Tales from Ireland: Meeting the Midge

I first met the midge in Killarney National Park. But I’d certainly heard of it. While best known as a Scottish beast, the midge is no stranger to Ireland. One of the more infamous Celtic beasties, the midge is known in the US as a no-see-um.

Jessup and I were camping in the forest in Killarney National Park. The midges started to arrive just as the sun was setting. At first they were no big deal, just a minor annoyance.

I had heard about the “”dreaded midge””, but hadn’t given the tales much attention. In the Sierras I had encountered swarms of mosquitoes that seemed to consider DEET as more of a marinade than a repellent. I doubted that the midge could be any worse. I was right, in a way. A good mosquito swam will make you feel that you’re being eaten alive: buzzing wings fill the air, things land on you, sky dark with fluttering wings. The thing that makes the midge so infuriating is that you can’t see them. (Well, you can, but you have to look real hard.) When the midges are chomping, it’s just irritating. Not unbearable right away. Like trying to sleep outside when there’s the faintest mist of rain on your face. Hardly even enough to get your sleeping bag wet, but just enough to push the edge of discomfort. That’s what the midge is like. You think that if you just ignore it you’ll go to sleep and it’ll be OK. But it’s just annoying enough to keep you awake.

We were camping without a tent, partly because it was a nice night, partly because we were being lazy, and partly because we weren’t really supposed to be camping in that part of the park. (Irish camping regulations can be a bit bewildering. Rarely is it posted that you’re not allowed to camp. But even if you’re not allowed, the authorities usually don’t really care. In this case a ranger had already been by to tell us that we couldn’t camp there. But then he said, seeing as we were already there, that we could camp, just so long we left in the morning.) So we tried sleeping outside. I think we held out for about fifteen minutes before the midges started to really drive us crazy, and we got up to set up the tent in the dark. I’ve heard that if you toss a frog into boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put a frog into room temperature water and slowly heat it to boiling, it will just sit there and die. The midge is sort of like that.

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