The best place to holiday in Ireland
Brittas: "Children could meet a lot of other children they knew on the beach while mothers flipped burgers and opened bottles of wine". photograph: iic/axiom
Sweeping down to the sea: Fionola Meredith with family, friends and dog in the Mourne Mountains above Newcastle, Co Down. photograph: dara mac dónaill
Dublin: St Stephen's Green. photograph: frank miller
Don't tell the Dubs: the beach at Roundstone, in Connemara
Paradise island: the ferry sails from Ballycastle to Rathlin. photograph: nitb
Cork: "I like wandering through the 18th-century English Market. So does Queen Elizabeth, I hear." photograph: maxwell
Lough Key: "We take picnics to the forest park, which has playgrounds, interactive challenges, a tree-canopy walk and a zip wire"
The Competition‘The Irish Times’ is running a contest to find Ireland’s best holiday spot, and wants you to nominate your favourite. Here, some of our writers choose theirs
Where’s the best place to holiday in Ireland? That’s the challenge we’re putting to readers this year. Last year, we asked you where the best place to live was, and you answered in your enthusiastic hundreds. All 32 counties were represented, in pitches from residents of cities, towns, suburbs, villages and townlands. The eventual winner was Westport, in Co Mayo.
The best place to holiday in Ireland can be where you go to relax and do very little, or where you go to pursue various activities. It can be rural and remote or in a busy, much-visited urban space. It could have a view that unfailingly stirs your spirit, or features that keep bringing you back: heritage or culture; high-quality local produce; outdoor activities; speciality shops; or the people who live there.
You can send your pitches from today, by going to irishtimes.com/bestplace and writing a short, passionate pitch. Every week, from the middle of this month, we’ll publish a selection of your pitches in The Irish Times. The winner will be announced at the end of May.
We’re curious about the holiday destinations that you consider to be the best, and we think tourists from abroad will be interested too.
There are four judges, of whom I am one. The others are Eamon Ryan, Green Party leader, Margaret Jeffares, founder of the Good Food Ireland initiative, and Steve McPhelimy, the Derry-based tour guide. We all have different views about what makes a great place to holiday.
For Ryan, “it depends on the level of welcome.” McPhelimy looks for “things to do in a place.” Jeffares seeks “a high-quality food experience, first and foremost.”
One thing this competition is not about is the panel seeking to replicate their own favourite place to holiday. We want to discover yours.
The winning location will receive a plaque or marker from The Irish Times, which will also publish a story about the winning place, and make a short film.
After Westport was judged to be the best place to live in Ireland, the newspaper and the town hosted a community celebration to mark the accolade.
“We have had lots of community groups visiting us since to see how we did it: Tidy Towns committees, chambers of commerce, all sorts of small community projects. Winning has had a major impact on the town,” says Dermott Langan of Westport Town Council.
“The hotels would definitely say bookings are up from the domestic market, and we find that foreign tourists who come hear have all heard about it being the best place to live.”
One of the things that McPhelimy is looking forward to is reading pitches about places “inside the doughnut”. “I have 15 years’ experience as a tour guide and worked with many nationalities. People always ask me what’s in the middle of the country. “One big thing I hope comes out of the competition is that people will let us know what’s special about holidaying in the midlands.”
As a judge, for McPhelimy, “scenery is not enough. There are hundreds of places in Ireland that have great scenery. The other one I don’t think should be a deciding factor is how friendly the people are there. The welcome you get is across the board in this country. It’s not the deciding factor.
“For me, one of the biggest criteria will be things to do in a place. There should be activities for all ages,” says McPhelimy. “Ease of access is also important.”
“Finally, I’ll be looking for affordability. We all know it’s often cheaper to go to Spain for a week than take a domestic holiday. If I’m going off on a domestic holiday and I spend a lot of money on a meal, I also want to have some cheap eating options.”
“The core thing for me is food when I holiday,” says Jeffares. “It’s very, very important to me that I can have a high-quality food experience. I also want to engage with the authenticity of the area and the uniqueness of the place.
“My favourite holiday in Ireland would be to remote places, but this competition is not about what I like,” says Jeffares.
“I’ll be looking for a rounded experience. Does the place tick all the boxes, like food, image and accommodation? Does it have everything a family will need?
“The place that wins will have to be a very clean place and have a feelgood image. I’d hope that it would have some level of environmental awareness. The people living there would be very important, and they would have pride in their place.”
When Ryan goes on holiday, what attracts him to a place is “the level of welcome. If you’re made to feel genuinely welcome, it has a profound impact. A welcome can be the smallest and subtlest of things, but if you start with that welcome, you can’t go far wrong. If you start with a cold welcome, it’s really hard to win people back.
“What I look for is a connection with nature. I don’t need to see a motorway or an out-of-town retail centre. My wife has made me very good at doing nothing for three weeks on holiday, which I could never do before, but I do like a place with things to do, including safe and easy things for kids.
“What I’ll be looking for as a judge is a sense of community in the best place to holiday. What I mean by that is that you can be good as a community at welcoming tourists, even if people have been coming there for more than 100 years.
“There will have to be a real sense of place. It doesn’t matter where that place is. It’s about making the most of what you have, wherever you are are, and revealing what’s special about that place.”
For me, a great place to holiday in Ireland is the one I want to return to again and again. I’ve travelled to all seven continents, and my philosophy has always been that the more you travel, the bigger the world becomes. That’s why I want to see as many new places outside Ireland as possible, and so I rarely go back to any of them. But when it comes to the country where I live, I treasure the familiarity of returning to holiday in places I love.
Who decides? The judging panel
ROSITA BOLAND ‘Irish Times’ journalist and author of A Secret Map of Ireland.
MARGARET JEFFARES Founder of Good Food Ireland.
EAMON RYAN Leader of the Green Party, former minister and tourism entrepreneur.
STEVE McPHELIMY Tour guide and co-owner of Paddy’s Palace hostel in Derry.
Judging will be chaired by Conor Goodman, Irish Times Features Editor; he will have a casting vote if there’s a tie.
Dublin: A vacation from myself
Until a few years ago, Dublin was simply the city I lived in. In fact, I no longer even lived in the city itself, just worked in it, shopped in it, ate and drank in it, and escaped it. I attuned my daily rhythm to the relentless beat of the city’s day; just another blood vessel pumped by the city’s arteries.
Then, one night in my mid 30s, I did what millions of non-Dubliners had done before me: I booked a hotel room for me and my wife and we stayed the night in town. I finished work that evening and, instead of squeezing on to a commuter train and journeying home with my nose pressed into someone else’s armpit, strolled south to my hotel room. The transformation to tourist was instant and surprising.
There was the novelty of leaving a pub and crossing Grafton Street to get to our room. Next morning we got up early to do the things tourists do: wander aimlessly; stroll though St Stephen’s Green; buy a disappointing breakfast somewhere. We blocked the path while figuring out what we’d do next. We let Dublin wash over us rather than push us around. And, in response, the city took on a beauty that had seemed lost but in fact I had stopped seeing.
In recent years, we’ve enjoyed these occasional treats in which we travel hardly any distance to get far from the norm; when our ebb becomes different from everyone else’s flow. Even a night, plus squeezing every last minute out of that noon hotel checkout, is a battery recharge, even though it punches a hole in the bank account.
There is a Seinfeld episode in which George and Jerry take a “vacation from ourselves”. This involves growing moustaches. I’m rubbish at facial hair, so this is the next best thing: a break from Dublin. In Dublin.