While we have already had enough sunshine for about three normal Irish summers, the season is only now really getting started, so we thought we’d look at some ways you might be able to get the best out of the summer without blowing a fortune.
1 We tend to be grand at applying sun screen while overseas but less so at home. We need to take care wherever we are but we needn't worry too much about spending a fortune on brand names. EU regulations mean everything you buy – no matter what the price – has to reach a certain standard, so own-brand sunscreens are often just as good, and sometimes better, than well-known labels. Switching from one to the other can certainly save a few bob. An own-brand option from Lidl, Aldi or Tesco will cost about a fiver but you could pay more than twice that for many better-known brands and substantially more again if you go really upmarket.
2 Don't buy sun creams until you see what you have left from last year. The shelf life of sun screens is longer than you might think and an open bottle will last up to two years. It is important to check the "period after opening" number on the bottle to be sure. You'll find it in small print at the back. It will say either 24 months or 12 months. If it's the former and you bought it last May, it is probably best to bin it but if you bought it last August you'll be grand for a while yet.
3 Don't leave a lobster-red face to fate. Use your phone to keep on top of it for you. For €1.09, the Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference app tells you where you are and how long you can be in the sun without burning based on your complexion, time of day and the SPF you're using.
4 Remember when Living Social and Groupon first arrived and we all signed up and waited for the deals to roll in? Then they stopped being the new thing and we lost interest in discounted STI tests, colonic irrigation and teeth whitening. Such sites still have value, however, and the summer is a good time to revisit them to see what they can offer. Pay particular attention to activity discounts and when you see something that takes your fancy, buy, stow it away and redeem it in the weeks ahead.
5 Restaurants have their place but if you're spending days out with the family, the cost can quickly climb with lunch for a family of two adults and two children in a less-than-stellar restaurant costing about €40. The makings of a picnic for all four will cost a tenner. And the sun doesn't need to be beating down. As long as it's not lashing, all you need is a bit of green space or a bit of sand and some old-school hang sandwiches and you're good to go. If you want to make it fancier, buy yourself a disposable barbecue for no more than €8. It will be good enough to cook a packet of sausages and a few burgers. If you plan to cook more, buy two barbies as they cool pretty quickly. And the only thing that ruins a summer picnic more than rain is a cold, raw sausage.
6 Don't ruin your al-fresco dining experience by allowing your food to get hot and bothered in a plastic bag as you search for somewhere to eat it. Buy a cooler bag and stick a bag of ice in it. It will stop your ham sweating and your drinks boiling.
7 While we have had a good run of weather recently, it can't last. But even bad weather won't make any difference to your fun if you do things which don't need sun – we're talking about the sea. Sea swimming is brilliant and free. Do make sure you swim in a place that is well-populated and don't take risks. As any hardy Irish person will know, sea water is cold when you get in "but grand when you get used to it". And you will always feel better after a swim.
8 It is not just swimming in the sea that offers fun. We're an island and awash with watery pursuits, from stand-up paddleboarding in Dollymount to surf schools in Bundoran and kayaking on the Boyne or sailing in Sligo. There are things to suit all budgets and you don't have to have any experience of the thing you plan to do to have the craic. With improvements in wetsuit technology over recent years – and their frequent availability in the likes of Aldi and Lidl – it is easy to stay in cold waters for hours without feeling a thing.
9 Tourists love Ireland. Millions come here every year. And while we give out about it, they clearly see something special in the place. So spend a few days looking at our world through the eyes of the those who spend big money coming here. Think like a tourist and do the things tourists do. It will cost you a lot less because you will be able to go home at the end of your big days out. And you probably won't end up spending seven quid on a pint in Temple Bar either.
10 Sometimes we forget we are very well-served by free attractions. The National Gallery of Ireland, the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, the Dead Zoo – or the National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology, to give it its real name – on Merrion Street, Dublin, the Phoenix Park's Farmleigh and Trinity's Science Gallery will get those who live close to Dublin through a couple of highly entertaining days at no cost. Cork has the public museum in Fitzgerald Park and the Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll outside Mallow, to name just two. There is Castletown House Parklands, Glendalough, the Kilkenny Castle Parklands, the Malin Head Viewing Point, Lough Boora Discovery Park, Elizabeth Fort and loads of other places you may have forgotten about.
11 The Achill Yawl is a traditional sailing boat unique to the island off the Mayo coast. Between now and September, boats will race around the island most weekends. The races are free and there is live music and commentary from the shore. See more at achilltourism.com.
12 The Durrow Festival – "the festival that is outstanding it its field" – runs from July 29th to August 6th. Over the course of a week, the village morphs into something from a Stephen King novel with some – frankly terrifying – scarecrows just hanging around, with the climax being the All-Ireland Scarecrow Championships. There are also street markets and street entertainment and all sorts of other madness. See more at durrowscarecrowfestival.com/.
13 The Festival of Curiosity runs at various locations around Dublin from July 19th to 22nd, offering a family programme by day and "curious nights" for the older folk. The festival aims to produce an interactive cultural experience combining trends in technology, arts, science and design. See more at www.festivalofcuriosity.ie.
14 The 13th annual Laya Healthcare City Spectacular takes place in Dublin from July 6th to 8th and in Fitzgerald Park in Co Cork the following weekend. Expect to see living-statue artists and international street performers. There is a Good to Live stage where families can dance, drum, jump and take part in health classes. And there is a pet area, with dog training, agility demonstrations and a doggy adoption parade. See more at cityspectacular.com.
15 When it comes to festivals, Galway simply can't be beaten. SeaFest from June 29th to July 1st will help you to discover our maritime heritage through all sorts of interactive activities from seafood cookery to history, to deep-sea exploration and science. The festival's events are free – pre-booking for some activities might be a good idea. seafest.ie
16 A visit to Dublin Zoo can be pricey unless you approach it the right way. An adult ticket is €18 if bought at the entrance or €17.50 if bought online, and a child's admission is €13.20 when bought at the entrance or €13 if bought online. A family ticket covering two adults and two children will set you back €51. The best way to approach it is annual family membership – once you live within striking distance of the place. An individual annual pass costs €125 while an annual family pass costs €185. The individual pass allows the pass-holder and an adult or two children to visit while the family pass covers the pass holder and two adults and two children, or the pass holder and up to six children. Visit the zoo just three times over the course of the summer and you are saving money. Not only that, but when you visit regularly, you can do it in a much more leisurely way.
17 On any given Sunday – winter and summer – the queues of, mostly foreign, people outside Beshoffs Chip shop in Howth is a thing to behold. It is literally out the door for hours. That is because good fish and chips are both brilliant and brilliant value and the fish and chips in that branch of the chipper are very good indeed. But so too are chips from many chip shops across the country. And while we are not suggesting you eat them every night of the week, a big bag of chips on a summer's evening can make for a memorable and cheap dinner.
18 Staring up at the stars and marvelling at the heavens about does not cost a cent. So next time there is a warm clear evening, drive somewhere remote, watch the sun go down and wait for the stars to come out. If you haven't a clue what you're looking at, there's an app for that. The Sky Guide app shows where all the constellations, planets, and satellites are and all you have to do is point your phone towards the sky. There is a free version but the enhanced app costs €3.49.