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July 15, 2011

Staycation or Vacation?

by Julianne Mooney

I’ve been asked a number of times why people should stay in Ireland for holidays rather than head to sunny mainland Europe where the wine flows freely and the food is a fraction of the cost. I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve come to the conclusion that while yes, food and wine in supermarkets in the likes of France and Spain are significantly cheaper than Ireland, dining out in popular European seaside resorts is not the bargain basement it once was.

Ireland is now taking its food seriously. Gone are the days toasted sandwiches and a paltry carvery would suffice as pub grub. Today, Ireland’s restauranteurs, hoteliers and cafe owners are passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated to providing high quality food. I’ve spent the last eight months meeting these people and have witnessed the thriving food culture that has evolved throughout the country. A focus on organic and local produce means fresh, seasonal cooking in establishments not only in major cities and towns, but deep in the countryside.

I rediscovered, no, I discovered Ireland this past year and I was stunned at what I saw. Only a forty-minute drive from Dublin is the lush Boyne Valley, dotted with ancient ruins and tombs older than the Egyptian Pyramids. Intriguing myths and legends are embedded in our history and it’s not until you visit places like the Hill of Tara or Rathcroghan that you discover what the old Ireland was all about. The Mourne Mountains, a well-kept secret amongst avid hikers and locals are relatively undiscovered as are the lakes of Fermanagh and Leitrim.

I could go on and on. There are so many reasons why you should staycation and when people say to me “oh, but the weather” I nod, understanding we all need our dose of Vitamin D. However, I then tell them how I travelled Ireland in the depths of winter. Gale force winds welcomed us to Mayo, ice and snow in Leitrim, floods in Sligo, yet somehow, no matter how bad the weather was there were moments, hours, sometimes days where we could escape into the outdoors and explore. One of my fondest memories was walking on the beach in Strand HIll in Sligo and then slipping into a hot seaweed bath at Voya, followed by a hot port in the local pub. When there was no escaping the downpours we sought refuge in the musuems, country houses and cosy cafes where I ended up learning more about my country in a matter of months than I have in a lifetime.

Postscript: I do not work for Failte Ireland or any other tourist board and therefore trying to sell Ireland to you! It’s just listening to all the doom and gloom over the past year of how awful our country is and how bad things are, I feel like we need to wake up, look around at what’s on our door step and do our best to bring business and conserve all the wonderful cafes, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and visitor attractions out there doing their best to stay afloat.

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