‘Worst morning of my life’ – Alison Healy on tricky tourists

One disgruntled visitor described the Phoenix Park as ‘just grass, grass, grass’

I once brought a friend to a butterfly farm. This was a huge mistake. Not a lover of any creatures, great or small, she assumed the butterflies would be kept behind large screens at a safe distance from the humans.

But of course the whole point of the butterfly farm is to be at one with the beautiful and exotic creatures. Entering the butterfly house, an idyllic vista lay before us. Splendidly coloured butterflies were living their best lives, flying around the tropical plants and ponds and stopping occasionally to nibble on the pieces of fruit dotted around the hothouse.

The magic spell was broken when a butterfly fluttered by my friend. All hell broke loose. She let out a scream of terror and started to bat the butterflies away with her hands. Her toddler burst into tears with the fright. My toddler burst into tears in solidarity, and they ran from the place. It was not the joyful day trip I had anticipated.

The butterfly farm closed shortly afterwards but I don’t believe these events were connected. I thought of her this week when I read an online review of another butterfly house. The unhappy visitor said it was an “awful place if you don’t enjoy swarms of butterflies” and added, somewhat worryingly: “Fruit on show is for butterflies only and not to be eaten.”


Of course, TripAdvisor and other online review sites are a magnet for difficult-to-please tourists. They are the ones who demand that the waterfall beside their hotel be turned down because it’s keeping them awake at night. They are the people who call for siestas to be banned because it interferes with their holiday schedule.

One reviewer on TripAdvisor described the Grand Canyon as “just an overblown sandy ditch” while another dissatisfied visitor thought it was a “very underwhelming experience ... cluster of ugly looking rocks and a gorge that runs for miles. Boring is an understatement”.

Ben Nevis was written off by an underwhelmed Tony C as “far too steep”. You have to wonder what he expected when he opted to climb the UK’s highest mountain. But Tris G was more upset by the lack of wifi. “Couldn’t log on to TikTok or Instagram,” she fumed. “This is the 21st century and they can’t even install a phone mast at the top.”

Meanwhile, Henry from Sweden was disappointed at the lack of catering facilities at the top. “My girlfriend vomited 5 times on the way up because of exhaustion and fear of heights,” he wrote. “People returning from the summit encouraged us to go on saying there would be fish and chips and a pub on the top.” Spoiler alert: there was not.

Irish tourist attractions have also been subjected to the wrath of these demanding tourists. Beatriz from Germany complained that Phoenix Park was “just grass, grass, grass. No trees, no benches, no ponds, no flowers”.

Spike Island may have won many tourism awards but that did not impress a disgruntled UK visitor who got rained on and dramatically declared it was the “worst morning of my life”. A Londoner was also unconvinced, noting that, having visited “both Machu and the Great Wall there is simply no comparison”. Why he opted to compare the Cork island to Machu Picchu in Peru or the Great Wall of China remains a mystery.

Even our beloved Croagh Patrick has its critics. Barefoot grannies everywhere will take umbrage at the review from Seán C from Dublin who wrote that the climb was “just not worth the reward when you get to the top. Just because you heard your granny did it in her bare feet is not a good enough reason to take this on”.

You would have to wonder if Jean-Paul Sartre was working in the tourism trade when he declared that hell was other people. The French philosopher and writer had an ill-fated stay with film director John Huston in Galway in 1959 but there’s no evidence that he did any sightseeing. The two men were working on Huston’s movie Freud but Sartre hated the final script and withdrew in high dudgeon from the project.

Unfortunately for Tourism Ireland, he appeared to be similarly unimpressed with Galway. In a letter to his partner Simone de Beauvoir, he described his surroundings in Craughwell as “desolate” and an “abandoned heath”. The Saw Doctors would be outraged to hear him describing Galway’s “stubborn, grey, useless little walls” and its dead landscape. “Only the presence of grass proves that an atom bomb wasn’t dropped there,” he wrote. “No misery, simply poverty and above all death.”

Fortunately for Tourism Ireland, there was no TripAdvisor in 1959.