes. Ireland, not Sweden is supposed to be the spud country!

    Your wages are a bit higher than ours, but it doesn´t explain everything. It doesn´t explain bad overcharged meals and bad service, it doesn´t explain freezing cold b&b:s for hotel prices, I´ve fresh experiences from both in Dingle. When I came to Dingle 1971 every tourist was supposed to be rich and ready to pay whatever you charged. Yes, some of us were richer and your pints were cheaper than ours back home. But those days are gone long long ago, it´s time for the Irish to give up that cynicism. No one is coming for the cheap pints anymore and it´s a bit hard to appreciate the scenery when you can´t afford acommodation, food and drinks!

  6. Wow, Cici! You have some heritage! Thanks for that. Very good point.

    Andy – we missed you this Easter! Glad to hear we’ll be seeing the family in August.

    Annaa – Thanks for your points! I do think the last is most pertinant. We find most complaints we hear about Ireland (or ourselves, when we slip) have to do with poor quality or bad service…

  7. its seems the writer — and the editors too — of that article had a real axe to grind. As Croey says, there’s little context about travel costs. it’s possible to spenda lot, or spend a little, wheever you go. and as you point out about your ice cream, some things are worth a bit of extra expense. a great lack of balance in that article, and an unfortunate title too, as that nickname was used to refer some bloody ground during the troubles.

  8. Kieran,

    This is from an occasional U.S. visitor. We spent 10 days in Dingle in 2007 in a self-catering cottage. We are planning on returning to Ireland again in 2010 and will do either self-catering or B&B.

    Let me just say that your argument for looking at value, not just price is exactly right! At no time during our other 2 trips to Ireland did we feel like we were not getting great value, and in some cases we found that we were even getting great prices!

    There is no way that a person can stay in the U.S. for 10 to 14 days for the equivalent of 750.00 Euros. We are finding those kinds of bargains right now! We have even found a B&B that will charge us just 400.00 Euro for the 2 weeks.

    And how can you say that Murphy’s Ice Cream is not a VALUE! Even when we make it ourselves from your receipts is it priceless!

    Hope to see you again next spring!

  9. Very, very bad journalism. But they always keep banging on about that holidaying is cheaper abroad than here. Yeah, right. In a cheap hotel in a middle of a busy resort, eating junk food. If that is the ideal holiday for you, off you go. I prefer supporting Ireland and her quality products. And she very badly needs all the support she can get.

  10. What a brilliantly written letter. Here in Ireland we do often suffer high food pricing, but – especially for us up here near the border – that’s comparing, say, a pack of Denny’s ham with an identical one sold at half the price over the border in NI. Your cretinous journo is trying to feed off the back of the ‘rip off Ireland’ subject very badly. Artisan, quality products like yours are Ireland’s USP, for goodness sake. Keep up the good work and don’t take any notice of such twaddle. You seriously are the Jimmy Choo of the Emerald Isle food industry!!! x

  11. Agree totally with what you said in the letter. Far too easy to know. Don’t know if you saw the pingback from my blog to your post but perhaps you might take a look and see what you think

  12. Dear Murphys,

    First of all let me congratulate you on a great product, however I have to say it is extremely overpriced.

    We are your ideal target market as ABC1’s and DINKies so as to speak! We are originally from Kerry but live in the UK and travel back home regularly. Two weeks ago we bought ice creams from your shops in both Killarney and Dingle. The price of 3.50 Euro per cone seemed quite expensive but we justified it as possibly the price of a premium product in a premium tourist location.

    We then travelled onto Germany to the exclusive spa town of Baden-Baden. There everything was excellent from hotels to food to landscaping. On our first evening there one day after buying an ice cream from you in Dingle we walked through the prestige pedestrian centre of Baden-Baden and bought two cones from a top range cafe / ice cream parlour / restaurant premises. To our shock the price was just 80 cent per cone. Moreover the cones were identical to your product and the ice cream was equally delicious.

    We travel a lot by virtue of our jobs and visit Kerry at least four times every year. Your price per cone is considerably out of line with other premium locations throughout Europe and from recollection that even includes Haagen-Daz in Leicester Square in London! You may want to consider this and do a benchmarking exercise for yourselves.
    Kind Regards,

  13. Why has our contribution from 15th July 2009 circa 8pm been removed?

    Is fair and objective comment not appreciated. Is any element of criticism censored??

  14. I don’t censor unless a comment is spam, obscene, slanderous or abusive! I do, however, approve comments from new commenters, to make sure it isn’t one of the above, so it may take a while for it to appear.

    Anyway, thanks for writing! You can certainly find much cheaper ice cream than ours around the world (and some considerably more expensive). We price simply on what we need to charge given what we do. There are many ways we could make our ice cream cheaper (moving to Germany, where the costs are lower, would be one of them), but all of them would impact on our quality (in Germany, we’d find it hard to get our fresh, indigenous Kerry cow milk!). I can promise you this – there is no ice cream “identical to our product” that costs 80c a scoop, even I imagine for a scoop the size they serve in Germany. It’s simply not feasible to make our ice cream, made in small artisan batches, with its high percentage of fresh cream, free range eggs broken by hand, natural, organic vanilla, Kilbeggan whiskey, real Baileys, etc. for that kind of price.

    Thanks again for your feedback and for taking the time to leave a comment!

  15. Kieran,

    No problem – 80 cent is too low I would agree but maybe….

    enough , enough – Best wishes to you and your business and your great ice cream

  16. Thanks a million! We hope to see you again. And… kind of wondering whether a shop in Baden-Baden might not be a bad plan! 🙂

  17. Ireland is one of the best vacations I’ve ever had and that was when pounds were twice the dollar. I can’t wait to go back.
    Oh, and Dingle was one of the highlights!!!

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