Conor Pope: My summer of Irish staycations cost nearly €10,000

Our Consumer Affairs Correspondent tots up the cost of his summer holidays in Ireland

The restored farmhouse between Killarney and Kenmare had spectacular views over some rolling hills. Photograph: Conor Pope

The restored farmhouse between Killarney and Kenmare had spectacular views over some rolling hills. Photograph: Conor Pope

 

Sometimes you’re better off not knowing. When all the numbers were totted up, the cost of three weeks staycationing for five Popes and a dog called Toby came in at frighteningly close to 10 grand – at least when the price of the immensely stressful roof box and two sets of eternally mortifying adult wetsuits were added to the mix.

And the holidays at home would probably have comfortably sailed past the five figure mark had we not been among the lucky ones to have booked the first fortnight right in the middle of the great heatwave of 2021.

Obviously there will be people reading this (or at least reading the first bit, or maybe just the headline) who will take to social media to express their outrage or their confusion. They may say: “Ten grand? Isn’t it well for you fat cat Dublin 4 media types?”

There will be others who might say – perhaps more reasonably – “Aren’t you the Pricewatch guy? Should you not have pitched a borrowed tent in a field off the M50 and lived on Lidl beans for two weeks before coming home to write a pious piece about how cheap it is to holiday at home once you do it right?”

So, to save us all some time, I should make it clear I am a decidedly lean cat who lives north of the river and needed the help of savings and at least two credit cards to cover the cost of the holidays. I also never eat own-brand beans and despite nearly a full year in the cubs in the 1970s, I have no idea how to pitch a tent.

Now, where were we? The costs of a summer in Ireland?

In a blind panic I bought myself an XXL and my wife an XL. I am not XXL and she is definitely not XL, so that was 60 quid or so wasted

The first item in the ledger was added as early as late last summer. I got up one Sunday in 2020 and set off on a mission to buy shorty wetsuits in Aldi. Weeks earlier I had bought full-sized ones elsewhere, but they took so long to get on and off and made me look like a sad and paunchy superhero about to fall to his doom and I couldn’t bear the thought of squeezing myself into it again.

That is why I rocked up to Aldi at 10am on a Sunday only to find that all the sensible sizes were gone and people were fighting over what was left. So in a blind panic I bought myself an XXL and my wife an XL. I am not XXL and she is definitely not XL, so that was 60 quid or so wasted.

Early in 2021, we tried again and bought more wetsuits in Decathalon. They cost €150 but at least they fitted – if fitted means the suit cut off the blood flow to my extremities.

Wetsuits acquired, we set about finding accommodation. “It’ll be grand, I thought. Sure it is only January and there’ll be loads of stuff on Airbnb.”

There wasn’t. After a terrifying trawl of the platform covering the south, the southeast, north and west revealed virtually no accommodation close to any body of water, we started to panic. Our search moved inland. Eventually we found a three-bedroom farmhouse 20km inland from Kenmare for a price of just under €4,000 for two weeks.

Now, you might say that is a ridiculous amount of money to spend – and you might be right – but we were getting desperate and it was a Saturday night in the middle of a lockdown. And wine may have played a part. The deposit was also pleasingly small.

The €4,000 also has to be put in the context of a staycation in 2020. Last year we spent €3,000 on a house in the supposedly sunny southeast a couple of minutes’ walk from a beach. The location was amazing but the house was manky. There was mould in the showers, springs popped loose in the beds, we had a broken cooker and a fridge so small it took all the skills of Tetris ninja to get three days’ worth of food into it. There was also terrible wifi, no telly and a deathtrap of a deck.

So €1,000 more for somewhere much nicer seemed reasonable.

With the house booked, we decided we’d need a roof box to avoid having to pack all the wetsuits, boogie boards, roller skates, coffee machines, suitcases and all the rest – the Popes on a staycation are not light packers, sadly – around the three children in the back of the car.

The roof box cost about 35 hours on the phone to Halfords, several trips to multiple stores and about €850.

Indoor dining was still off the table at the time, and outdoor dining was too far away from our house, so I bought all the food we’d need for a decent chunk of our time there

Eventually, summer came and we were off to our swanky Airbnb. To be fair to the place, it was amazing. It was a restored farmhouse 7km down a grassy boreen about halfway between Killarney and Kenmare. There was flagstone flooring, a range, a stove, rain showers, a huge garden with spectacular views over some rolling hills, and hundreds of sheep in the fields all around us.

The little foresty bit of the garden even had a hammock and a playground. The house also happened to be owned by someone who had a bit part – but a really memorable one – in one of the biggest movies of the 20th century so that was kind of exciting.

Because the weather was so good, the first thing I did was to drive into Kenmare in search of a paddling pool.

I bought the most expensive paddling pool money could buy in Finnegans – the shop in the town that sells everything. It was €60. The electric pump was another €20 and I spent €58 on high-powered, machine-gun-style, pump-action water pistols. You might think I was mad to spend €138 on such things but you’d be wrong.

From Finnegans I went to Supervalu to stock up on food. Indoor dining was still off the table at the time, and outdoor dining was too far away from our house, so I bought all the food we’d need for a decent chunk of our time there. I needed two trolleys and I spent €600. There wasn’t even any wine in the trolley because it was a Sunday morning and the off-licence was still closed. I had to go back later in the day and spend another €80 on wine (it was probably more than that but I am fudging the figures to make me seem less of a dipso).

 

The first three days of the holiday were spent in the paddling pool and the forest playground and chasing each other around the house like crazy people after which we spent a few days at the beach.

Save for a few ice creams, there was no more spending because all the food we ate – both at home and on the beach – was bought in the Supervalu.

Then the food ran out and I had to go back to Supervalu. The shop assistant greeted me like an old friend and expressed amazement we had eaten everything we had bought. I pointed out that at least I only had to fill one trolley this time, as I handed over another €300.

For 10 blissful days we might as well have been in the rolling hills of Tuscany – even if the wine bought in the Lidl next door to the Supervalu was a lot dearer than it might have been in Italy. And not nearly as nice.

Two rooms in two hotels accommodating five people over six nights booked, as well as evening meals in the hotels on four of the nights, came in at a pretty eye-watering €2,800

The weather eventually broke, and the rain washed over the rolling hills of Kerry. The house was still amazing, though, and we were happy enough to stay where we were, save for a brief visit to a packed Killarney and a Claire’s Accessories, which took too much of my money.

Summer holiday part 1 was over and it was back to work. Including petrol, ice creams, I reckon we had spent €6,178 without a single meal out.

In October 2019 I had booked and paid for an overseas camping holiday for the middle of August 2020. That didn’t happen but the good folk at Eurocamp rolled over the holiday to the same week this year. With flights booked, we held out hope that it might happen, but with 10 days to go and two teenage children unvaccinated and at risk of being stuck in Spain if they picked up Covid-19 while we were away, we decided to cancel the holiday.

The good folk at Eurocamp rolled the holiday over until next year, while the almost as good folk at Ryanair allowed a second flight change.

But that left us with a week to fill. All the family-friendly places were booked out but we got lucky and found two rooms in two different hotels in the east and south of the country.

This is where the prices really started to ramp up. Two rooms in two hotels accommodating five people over six nights booked at the last minute, as well as evening meals in the hotels on four of the nights, came in at a pretty eye-watering €2,800. One of the hotels was lovely. One of the hotels was not as good as it should have been.

The holidays were lovely and memories were made for sure, which is probably the most important thing. Could I afford it? Not really

Just two average meals out – without wine – over the course of the six days for two adults and three children set us back €270. As I paid for each of the meals I couldn’t help but wonder what fabulous meals we could have had in Italy, Spain or Portugal for that price. There would have been wine too.

When the fuel is added to the mix and a couple of hundred quid allocated for the miscellaneous category – so called because I can’t remember where the money went – the total cost of six days of hotel stays came in at €3,370, taking the total cost to just over €9,500.

Was it money well spent? The holidays were lovely and memories were made for sure, which is probably the most important thing. Could I afford it? Not really, but I have until Christmas to clear the credit card bills.

Would I have got a better holiday overseas for that kind of money? What do you reckon?