DUBLIN – I fly from Dublin to Boston three or four times a year to visit family in Medford. In fact, I recently returned from a two-week visit to the Hub made even more enjoyable by a blissful stretch of summer-like days. (So thanks for that, New England weather gods. Any chance of arranging a spring-like experience in December?)
On each trip, I follow a certain routine. Even when I am absolutely sure that every gift-giving contingency has been covered, I pick up an extra Irish calendar or book, or maybe a set of coasters or a box of chocolates, as I proceed toward my boarding gate in Dublin.
Just in case. As my mother taught us many years ago: Never arrive anywhere with your hands hanging.
Of course, I’m lucky in this regard. As anyone who’s been to the Emerald Isle knows, Ireland is blessed when it comes to pre-flight last-minute shopping, boasting a couple of exceptional duty-free outlets at Dublin Airport in the east and Shannon Airport in the west. It’s only fitting, since the idea of offering a retail experience free from national tariffs and taxes originated here.
In 1947, a forward-thinking Irish civil servant named Brendan O’Regan started the air travel cash registers humming when he opened the world’s first duty-free liquor shop at Shannon Airport.
Initially, only airline stewards were allowed to buy the cheap booze and smokes, as well as a selection of souvenirs and gifts, which they then re-sold to passengers when the plane was in the air.
Later, passengers were allowed to make direct purchases at tax-free prices. (Indeed, I recall that my Irish-born grandmother availed of the service in the 1960s and 1970s, after her summertime visits to Cork, returning to Boston with a bottle or two of Bailey’s Irish Cream in her possession as well as several reels of priceless home movies.)
Irish airport officials soon realized, however, that despite the age-old popularity of alcohol and cigarettes, it might be wise to broaden their range of goods. As a result, once you get through security these days, you step into a glitzy retail world offering electrical goods, clothing, glassware, cosmetics, snacks, and souvenirs – all aimed at thousands of anxious travelers like me who worry that an extra gift might be needed for an aunt or uncle or favored friend back home.
According to the online literature, duty-free founder Brendan O’Regan was awarded two doctorates of law during his long and distinguished career.
My own airport purchases over many years provide ample proof that what he really deserved was a PhD in Consumer Psychology.Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. His latest book is the essay collection “Entering Medford – And Other Destinations.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.