Many of us don’t want to do much more on holiday than sit in a sunny, relaxing place where the clock is never king. But, for some, vacations are an opportunity to do something completely different, learn a new skill, practise a hidden talent, or pursue something we might like to do full-time, if car loans and mortgages and health insurance bills didn’t have to be paid.
Across Ireland, there are now unprecedented opportunities to learn at your leisure on holidays. Here are just some of the options.
Expand your cúpla focal
If you didn't like Irish at school, a language immersion programme in Ballyferriter, Co Kerry may be just the therapy to alter your attitude. As well as expanding your cúpla focal, you will also learn about the unique culture and rich archaeology of this compelling landscape on the Dingle Peninsula. People return year after year for the Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne courses for adults from beginners to fluent speakers. Learning is in an informal atmosphere that combines classroom conversations with field trips and heritage walks, followed by music sessions at night. oidhreacht.ie
Follow the light
The artist Paul Henry lived on Achill Island for almost a decade. Here, he mastered how to capture in his paintings the sublime interplay of light and landscape that is unique to the west of Ireland. Follow in his footsteps by heading west to the Ó Dálaigh School of Painting in Achill, which offers a choice of weekend or five-day painting holidays under the guidance of renowned artist Seosamh O'Dalaigh. Suitable for beginners, improvers and experienced artists, you can choose to work in acrylics, watercolours, pastels, oils or drawing. Then, when your creative day is done, you can walk or cycle along the Great Western Greenway – the section from Mulranny to Achill Island runs beside the studio. achillpainting.com
Fiddle in the Burren
Clare is regarded as the home of Irish traditional music, and the fiddle is one of that county's most celebrated instruments. You can now learn Irish fiddle music in its natural setting on a five-day holiday at the heart of the county. Accommodation is in a cosy, old-style farmhouse in a secluded location overlooking Corofin Wetlands, offering total peace and quiet. There are classes each morning with well-known traditional musician and experienced music teacher Laura Ugur. In the afternoons, there are opportunities to explore the wonders of the Burren National Park, while at night you can put your new-found expertise to the test at one of the informal music sessions that abound across Co Clare. burrenfiddleholidays.com
Climb every mountain
Are you drawn to high places, but feel intimidated by all the jargon and jiggery-pokery that goes with hillwalking and mountaineering? In that case, time with the Kerry-based adventure company Outdoors Ireland is what you need. This long-established and reputable business offers weekend and six-day courses, providing all the training you need to become a competent walk leader and mountain climber. There is training in navigation, mountain skills, bushcraft and rock climbing, along with an intensive six-day beginner to mountaineer course: in fact, all the skills you need to climb almost any mountain anywhere. And, as an added bonus, most training takes place amid the splendour of the Kerry outback. outdoorsireland.com
Getaway with words
The west of Ireland has, for generations, stimulated the imaginations of creative writers from Yeats to Pearse, Synge to Longley. Irene Graham, a Dublin woman who founded the Creative Writers Workshop in 1991, now organises courses to tap into this fountain of creativity. In 2020, she is arranging a series of writing workshops in Co Clare and on the Aran Islands, where you can "let nature, the Atlantic Ocean, an incredible writing space, luxurious accommodation, walking, Irish music and gourmet food nurture the story that's in your heart". Learn the craft of writing memoir and fiction, while the spectacular landscape fires your mind. thecreativewriterworkshop.com.
Cook up a storm
Operating under the strapline Cooking is Fun, Ballymaloe Cookery School is located on a 40-hectare organic farm in Co Cork, which supplies much of its food produce. It is now world-famous as a school of the culinary arts, and offers a wide choice of training, ranging from one-day to five-day residential courses, along with a 12-week intensive certificate course for those aiming for a career with food. Accommodation for students is in The Cottages, a collection of farm buildings overlooking orchards and gardens that have been beautifully restored. cookingisfun.ie
Reach for Nirvana
Ever felt a hankering for the gentle Buddhist philosophy of living? Are you curious about how simplicity, meditation and unworldliness can lead to inner peace and wisdom? If you're not quite ready to follow a trail of enlightenment through India, fear not; head to west Cork instead. On the Beara Peninsula, the Dzogchen Beara Buddhist meditation centre is sublimely set on a cliffside overlooking the ocean. Here, the cares of the 21st century will quickly evaporate as your world shrinks to a cocoon of serenity bookended by just sea and sky. The onsite accommodation offers a choice of clifftop cottages, a hostel or a room within the centre, and there are guided meditations each morning and afternoon to help you release and relax. dzogchenbeara.org
There is something about horses. Running free, their graceful motion makes for one of nature's most breathtaking sights. Now you can get close and personal with them on a holiday at one of Ireland's most renowned riding establishments. Crossoque Equestrian Centre is located on the stud farm of the Molloy family, who have been involved with horses for five generations. Set amid 150 hectares of rolling parklands at the fertile heart of Co Tipperary, Crossoque offers all-inclusive residential riding holidays for adults and families for up to a week. Riders of all standards will find it hard to suppress an ecstatic yee-haw on the exhilarating daily gallops through open countryside. crossogue-equestrian.ie
Immerse yourself in culture
Feel life has become overwhelming and that you are keeping too many balls in the air at once? Step off the treadmill by immersing yourself in culture in the isolated splendour of Glencolumbkille, Co Donegal. Cultural courses are organised bilingually, making them particularly attractive to people who want to improve their Irish while enjoying an active and educational holiday. There are options for exploring the surrounding hills, flute and whistle playing, archaeology, tapestry weaving and digital photography. Evening entertainment includes dancing, singing, poetry and concerts. oideas-gael.com