Best place to holiday in Ireland: judges choose the final five

Finalists provide for all tastes but key ingredient is locals making the best of what they have


The judges of The Irish Times Best Place to Holiday in Ireland competition have chosen five finalists. The shortlist features three remote areas of natural beauty – the Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary; Inishbofin island, Co Galway; and Loop Head peninsula, Co Clare – alongside Derry city and Killarney, Co Kerry.

The judges are currently visiting these five locations before announcing the overall winner on May 27th.

For the competition – which has been running since March – members of the public were invited to nominate the places they love to holiday. There were more than 1,400 entries from every county in Ireland. The writers of the nominations showed a strong preference for remote locations and holidays in coastal regions, especially in the west of Ireland.

The list of five finalists reflects these preferences but also recognises the work by local people in making the best of their natural resources.

“The interesting judgment was not whether one place is more beautiful than the next but how much the local people were trying to make the best of what they have,” said Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party and a member of the judging panel.

“Killarney has a natural advantage because you can walk from the train station straight into a really beautiful national park. But what really makes the town is the easy way that local people have welcomed so many visitors over the years. Their professional approach to tourism means that people can go there for all sorts of different reasons but it still all fits together.”

Irish Times journalist Rosita Boland, author of A Secret Map of Ireland and a member of the judging panel, said she had been impressed by the community-backed tourism she had seen. “We’re always hearing how important people are to the experience of holidaying in Ireland, the welcome, the service, the friendliness.

“But what has really impressed me in this competition is what those people are doing to build and develop tourism in a sensitive way,” Boland said. “Community-led initiatives, many of them voluntary, are making a difference to tourism in small communities such as the Glen of Aherlow or the Loop Head peninsula.

“The future of creating great places to holiday in Ireland – from what I’ve seen – is in local people getting together to make the most, and more, of what they have.”

Steve McPhilemy, tour guide, hostel owner and a judge in the competition, said: “It’s a very exciting list. I like that the competition is trying to find hidden gems. I’ve driven close to the Glen of Aherlow about 500 times but had never visited. I have been to Galway often, but had never taken the two-hour trip to Inishbofin.

“Derry deserves to be in the final, especially this year because of the many great events taking place there for the city of culture,” said McPhilemy. “Its challenge for the future is to maintain the high standards it has reached in 2013.

“It’s hard for use as judges to compare a spell in Inishbofin with a break in Derry, or a holiday in Loop Head with one in Killarney.

“ I think we now have to find the place that appeals to different types of holiday maker, that is a great place in itself but also has food for all budgets, indoor and outdoor activities, and a range of things to do.”