Many Irish people who had no choice but to holiday at home last year were caught off guard by the realities of the pandemic, which only became clear when the summer was almost upon us.
For millions accustomed to foreign jaunts, the holiday at home was quite the novelty and while the weather may not have been lovely at least they were spared the need to schlep through airports at ridiculous-o-clock after packing with the miserly care of a battle-hardened Spartan to better avoid Michael O’Leary’s baggage charges.
While we know a trip abroad is highly unlikely again this summer – something reiterated multiple times by government ministers and health officials in recent weeks – a staycation can hopefully still be on the cards, and we’ll be glad of the chance to escape our own homes.
It is very apparent that people have been much faster out of the traps this year and many home-grown holiday options are already booked out or close to it. There is still plenty of choice though and with the experience of last year still fresh in the collective memory, we should all make a better fist of wringing the best out of Staycation 2.0.
But before booking anything it is absolutely essential you keep in mind how fast things can change. Counties and even the entire country can go from a relatively small number of Covid infections to a terrifyingly high number quickly, and move in and out of lockdown almost overnight.
So whatever you do and wherever you book, you will first have to check the cancellation policies carefully and be super cautious about handing over large sums of money ahead of time until you know exactly what’s what.
If any holiday destination insists on you paying upfront or refuses to make their cancellation policies crystal clear then warning bells should ring loudly and you might be as well to walk away.
It will also be important to keep a keen eye on the price and be strategic.
The notion of a hotel holiday over the course of which someone else makes the bed, cooks the dinner and washes the dishes is incredibly appealing at a time when the whole country has been confined to barracks for what seems like forever, but a two week stay in a decent hotel for a family of four can be eye-wateringly expensive in high season.
That does not, however, mean hotels are off the table for all but the very well heeled and a few judiciously chosen mini-breaks in lovely hotels will take the sting out of a long grey summer at home.
When it comes to longer breaks, self-catering and even camping or glamping will be more attractive and certainly more affordable for many and they also come with the added advantage of allowing you to keep your distance from other people.
Stop obsessing about weather
There are a few other things to remember to get the best out of the summer ahead. If Staycation 2020 taught us nothing else, it taught us to stop obsessing about weather. This is Ireland. There will be rain when you are away but there is no point in moaning about it or wasting grey summer days staring at heavy clouds wondering if that is a sliver of blue sky far, far away.
So once you have checked the terms and conditions of wherever it is you are going start acclimatising to the fact that the weather will be mixed. It won’t be terrible - there are not that that many days in the summer when it rains non-stop - and it won’t be amazing (unless you are ridiculously lucky).
Wet suits have gone some way to making weather irrelevant and have changed the face of the Irish summer. We no longer have to risk hypothermia by going for a 30 second swim at the height of summer when we squeeze ourselves into the deeply unflattering and unforgiving garments. If you didn’t buy them last year, buy them soon - spending well over €200 on four for a family may seem excessive but it is money well spent.
It is also worth doing more research before you travel. Find out what the best cycle routes are, the best water sports, the best walking trails and the most interesting indoor places you can visit - Covid allowing - well ahead of time so you have a loose itinerary you can follow while away. You don’t want find yourself floundering and searching in a panic for things to do on the day you need to do them, especially now that everything has to be pre-booked.
It is easy for people in urban centres to disregard the very significant broadband issues in rural areas but as anyone who found themselves holidaying in a remote - and sometimes not so remote - location last year, streaming Netflix can be a bit of a challenge.
While spending your holidays watching re-runs of the Gilmore Girls is best avoided, decide on maybe 10 movies that you would be happy to watch over the course of your holiday, download them before you leave and then hook your laptop or tablet up to the TV wherever you are staying and then watch them at your leisure.
Eat locally produced food
And while we are on the topic of advance planning, try to work out what is the best food in the region you are staying in – lobster on the west coast, strawberries in Wexford, new potatoes on the side of the road up and down the east coast – and eat that. By eating the nicest of food you can find from local suppliers you will not only be rewarding yourself, you will be making life a little bit easier for Irish retailers and food producers who have been absolutely hammered by the pandemic.
Oh and ask the hive mind of the internet what is the best chipper wherever you are going. Chipper chips, bread, butter and a cup of tea is a summer meal sorted. If you are really fancy you can throw in some mushy peas, some battered cod and maybe even a pint of stout. You won’t get the like of it anywhere but home.
And don’t forget the sun cream. We are all accustomed to drowning ourselves in sun cream while away but we tend to be a bit more relaxed about it when holidaying at home. But the sun that burns us when we are on a beach on the Costa Brava is the same sun that can burn us while we are on a beach in Connemara.
Here are some ideas to help you plan your trip. All have availability during the summer months at time of publication.
Cong, Co Mayo/Galway, 0818-277690, ashfordcastle.com
The grand castle in the west is perhaps the ultimate splurge break in Ireland and while a weekend stay is not cheap, it is an experience that will live long in the memory. Between the castle, its grounds, the lake, the massive Irish wolfhounds, the birds of prey, the food and the impeccable - yet effortlessly friendly - service, is it any wonder Ashford Castle is on so many people’s bucket list. From €700 a night including a five-course meal in the George V dining room, breakfast, access to the relaxation pool, steam room and fitness studio and a round of golf on the nine-hole course.
Hidden Valley Camping
Lower Main St, Glasnarget North, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow; 086-7272872, hiddenvalley.ie
This may just be Wicklow’s best family friendly holiday option. The campsite is not massive, but it packs a lot into a small space. There is a fantastic aquapark full of inflatables you can fall off, there is more gentle kayaking, an enchanted - sort of - forest, crazy golf and more. Ibreat is also within easy reach of all of Wicklow’s beaches. There is space for caravans and tents as well as little lodges, some of which come with their own showers and bathrooms. Prices start at €120 per night for lodges (for 5 people).
Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa
Clonakilty, Co Cork; 023-8833143, inchydoneyisland.com
This hotel quite literally a stone’s throw from the bracing Atlantic waves and when it comes to location it is very hard to think of better. The spa is excellent - and awash with salty treatments - the food is top notch, which is hardly a surprise given its location at the epicentre of culinary excellence in the south and there are all manner of outdoor activities on the hotel’s doorstep including whale watching, sea kayaking, surfing and more. But if you get a good day the sandy beach a couple of hundred metres from the hotel’s front door is all you will need. From €250 per person for two nights B&B including surfing, kayaking or whale watching.
The Park Hotel
Abbeyside, Dungarvan, Co Waterford; 058-42899, parkhoteldungarvan.com
This hotel has a self catering option with two and three bed houses with access to the hotel’s leisure facilities including a 20-metre swimming pool, a children’s splash pool and gym. It is close to blue flag beaches, three golf courses and all manner of cycle paths. From €850 for a 3-bed house based on a seven night stay.
Cliff at Lyons
Lyons Road, Celbridge, Co Kildare; 01-6303500, cliffatlyons.ie
No more than half an hour from Dublin, the village - meticulously restored over many years under the watchful eye of the late Dr Tony Ryan - is a handsome mishmash of rooms, suites, apartments and self-catering cottages; all different but equally comfortable. They also include dog-friendly rooms and will organise all manner of activities, from garden walks and barge trips to paddle-boarding. There’s free bikes for guests, too. If you’re lucky, you might also get a booking at the incredible Aimsir restaurant, which is located on the estate. Switch-off Sundays, including B&B accommodation, 45-minute spa treatment and dinner for two at the Mill restaurant, €435.
Blue Haven Hotel
3-4 Pearse St, Kinsale, Co Cork; 021-4772209, bluehavenkinsale.com
There is a lot to be said for a centrally located hotel, and this hotel, located in West Cork’s capital, could scarcely be better situated. It overlooks the harbour in Kinsale and is within a short stroll of all the excellent restaurants to be found in the town - there is a pretty good restaurant to be found in the hotel too. It is also within striking - if not necessarily walking - distance of the area’s beaches and a short drive to Cork City should the mood take you. From €670 for three nights B&B for two.
The Shelbourne Hotel
27 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2; 01-6634500, theshelbourne.com
Dublin’s most storied hotel, this five-star option has been given a facelift over recent years and while the rooms can be on the small side, its location overlooking St Stephen’s Green and the level of service on offer are rarely questioned. There are all manner of eating and drinking options as well as afternoon tea which is only a delight. From €499 for an overnight stay with a picnic on The Terrace, breakfast and car parking.
The Station House
Ringlestown, Kilmessan, Co Meath; 046-9025239, stationhousehotel.ie
This small, family-owned and run hotel in the Boyne Valley will throw its doors open again as soon as normal service is resumed having undergone a substantial refurbishment. On 12 acres in the village of Kilmessan, the gardens and the woodlands as well as the limited capacity - it has just 19 rooms - might be of particular appeal to many in the socially distant times we live in. From €160 for a double room.
The Ice House
The Quay, Quignalecka, Ballina, Co Mayo; 096-23500, icehousehotel.ie
If this isn’t the coolest hotel in Mayo - and it might well be - we can be pretty certain it has the coolest name. Overlooking the River Moy at the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way and a hefty stone’s throw away from Ballina, the Ice House envelopes its guests in the rugged wilderness of the west while pampering them with spa treatments and hot tubs. There are trails to walk, paths to cycle, waves to surf and a lot of seafood to be eaten. From €280 based on two sharing including dinner and breakfast.
The Imperial Hotel
76 South Mall, Co Cork; 021-4274040, imperialhotelcork.com
This hotel has been sitting pretty on the South Mall near the Lee and just a couple of minutes' walk from Cork’s most elegant and interesting shops and restaurants for more than 200 years, making it the city’s most enduring hotel. The service is charmingly old-school and the location could scarcely be better for anyone seeking to explore the delights of the red and white capital of Ireland. From €134 B&B based on two people sharing. Stay more than four nights and get 10 per cent off.
The Old Ground Hotel
O’Connell Street, Clonroad Beg, Ennis, Co Clare; 065-6828127, oldgroundhotelennis.com
If there was ever a time to visit the Cliffs of Moher it will be this summer when the jewel of the Wild Atlantic Way will be largely free of overseas visitors posing for perilous selfies and piling on and off coaches from dawn to dusk. This beautifully restored 18th century Manor House Hotel is within easy reach of the cliffs and serves as a gateway to the Burren, the Shannon and much of what the wild west has to offer. From €195 B&B per night with the price including a €20 dinner voucher.
Newcastle, Ballymahon, Co Longford; 1890-995588, centerparcs.ie
When Center Parcs is fully open it is hard to top when it comes to family breaks. People do give out about the prices - and if done wrong, it can be wildly expensive. But if you pick and choose your activities with care and cook a bit for yourself you will get a break, with all manner of outdoor attractions to keep kids - and adults - of all ages entertained, that you will remember without paying through the nose. The jewel in the crown is the sub-tropical swimming paradise which, in normal times, is free but Covid-restrictions saw it closed for long spells last year. From €999 for four nights in a three-bed lodge in June.
Hookless Holiday Homes
Houseland, Fethard on Sea, Co Wexford; 051-441130, hooklessholidayhomes.ie
Perhaps the best thing about this holiday home complex, a short drive for Hook Head, is the gloriously secluded sandy cove a five minute stroll away. The houses are pretty spacious and there is plenty of green space in front of them. Some of the accommodation could maybe do with a bit of TLC - and maybe a bigger fridge (at least in our experience), but they are perfectly functional. There are loads of easily accessible beaches and Loftus Hall, said to be Ireland’s most haunted house, is on the doorstep. And because it is in the sunny south east there is at least a chance it won’t be lashing while you are there. From €1,500 for seven nights.
Grand Canal Quay, Dublin Docklands; 01-6875100, themarkerhoteldublin.com
How does a warm summer’s evening sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar overlooking the water sound? We don’t know about you but we’d crawl over glass for that right now. The rooftop bar is lovely, the hotel funky and the food excellent. The location right beside the Bord Gais Energy Theatre and on the fringe of Google Docks - otherwise known as Grand Canal Dock - is ideal; buzzing sometimes but not as frantic as the city centre. From €403 per night including a three-course dinner, Irish breakfast and access to the spa.
The Abbeyglen Castle Hotel
Sky Rd, Church Hill, Clifden, Connemara, Co Galway; 095-21201, abbeyglen.ie
This has to be up there with the most convivial and charmingly old-school family-run hotels in Ireland. Overlooking Clifden, the castle by the coast gives you access to some wild Atlantic waves as well as some of the best seafood you will find anywhere in the world. There is also a piano - which the hotel rolled outside last summer - and a large throne you can sit in when you arrive and early evening welcomes with bubbles. What’s not to love about that? From €125 per person per night for dinner, bed and breakfast.
Celtic Ross Hotel
Englishisland, Rosscarbery, Co Cork; 023-8848722, celticrosshotel.com
West Cork is renowned for its food and this hotel is a champion of local produce with the kitchen staff frequently sent out to forage for ingredients growing wild in the locality. Along with the gorgeous food there are equally gorgeous beaches as well as all manner of outdoor pursuits. From €129 for a double room.
Killarney Glamping at the Grove
The Grove, Ballycasheen, Killarney, Co Kerry; 087-9750110, killarneyglamping.com
A glamping option set up specifically with couples in mind with everything self-contained, which might be attractive in these socially distanced times we live in. All the glamping suites and lodges offer large bedrooms, private bathrooms and kitchens, heated patios and private barbecue areas. And it is less than a mile from Killarney’s National Park and Town Centre. From €599 for five nights midweek in the summer.
ArdNahoo Eco Retreat
Mullagh, Dromahair, Co Leitrim; 083-1346242, ardnahoo.com
Award-winning eco refuge in the wilds of north Leitrim, with three sustainable self-catering lodges that sleep up to three (Hawthorn) and seven guests (Holly and Willow). Each cabin comes with an outdoor dining space, and there’s a private sauna and hot tub too. All arrivals met with organic welcome pack of homemade bread, local eggs, tea and coffee. From €595/€895 per lodge per week.
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel
Recess, Connemara, Co Galway; 095-31006, ballynahinch-castle.com
An ivy-draped, elegant manor house on a private lake and surrounded by mountains, Ballynahinch is the ideal getaway, especially if you like woodland walks, cycles on the nearby Connemara greenway and in particular, fishing, for this is an angler’s paradise. A sprawling, six-bedroom self-catering cottage (with concierge service and linen change) is also on the grounds. Two nights' B&B from €330 per person; self-catering cottage €4,500 per week.
Lough Mardal Lodge
Bradlieve, Ballintra, Co Donegal;086-1731813, loughmardalglamping.ie
Just 20 minutes south of Donegal Town, this collection of luxury yurts around a main lodge is a self-catering dream: each one designed for maximum hygge, with faux-fur throws and blankets in Donegal wool; twinkling lights and a wood-burning stove in each. Showers and loos are in the lodge but accessible directly, without having to go through common areas.
Starting price: Couple: €130 per night. Family of four: €170 per night. Seven nights for the price of six (two-night minimum stay).
Cliff House Hotel and Cottage
Cliff Road, Ardmore, Co Waterford; 024-87800, cliffhousehotel.ie
Sea views and a New England-style beach tone are the theme of the self-catering spot that is part of the Cliff Hotel demesne. Three bedrooms, a large sitting room with a wood-burning stove, a play den for the kids and a fully equipped, open-plan kitchen make this a great getaway on the cliffs overlooking beautiful Ardmore. The two-night Tour de Cottage includes free full day bike hire for six adults from Dungarvan and a complimentary picnic in hamper backpacks. €790 per night; tour de cottage €1350. Meanwhile, the hotel is a five-star retreat cut into the cliffs overlooking Ardmore Bay, where every designer-sharp room has a sea view. Summer packages include the two-night B&B Greenway Getaway (for two in a deluxe room or four in a terrace suite), which also includes dinner one night in the Bar Restaurant. Two-night Greenway Getaway €728/€1,108 for two/four.
Co Cavan, 049-4377700, farnhamestate.ie
Just a few miles outside Cavan Town, this is a sprawling 16th-century estate with 1,300 acres of golf and other amenities, including a huge spa with an indoor/outdoor pool. There’s also 11km of walking trails through ancient redwood, cedar, copper beech and Scots pine, as well as wonderful views of Farnham Lake. Summer Senses two-night package with dinner in Maxwell’s one night, €174 per person sharing.
Co Waterford, 051-382000, faithlegg.com
Superb 18th century mansion where rooms are divided between the main house and a newer wing. Amenities include a leisure centre, luscious woodlands and preferred tee times at nearby Faithlegg Golf Club. Breakfast - served in the Roseville Rooms restaurant - is sensational. Two night Golden Years Over 50s package includes midweek B&B and dinner both nights for €289 for two adults.
Portsalon Luxury Camping
Cashelpreaghan, Portsalon, Co Donegal; 087-6016654, donegalglamping.com
Everybody yurts, sometimes. Here there are five of them, each spaced out to offer maximum privacy and perfect sea views off the north Donegal coastline. Each comes with pine queen-sized beds and a fold-out couch, a wood-burning stove and mood lighting that makes the tent light up like a gorgeous, giant firefly. Bed linen is provided. €100 per night for two people.
Adare, Co Limerick; 061-605200, adaremanor.com
Multi-award-winning five-star luxury hotel that, since its 2017 renovation, has been ranked as one of the top hotels in Europe. Every detail is carefully designed - from the elegant bedrooms to the choice of steak knives in the restaurant. Its Tom Fazio-designed championship golf course, unquestionably the best parkland course in Ireland, is set to host the 2027 Ryder Cup. Everything about the place exudes luxury. One or 2-night Stay & Play Experience includes B&B accommodation and round of golf for two, from €1,400/€2,100; two-night self-catering including breakfast for two adults €1,300.
Breaffy House Resort
Castlebar, Co Mayo; 094-9022033, breaffyhouseresort.com
Two hotels set on 90 acres of beautiful woodland, the older Breaffy House Hotel and the more modern Breaffy Woods, both with large family rooms that sleep up to six. There’s also self-catering options in the residence. Two-night self-catering in Residence for two adults, two children from €299; two-night Great Spa Escape for two, including light lunch and dinner one evening, 60-minute massage and treatment plus 25-minute muscle melt bath, €894.
Kilronan Castle Cottages
Ballyfarnon, Boyle, Co Roscommon; 071-9618000, kilronancastle.ie
A collection of three-bedroom cottages on the grounds of Kilronan Castle, a four-star hotel on a 40-acre estate by the shores of Lough Meelagh. With two doubles (one en-suite) and a single, each cottage can accommodate up to five people, and guests have access to the hotel’s swimming pool, spa and gym. The hotel is also a 20-minute drive from Lough Key Forest Park. Rates €170 per night.
Fota Island Resort
Co Cork, 021-4883700, fotaisland.ie
One of Ireland’s best-known golfing hotels, with three championship courses within the 780-acre resort tucked away on its own island in East Cork. Rooms are big and modern and there’s an award-winning spa and gorgeous woodland walks. Family room (two adults and two children) from €254 per night; extra nights are discounted.
Killenard, Co Laois, 057-8645500, theheritage.com
Stylish hotel that is a firm favourite with activity and sporting enthusiasts. Besides the 5km ground-lit walking and jogging track, there’s a huge spa and leisure centre, tennis courts and a championship golf course designed by Seve Ballesteros. Spring sees the inauguration of its newly refurbished two-bedroom self-catering apartments. Two-night Midsummer’s Dream, includes 2 nights B&B, 1 dinner, spa experience and picnic, from €410pp; two-bed self-catering apartments B&B from €269 per night.
Ross Castle Cottage
Ross Demesne, Rosscahill, Co Galway; 091-550183, rosscastle.com
Three beautifully appointed cottages on the grounds of a 16th century castle estate originally built for the "Ferocious" O’Flaherty clan. Amenities include an indoor heated swimming pool, tennis court, lake with row boat and fishing gear as well as a public forest with walking trails. The cottages - Catherine’s, Saint George and Park Hall - can accommodate up to 6, 12 and 16 people respectively. Catherine’s Cottage €2,100, Saint George Cottage €4,200 Saturday to Saturday, Park Hall Cottage €5,600; all prices per week Saturday to Saturday.
Paul Quay, Stonebridge, Co Wexford; 053 9122566, talbotsuites.ie
In the heart of Wexford Town, this collection of 69 self-catering apartments are primarily designed for the business traveller, but the two- and three-bedroom apartments are ideal for families. Everything about them is modern, from the décor to the mod cons and the fully equipped kitchens. The apartments are part of the Talbot group. Seven-night stay in two-bedroom apartment €1,110.
Kilkea Demesne, Castledermot, Co Kildare; 059-9145600, kilkeacastle.ie
Kilkea is a serious pile of bricks and wears its Norman heritage well, although once inside you move from the 12th to the 21st century. Elegant rooms decorated in grand-but-modern style, a handsome restaurant, a well-equipped spa and 180 acres of parkland to frolic about in - or play golf on the excellent course. It also has gorgeous self-catering lodges. Two-bed self-catering lodge (for two adults & two children) including B&B and dinner for four, €400; Dinner, B&B in classic carriage room, €278.
Druids Glen Resort
Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow;01-2870800, druidsglenresort.com
Five-star Druids Glen might be far more famous for its golf course - the ‘Augusta of Ireland’ - but the hotel manages that wonderful trick of being both luxurious and relaxed, enough to cater extremely well to families with kids. Standard rooms are huge - with two double beds and even with small bathrobes and slippers for the kids. Family room (sleeps four), €240; Two-night Stay & Play, including B&B, two rounds of golf and one dinner, €715.
Ballymac Village, Co Wexford
Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford; 053-9130104/ 087-2414869; kilmuckridgeholidays.ie
Gorgeous looking, spacious self catering option not far from some of Wexford’s best beaches, these three-bed holiday homes have been in much demand in recent weeks which means availability is likely to be limited for July and August, hardly surprising when you see the price- although there was some at the time of writing with more space in June and September for those who are not tied to the school year. It’s within easy striking distance of Gorey, Wexford, Enniscorthy and Courtown. From €1,050 for a week in July.
Castlemartyr Resort, Co Cork;021-421 9000, castlemartyrresort.ie;
If you’ve fallen in love with your daily stroll, you’ll adore the grounds of Castlemartyr, with its ancient ruins, serene woodland and resident gaggle of swans. Inside, the rooms in the old manor house perfect that sense of old school country style, while the self-catering lodges have a more modern vibe. There’s an excellent golf course on site, too. Deluxe double (sleeps two adults and one child) B&B, €217 per night; two-bedroom self-catering cottage from €852 for 7 nights.
Buckled Wheel Trailer Rental
Rosegreen Rd, Garrinch, Fethard, Co Tipperary; 085-253 5366, buckledwheel.ie
Why pick one place when you can visit lots of them? Recently arrived on the block, Buckled Wheel rents - and sells - teardrop-style trailers, which attach easily to most vehicles (including hybrids) and don’t require additional insurance. And they come fully loaded - all kitchen gear, a comfy double mattress in the tent and fold-down sofa bed in the trailer. You even get camping chairs and tents as part of the package. Four-person trailer from €60 per night.
Lough Eske Castle Hotel
Lough Eske, Co Donegal; 074- 972 5100, lougheskecastlehotel.com
This 17th century castle on the shores of Lough Eske sits 6km outside of Donegal and offers old word opulence, four poster beds, free standing baths, open fires, cosy lounges and a stunning setting as far from it all as you are likely to get in Ireland. The restaurant is highly regarded and the breakfasts have won prizes. There is also a spa, an exercise room and an indoor pool. From €360 for one night B&B including dinner and a 45minute spa treatment, yoga and meditation sessions.
Slane, Co Meath, 041-9884861, rockfarmslane.ie
A stellar glamping spot on the Boyne with yurts, trailers, shepherd huts and more. The setting is stunning, the accommodation lovely and the communal cooking area pleasant and with numbers restricted by the relatively small number of pitches - and the large spaces between them - social distancing is unlikely to be too much of a challenge. There is also bike hire, kayaking, a farm tour, a pizza oven and a hot tub. And some great trees to climb.