A student's staycation

Image Credit: Nurina Iman Nizam

With the government emphasis on ‘staycations’ this summer, Isobel Curran discusses her experiences with more student-budget friendly staycations across the country.

My memories of summer 2019 are happy ones. It began with a class trip to Lisbon in May, where I spent most of my days eating Pasteis de Nata, and evenings pub-crawling on Lisbon’s famous ‘Pink Street’. June and July were spent teaching English to Italian children and drinking double espressos in piazzas overlooking the Tuscan Hills during golden hour. August was spent watching impromptu outdoor flamenco concerts and navigating the ancient backstreets of Seville. Life was good. 

If I am completely honest, this was how I expected most of my college summer breaks to proceed. Before the year 2020, the idea of having 3 months off from university and not having the opportunity to spend this time in a foreign country seemed to me like a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

And so, after negotiating time-off from work, I dusted off a roadmap of Ireland and bought a raincoat.

This mindset, however, has had to be recalibrated slightly to account for the current government advice to avoid non-essential travel abroad. This summer was Bord Failte's opportune time to advertise Ireland to the Irish people, and they did an impressive job. One could not avoid the images spanning full pages of broadsheets depicting romantic coastal drives along the Wild Atlantic Way and spontaneous family adventures to Ireland's Ancient East. Even I, a sceptic of the staycation, was hooked. And so, after negotiating time-off from work, I dusted off a roadmap of Ireland and bought a raincoat. 

Vacationing in Ireland has rarely topped a university student's priority list for two main reasons: the unpredictable weather forecast and the high cost of food, accommodation, and travel. This year presented its own unique challenges, as now we had to consider government guidelines and how they would affect our accommodation, entertainment, and travel plans. The number of people allowed to stay together now had become a consideration, as did the reduced availability of transport options and entertainment locations. If we wanted to go out for an alcoholic beverage, the fixed rate would be 9 euro for the food we had to purchase, plus whatever we chose to add to this. I accepted the challenge nonetheless and went out to see what Ireland had to offer. 

The first destination on my tour of Ireland was to Carlingford Lough in Co. Louth. We stayed two nights at the Belvedere House, the most central B&B in Carlingford town. The accommodation was 50 euro a night per person. The B&B was run by Michelin Star restaurateur Conor Woods and wife Kristine, so each breakfast was superb and meant that lunch was a much easier affair. Our first day was spent exploring the Carlingford Greenway, which stretches approximately 7km from Carlingford Castle to Omeath. There is an option to rent bikes from 'On Yer Bike' rentals which has centres at both the beginning and end of the Greenway. In an interest to save money, however, we decided to just go on foot. The Greenway is a perfect opportunity to admire the natural beauty of the Cooley Peninsula and have a chat while you are walking along. In Omeath, we treated ourselves to a coffee and cake at Café Rosa's. The following day, we decided to go on a historical walking tour of Carlingford. The tour took 30 minutes and did not cost us a penny. Due to the arrival of Storm Ellen we were unable to hike through the beautiful Mourne Mountains, the natural border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, but we did drive through some of their luscious green valleys on the way back to Dublin. 

My next trip to Rosses Point in Sligo was somewhat different as we did not have a car. Return student tickets from Connolly Station in Dublin to Mac Diarmada Station in Sligo cost us €23.89, and it was a 3-and-a-half-hour journey. In comparison to the cost of the trains I spent most of my summer last year hopping on and off in Italy, these prices seemed reasonable. My friends and I found a cottage, just five minutes from the beach, costing us 110 euro a night. As it was a group of five, this cut down costs significantly. Stocking up at the local Tesco, just five minutes from the train station, we were able to cook an assortment of pasta dishes each night for dinner for about 5 euro per person. Each of us brought a different variety of liquor and mixer, cutting out the cost of drinking at the local pub. We then made our way down the coast to Doolin in Co. Clare, a vibrant, typically Irish town, which under usual circumstances would attract thousands of foreign tourists in the summer months on their way to the Cliffs of Moher. Even without this influx of tourists, the availability of accommodation was extremely limited, and we could only find one B&B that was not charging an extortionate amount. The Piper’s Nest, an eight-minute walk from the town of Doolin, was a cosy B&B to relax in after a day of surf lessons on Lahinch beach. 

The high quality of the accommodation we stayed at allowed us to enjoy cooking and spending time together, which is what the memories are made of.

Vacationing in Ireland is not for the weak of spirit. The weather can be difficult to predict and can bring a halt to any plans you had made previously. If you choose to give in to this uncertainty though it can help you slow down and live in the moment. I did have plans A, B, and C so I could explore each area that we travelled to, but if they did not work out, it was not the end of the world. The high quality of the accommodation we stayed at allowed us to enjoy cooking and spending time together, which is what the memories are made of. 

It is almost inconceivable that it took a global pandemic to motivate me to explore my own country which is world-renowned for its richness of culture and natural beauty. The awe-inspiring rugged landscape and hospitality of the people I met along the way made me rediscover my fondness for this island and its people.