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Opinion: No foreign travel this year? All is not lost, Ireland has a lot to offer

As foreign travel appears to be entirely off the radar for 2021, many are turning their attention to trips at home. Here, travel writer Deirdre Mullins shares some of Ireland’s hidden gems.

Deirdre Mullins

WITH FOREIGN TRAVEL dreams abandoned for 2021, it looks like another summer of staycations ahead. The good news is that once the intercounty travel restrictions are lifted, there are many places to explore on this fair island of ours.

February 2021 could be the month we scramble to get the last of the holiday homes by the Irish coast. But already, prime coastal holiday spots are heavily booked.

If you’ve been whiling away the last few cold, dull weeks dreaming of a holiday beyond your 5Km, then don’t despair, not everything in Ireland is booked up this summer. Yes, demand is high, as many hope that Covid news will be more positive by the summer months and we are permitted a chance to escape around the country for a break.

So what are the options for holidaying in Ireland in the summertime? The most simple advice I can give first off is to veer toward the lesser-known places to avoid the crowds and travel midweek instead of weekends for increased availability. 

Get your walking shoes on

GoleenHarbour_037(1) Source: Matt Mills

We’ve discovered a love of walking during the lockdown and after the success of the Waterford and The Great Western Greenways, new walking trails have been created around the country.

Last September the 165km National Famine Way was launched which follows the route of 1,490 emigrants who walked from Strokestown, Co Roscommon to Dublin during the famine.

Walk or cycle the trail which mostly follows off-road paths along the Royal Canal. This year, hopefully, will see the completion and launch of the Royal Canal Greenway which stretches a 130km along the 200-year-old canal.

The trail will link Maynooth, Enfield, Mullingar to Cloondara in Co Longford. Cycle or walk between the points and return by train to your starting point.

Glamping at Goleen Harbour 

GoleenHarbour_017 A rock pool in Goleen Source: Deirdre Mullins

After witnessing the growth of glamping while working on festivals such as Body & Soul; Melanie and Matt Mills set up this eco campsite in a stunning coastal location on the Mizen peninsula in Goleen, West Cork. Bring your own tent or campervan or rent an eco-cabin, classic caravan or bell tent.

On-site is an organic vegetable and honey farm, native woodlands, stunning flower gardens, Connemara ponies, walking trails and sheltered rock pools with crystal clear water ideal for swimming.

Day trips from Goleen include Barley Cove strand which is arguably Ireland’s best beach, and to the Mizen Head visitors centre which is situated on the rugged cliffs of Ireland’s most south-westerly point.

Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

trails-and-walks-at-cavan-burren-park Stone circle, Cavan Burren Park Source: Deirdre Mullins

Stay away from the crowded coastline and ditch The Wild Atlantic Way in favour of the often overlooked Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. This Fáilte Ireland brand was launched in 2018 and stretches from Leitrim to Limerick along the River Shannon and takes in several midland counties.

There is no shortage of things to do and the focus is on nature, boglands, lakes, rivers and adventure activities such as hiking, cycling and kayaking. Highlights include walking the Cavan Burren (yes, Clare isn’t the only county to have a Burren).

Hike a 26km trail that takes in limestone landscape, Neolithic tombs and caves. Or try walking on water on Leitrim’s Blueway; a 600m floating walkway along Acres Lake.

You could lengthen this hike by incorporating it as part of the 14km off-road trail that connects Drumshanbo with Leitrim village. Visit the cascading Fowely’s Falls and stay in the funky glamping site, Teapot Lane.

Wild campervanning

IMG_9716(1) Source: Deirdre Mullins

Last summer my partner and I got our own campervan and it was a game-changer in terms of holidaying in Ireland. We travelled the length and breadth of the country, often with little planning or booking.

Being self-sufficient with our own travelling home allowed spontaneity and a sense of freedom we’d never experienced before. Ireland is not up to scratch in terms of its public campervanning facilities when compared to our European neighbours, though. At times it was frustrating trying to find somewhere to park when campsites were booked out, which was often the case.

The ‘park4night’ app was a lifesaver in helping us find overnight camping locations. Users share and review areas to park and the app works with Google Maps to direct you there. With the rise of campervanning in Ireland, here’s hoping local councils will start to provide facilities and see the value that these tourists bring to local communities.

Buying a campervan is not something you should do in a hurry, there’s a lot to consider and they can be costly, so if you’re serious about it, do your research and take your time. You can rent vehicles if you start looking around now. Many of the rentals will be booked at this stage, but it’s worth a try.

City breaks 

Michelin Star Variety Jones Michelin Star Variety Jones Source: Variety Jones

We usually associate city breaks with European travel but why not make the most of our own capital? Before Covid, many tourists from around the country were unable to book trips to Dublin due to the price of accommodation and lack of availability. With the absence of overseas tourists this year, Dublin hotels offer better value and more availability than they did pre-pandemic.

There are a plethora of new hotels such as The Hyatt Centric in The Liberties or if you’re looking for something a little more boutique, check out The Wilder Townhouse, Dublin 2. Dublin city has some world-class museums and galleries such as The National Museum of Ireland, Kilmainham Jail, The Hugh Lane Gallery and The Irish Museum of Modern Art.

After catching up on some retail therapy, dine in one of Dublin’s eight Michelin Star restaurants. Check out a newer addition to the Michelin family; the one-star Variety Jones restaurant on Thomas Street. Or if you want to explore good food and more affordable prices head to Parnell St, Dublin’s answer to Chinatown which has a host of authentic Asian restaurants. You’ll find all you need at Visit Dublin.

Self-catering

Self catering Farnham Estate(1) Self catering accommodation in Farnham Estate Source: Farnham Estate

Self-catering accommodation in coastal areas is already close to fully booked up. But at the time of writing, there was still some availability with self-catering accommodation in hotels. Take a romantic trip to the likes of Farnham Estate in Cavan and stay in one of their two-bed self-catering houses. There you can enjoy the hotel spa and fine dining in The Cedar Room restaurant. Enjoy the outdoors by trekking one of the several woodland and lakeside walking trails on the estate.

The spacious self-catering houses on the Waterford Castle Hotel resort are ideal for families. The short ferry ride out to this island resort can bring great excitement to the little ones, as does the green area and playground beside the houses.

Center Parcs still has availability and has plenty of activities for all the family including The Subtropical Swimming Paradise. But availability for self-catering is getting tight all around the country, so get in there fast to avoid disappointment. 

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As with all bookings this year, be very clear with whoever you deal with on the conditions for cancellation, changes of booking dates and all the tricky Covid-related potential pitfalls.

Fresh air – on your doorstep

603b0f39-d5cf-4d3e-9c9e-d84d0a202942 Source: Deirdre Mullins

None of us knows how and when the intercounty restriction will be lifted and unfortunately, it’s possible that it could remain in place for some of the summer months. If you are one of the 1.3 million people living in Dublin, for example, the options for engaging with the countryside and wide-open spaces are limited.

Before the days of package holidays to Spain, Dublin residents holidayed in north county towns such as Rush and Skerries. And while Skerries no longer has the Red Island Holiday Camp it still has a lot to offer.

Full disclaimer, I am a Skerries native, but putting my bias aside the town has great restaurants and outdoor activities. The beach, harbour and offshore islands offer good conditions for sailing, paddle boarding and kayaking. There are a number of swimming areas including the 2.5km long sandy South Strand beach.

Visit the 18th-century Ardgillan Castle and tour Skerries Mills, a restored wind and watermill. Eat seafood in the harbour restaurant Stoop Your Head, fine dine-in Potager’s Restaurant or head to Olive Cafe for a coffee and a gourmet sandwich. Sleep in The White Cottages, accommodation on the water’s edge which offered unbroken views of the harbour and the Mourne Mountains. Enjoy a sundowner on the harbour, the only west-facing harbour on the east coast, which gets magnificent sunsets. If it’s county-travel only by summer, take a look at what your county can offer you, and you could be pleasantly surprised.

Deirdre Mullins is a journalist, travel writer and TV producer. Twitter: @DeirdreMullins.

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