Reader Travel Awards Staycation Special: We asked you to share your memories from 2020 to shine a little light in lockdown. The results blew us away. Here, Pól Ó Conghaile shares just some of the highlights from a year when simple escapes mattered more than ever...
Life. That’s what jumps out at me from this story, gallery and video.
In a year of chaos, anxiety and exhaustion, here’s a little lift. We were unable to run our Reader Travel Awards in 2020, so we asked you to share your favourite staycation memories instead — stolen moments squeezed between lockdowns. You replied in comments, emails, poems, letters, Limericks and tweets.
There was hurling on the beach, Tayto scoffed on mountainsides, barbecues in the rain. There was pier-jumping, jellyfish-poking and Fungie’s final fling. “Like hens out of deep litter we were,” said Miriam O’Sullivan of a post-lockdown release to Galway.
We heard of proposals, weddings, births, reunions... and yes, deaths.
A school principal wrote of a few precious days off between readying her school and re-opening it; one group of friends opted for a ‘Covid Kindle’ instead of a Kris Kindle; others shared photos of reunions in spa robes.
A sense of “simple pleasures”surfaced again and again, as did the sheer intoxication of togetherness. Grandparents saw grandkids. Childhood holiday haunts were revisited. Package holidays in Portugal were cancelled for Wexford; a trip to Montecasino replaced by the Rock of Dunamaise.
I called Jill De Azevedo, who’s been conducting consumer research through the pandemic for Fáilte Ireland, to see what trends 2020 has been turning up. This was a year we rediscovered Ireland, she said — and were “really surprised” at what we found.
Despite the overall gloom, brief staycations uncorked a sense of delight (“that’s a beautiful emotion”), we reconnected with nature and the outdoors, and an inability to plan ahead prompted a new spontaneity. Nothing is certain, of course, but many of us have resolved to mix more home holidays with overseas trips in future.
I do miss travelling abroad. These pages are a thank you to the tourism and hospitality heroes who worked so hard to reboot and keep us safe on holidays, but I’d love to be able to celebrate the airlines, travel agents and foreign destinations that usually colour our awards, too. Soon, I hope.
Slipping away on staycation this year was a chance to “forget the dreaded Covid”, you said. In that spirit, here’s a chance to turn off the news, escape for a while, and look forward to the days and weeks away we’ll share in future.
One reader, John Hannon, wrote of a simple walk down the Bowers in Ballinrobe, followed by a roast beef dinner. His parting line hit me. “We are what we remember. I was happy, so very happy.”
‘Sorrento, eat your heart out!’
Connemara - Helen Sherlock
“I idly scrolled through the summer staycation offerings... Connemara? Hadn’t been there since I was a child! The weather on the trip out, matched the mood-misty haze, with wispy clouds gently caressing the rocks — so many rocks! We hung left at Leahy’s and trundled our way down the quaint bohareen to reach the pier... Sorrento eat your heart out!
“What followed was an unexpected and magical week of scampering across rocks to discover hidden lagoons, leaps of total abandonment into clear, turquoise water, scaling towering rocks while navigating our way from one stunning beach to another and long, leisurely walks (under the watchful eye of the conscientious, neighbourhood watchman... the donkey!).
“Our days mostly ended with finger-licking fish and chips, while watching the summer sun slowly sink behind the rocky hills. Healing and joy can be found in the most unexpected of places. Ardmore Pier, Kilkieran, you gently lulled us back to life. Thank you.”
‘He really struggled with school closure’
Dunquin Pier, Co Kerry - Elaine McManus
“This is my beautiful 10-year-old son Tommy. Tommy has autism and really struggled with the school closure and lack of routine but more importantly, he missed the water. He missed his swimming lessons, he missed his weekend day trips to the beaches in Louth.
"Tommy found it very difficult to understand why things had changed so much. When restrictions were lifted, we immediately travelled to Dingle. This picture was taken at Dunquin Pier.
"We sat here for hours just listening to the wind and watching the waves. More importantly, it was the happiest I’d seen my child since restrictions came in on March 12. He had a smile from ear to ear all day.”
‘He is 80, I am 62 and life is good’
Mount Falcon, Ballina, Co Mayo - Sarah Tumicki
“On September 23, my boyfriend and I celebrated 15 years together at the magical tent at Mount Falcon Hotel in Ballina, Co Mayo. We met at a Rotary conference in Dublin 2005; I was from Killarney Rotary and he was from Ballina Rotary. We hit it off from the moment we shared our first pints of Guinness. We dated long distance for nine years between Killarney and Ballina, then I moved to the US and we dated longer distance for the next four years. Finally, in 2018 I moved to Ballina to be with him forever and always. He is 80, I am 62 and life is good.”
‘We could have been anywhere in the world, yet we were home’
The Coombe, Dublin - Gabby McGrath
“After a week in the Coombe without my partner allowed to visit, my favourite staycation memory of 2020 was hitting the road home to our apartment from the hospital with our baby girl Teagan. It felt like a holiday of a life time! The road home had an indescribable excitement, and finally arriving through the doors, it felt like a place we had never visited before. All so new.
“The three of us hibernated with room service breakfast (courtesy of my partner) and takeaway dinners, dining in the sitting room in front of the electric fire (for effect — no heat needed considering it was early June!), followed by endless chocolate caramel freddos for dessert. We went exploring with walks to the end of the estate and back (post-emergency C-section, I was quite impressed with myself). The fresh air hitting your face after the week in hospital was bliss. We lived in a bubble. To hold each other and our new baby after the week apart was like a drug. We could have been anywhere in the world, yet we were home."
‘We visited the Knockvicar alpacas, just beside our home...’
Knockvicar, Co Roscommon - Annette Conroy
‘No news. No Covid-19 updates’
Navan Fort, Co Armagh - Gillian Daly
“A sunny staycation in Armagh in July delivered some of the best memories of the summer for our family. Parents, children and grandchildren were reunited after what had seemed like forever, as we had endured lockdown No.1 on opposite sides of the border.
“Inspired by some of my own happiest childhood memories, we headed out to Emain Macha or Navan Fort as it is better known, along with my mum, my two children and my lifelong friend, Aifric. Once the stomping ground of Cú Chulainn and the Red Branch Knights, Navan Fort provided the perfect location for the little ones to experience the freedom of rolling down the famous mound and skipping through the long grass, after more than three months of being locked down in the capital.
“Navan Fort really is a special location and the climb to the top offers peaceful views of nearby Armagh City. The place of myths and legends offered us a great escape from ‘real life’ on that sunny July day. No news, no Covid-19 updates, just some fun and laughter as we strolled back down the grassy path. Together.”
'A sunset proposal'
Keash Caves, Sligo - Tomás O’Connor
“Giving my Mexican girlfriend a tour aroundSligo and Fermanagh, bringing her to Tubbercurry (the setting for Normal People, which she’s obsessed with) and then proposing to her at sunset in Keash Caves.”
A small boss in the Burren
New Quay, Co Clare - Eva Lynch
“It was early September 2020, and our first time out of our own county in six months. Staying in a Seaview cottage at New Quay, Co Clare, we had our first experience of the wild beauty of the Burren.
“In the National Park we carried our wide-eyed toddler through green hazels dripping from an autumn shower, across a colourful wildflower meadow and gazed over at unbelievable layer cake mountains. The flask of tea and Tayto crisps with Hazel Mountain chocolate went down a treat as we studied the wiggled limestone pavement under our feet.
“There was the obligatory swing past Craggy Island parochial house, and a step back in time to marvel at Poulnabrone portal tomb. Lobster and chips from a dinky wee van were enjoyed by a harbour. As sunset grew near, the child decided the day wasn’t done... we needed to visit our cattle neighbours, skim stones at Flaggy Shore, say hello to the swans, and oh, not to forget the chickens near the ice cream parlour. Once the small boss was in bed, some wine was consumed, our jigsaw and memorable day completed.”
'A farewell to Fungie'
Dingle, Co Kerry - Suzanne McCreddin
"A trip to Dingle to see Fungie for the first time, but hopefully not the last! It was such an enjoyable experience to go out on a boat chasing him around the bay on a lovely summer's evening and listen to everyone calling his name to catch a glimpse!"
'We haven’t hugged yet’
Gorey, Co Wexford - Barbara Murray
"I heard the news I had been longing for. After eight years living in Australia, my son, his wife and their three children were coming home to live in Ireland. My dreams had come true.
"They bought a house in Wexford that badly needed renovation. Our grandchildren aged four, three and one, could not live in these conditions. So my husband and I worked all summer painting, washing, fixing, clearing and gardening. No job too big or small. We worked for weeks to change the old house into a home.
"Finally, the beds were made, the pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers were laid out. They arrived on October 16. They were here, safer, home at last. We haven’t hugged yet. We talk to them from a distance. The children can’t come into our house, but they are here and I have hope in my heart.
"This lockdown will pass and we will get to hug our son and his family. To see them playing, splashing through rivers and running on the beach is pure joy. We have so much to be thankful for."
‘Three of my loves’
Kilmacurragh, Co Wicklow - Clare Salley
Dreary days, lockdown looming, when will it end.
Bing... text from Teresa...
Meet us in Killmacurragh.
Great, something to do.
AND THE DAY GOT BETTER.
I see them first, watching and waiting.
They rush to meet me, but no hugging or kissing.
AND THE DAY GOT BETTER.
Running and playing, and showing me plants.
Tall trees lead to heaven, tiny flowers smile and shine.
Then hidden in the woods, we find the maze.
AND THE DAY GOT BETTER.
More running and climbing, even Granny gets a go.
Now tired and happy, it’s time for a break.
AND THE DAY GOT BETTER.
I emerge from the shop, two cones in my hand.
The mask on my face, and the smiles lightening theirs.
AND THE DAY GOT BETTER.
The glee in their eyes.
The love in my heart.
THE DAY IS PERFECT.
The sun shining down.
Nessa; shining above.
There is love in our hearts.
AND THE DAY IS PERFECT.
‘This was worth the wait’
Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry - Claire Coughlan
"It’s past five now on Ballinskelligs. The end of another July scorcher. Lying back, stretched out on the sand. Drifting in and out of that soft, fuzzy, not quite asleep, space.
There’s a lovely bit of heat still left in that sun. Under the towel from toes to chin, waiting for the rays to seep through the salt and damp from that last dip of the day.
Swimmers’ shrieks rush in and out with the waves. Golden-haired girls giggle and squeal, seaweed lassos flying.
Tik Tok’s forgotten for now.
Your little man squats digging, delicious and oblivious in just his sandy nappy, all chat to the shells. Mam’s freckly hands flip the pages on her Marian Keyes’, then sidle over for a rummage in the Pringles, lost to the sheer bliss of it.
‘Is it 99 o’clock, Chicken?’ asks Dad. ‘You know what? I’ll leave it. I wouldn’t want to ruin my Guinness’.
You can hear the smile on his face.
Himself is dozing, though he’ll deny it later: his abandoned crossword rising up and down with each sigh.
Meanwhile the sky’s still dancing sunlight over your face. Finally together. In your happy place.
This... this was worth the wait."
'Social distancing by the sea'
Bray, Co Wicklow - Sandra Kiernan
‘"My entire summer was spent in my family home in Bray, camping most nights and daily trips to the beach... No hotel trips in 2020 for me."
A house made of seashells
Ballymaloe, Co Cork - Vanessa McAndrew
“My new husband and I were lucky enough to stay at Ballymaloe House just before lockdown. While it was orange weather warnings for the rest of the country; it was brilliant blue skies in Ballymaloe!
“After an amazing breakfast, we went to the cookery school and asked if we could explore the garden. The cashier smiled, telling us to hang on until she got the key to the ‘shell house’. We had no idea what this was, and she emerged with a giant key on a sieve that looked worse for wear (yes, a baking sieve!). Walking around the gardens was a dream; no news updates, no daily numbers; complete escape! Finally we came across a tiny building, and figured this must be the ‘shell house’.
“We unlocked the door and I will never forget it. We stood there, mouths open, looking around, and then laughed in sheer amazement. Talk about underselling it! It WAS a house made of seashells! We stayed there for over an hour — every time we looked, we saw more patterns and beautiful shells; it was definitely the cherry on top of a delicious weekend — the picture doesn’t do it justice!”
‘We put Slieve Blooms into the Satnav, and set off...’
Monicknew, Co Laois - Kyra Fingleton
“Our family stayed in Co Laois since the first lockdown in March. And since then, we have discovered more beautiful places in this often underrated county than we ever thought possible. My favourite Irish Staycation Memory is a trip to Monicknew in the stunning Slieve Bloom Mountains.
“Having exhausted all our usual favourite places, during Level 3 lockdown, my little daughter asked to go ‘somewhere I have never been before’. Knowing we couldn’t leave the county meant this was a tall order, but we put ‘Slieve Blooms’ into the Satnav, and set off.
“Finding ourselves in the most gorgeous, magical woodland grove, we walked under a stone bridge, and the kids’ in-car bickering ebbed away as we followed the crystal clear stream. Soon, we reached an enchanted place where the stream ran under the trees, and there were many curious, teetering piles of stones that previous visitors had implausibly balanced upon each other. The kids’ first instinct was to knock them down, but I explained they were ‘inukshuks’ — talismans of good luck to travellers — so we left them undisturbed, and built one ourselves. We came home as happy as if we had been miles away. I hope our inukshuk brings others good luck too.”
‘We might get to Dubai for our honeymoon’
Tipperary - Kelly Hodgins
“After the onset of Covid, our dream holiday to Dubai, Australia and Bali was cancelled. Dreams of hot sandy beaches and sightseeing faded... Plan B was a staycation in Ireland. Kerry, Mayo, Cork, Donegal, here we come!
“But Covid again brought more restrictions — now we were limited to our county, Tipperary. We knew the local area, so said we’d explore South Tipperary. Hotel booked, off we went. We climbed the Knockmealdown Mountains, and there I had the most magical surprise marriage proposal at Bay Lough. This was only topped by the special stay at Hotel Minella — we were the only guests. They went above and beyond with their welcome and service. So much so, we have decided to have our wedding there.
“So Covid restrictions led us to find the best of Tipperary on our doorstep. A most special and unforgettable memory. Whatever our future holds, I’m certainly happy to know my fiancé could not have planned a more special proposal or hotel in our Premier gem of a county. You never know we might get to Dubai for our honeymoon!”
‘We will get through this’
Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo - Ger Warren
"Every year we make our annual trip to Mayo to climb Croagh Patrick. This was our 40th year, but climbing was much different... no crowds and the usual crushing of stones and shuffling of people to the top was gapingly absent. The peace and tranquillity of the mountain was something to behold, not to mention the breathtaking view across Clew Bay."
"This year is special as we are expecting our first grandchild and safety is paramount. We stayed in the beautiful Breaffy House Hotel in Castlebar. The peace and tranquillity of both the hotel and its restful gardens and walkways were like a warm cosy blanket surrounding and protecting us and reassuring us that all would be well. While the space and greenery was very refreshing, the beauty of watching young families grab a much-needed break and reprise from the stresses of the year made it even extra special.
"The joy of listening to children laugh and play in safety brought immense glee and happiness to our hearts and belief that yes, we will get through this, and future generations will enjoy life as we knew it.
‘The return of my teenage self’
Dunmore East, Co Waterford - Michelle Brennan
“Captivated by the view before us (and mouthfuls of delicious fish & chips from Kathleen @ East Pier), we sat in Dunmore East Harbour. Seagulls gathered — ignoring Mam’s efforts to shoo them away — as a warm breeze brought with it a sense of anticipation. What would normally be an inconspicuous blue and white ice-cream van approached. It was Mam who brought it to our attention. Surely she was mistaken? How likely was it that three Dubs among throngs of na Deise would end up at its precise stop-off point?
“We were across the road before poor Dad realised we were gone. He sat bewildered and abandoned by all but the squawking seagulls. The Coronas had landed in Dunmore East and with them the return of my teenage self. A shameless, giddy ball of nervous energy.
“Twenty years ago it was Westlife — six hours outside a thronged HMV on Grafton St — high on infatuation. Now, here I was — 20 years later, in the tranquillity and beauty of the Sunny South East — amid a growing sea of face masks and PPE. We were first in line to meet the band as they promoted their new album from a pimped out ice-cream van and the irony of it wasn’t lost on us. Here we were actively seeking ‘The Coronas’, having spent months hiding from the killer virus... you couldn’t make it up!
“Laughter and an opportunity for giddy silliness. It was just the release we needed to lift the gloom of this ‘new normal’ we found ourselves in. An unforgettable moment of joy and a free ice-cream. Danny O’Reilly — Is laoch thú!”
‘The drive home was full of banter’
Keem Bay, Co Mayo - Anne Marie Coleman
“On a warm day in July, we passed the relaxed sheep sauntering along the clifftop drive and descended towards the white, blue flag beach. The girls could not wait for a cool swim. The contrasting colours of the blue sky, green cliffs and white sand was so picturesque! The chilly, crystal clear waters so inviting.
“We had a lovely old-fashioned day at the beach. A rug, a picnic of rolls, fruit and some chocolate followed by more squeals of delight as we tried to swim again — forgetting how cold the water was the first time!
“Emily (pictured here) does not seem to feel the cold; unlike me wishing I had a wetsuit! By late afternoon we packed up and left the beautiful bay. We stopped off at Nevin’s in Mulranny to enjoy the delicious seafood chowder, crispy mushrooms and of course a pint of the black stuff for himself! The drive home to Foxford was full of banter about how beautiful Ireland really is.”
‘We treasured the warmth and the weight of him’
Fetherd-on-Sea, Co Wexford - Joni Conlan
“For my three-year-old, Aurora, and me, the brightest memories of this dark year were made in July. With my parents, my brother, his wife and two boys, we headed to Fethard-on-Sea in Wexford. We were welcomed by Kate and her dog Boo to her home, where every nook contained a painting or handmade artwork to catch the eye and the mind.
Kate’s garden had something for everybody: hammocks hidden in a grove of trees; chickens and geese; a maze cut into long grass for the amusement of the toddlers. Fresh eggs and vegetables made their way to our table and Kate dropped by with mussels. Seán and Úna served these using Úna’s Belmullet family recipe. We ate them under the stars, while Seán and Dad played guitar and sang.
"Sunny days on Baginbun beach; Aurora and her cousin Seán Óg splashing and making sandcastles. Leafy country lanes where she walked purposefully with her stick. And how my mother and I doted on February baby Macdara, who we had missed so during the lockdown. We treasured the warmth and weight of him. That sunny week together and those memories are rays of light we so needed this year.”
‘Storm Dennis in a hot tub’
Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon - Kieran Farrell
“My wife is always reluctant to come camping or glamping but to me it’s the perfect holiday with our two kids, aged 11 and 6. It was my 40th back in February, so I played my hand and said we were going to a ‘private cabin with our own hot tub’. I’d seen Storm Dennis brewing in the forecast but thought, in for a penny...
“Her face was priceless on arrival at a camping and glamping site in the middle of Roscommon. We were pelted out of it by Storm Dennis, but in spite of herself she (and the rest of us) had our best family holiday in donkeys. Wes, Tuesday and Ziggy made us feel so welcome and we shared a few drinks with them one evening.
“We nearly had the whole place to ourselves with a glorious farm cottage as the campers’ kitchen, rambling walks about the land and down to the river and the wood-burning hot tub made it extra special. Nearby Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, neolithic tombs, ring forts and stories of Queen Medb kept me busy.
“Cave portals to the underworld, jellies and bribes kept the kids moving and my wife humoured me for my birthday and made the most of the hot tub every evening. We would highly recommend Willowbrook Caravan and Camping Park in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon. If it was that enjoyable during Storm Dennis, we cant wait to see what it's like in the summer!”
'The summer of '64'
Gortahork, Co Donegal - Eileen Cosgrove
"With Covid on the loose, my sisters and I decided against a summer holiday and opted instead to travel back in time and feast on holiday photos from the summer of ‘64, our first ever family holiday.
"Our destination was Gortahork, our mother’s birthplace. That was the year father bought his first motorcar, a Ford Anglia. The holiday for us began the day our mother buried her head in one tea chest after another searching for shorts, t-shirts and our best frocks. Father’s job was to squeeze kids and cases into his new motor, but when it came to dismantling the heavy pram, he was flummoxed and threw it up as it was, on the roof rack; Flintstones, here we come!!
"After numerous toilet stops on lonesome bog roads, we reached Granny’s. A mixture of turf smoke and seaweed filled our nostrils as soon as we jumped out of the car. The smell of snuff and Eskimo mints from grandma’s cardigan when she hugged us, and the long sweeping beam of the lighthouse shining nightly in our bedroom, still haunts us.
"The past is a foreign country; we do things differently now during Covid."
'Gallivanting on the greenway...'
Waterford - Emer Russell
W - Wicklow to Waterford, there in a jiffy!
A - Away but also at home
T - Trekking the greenway
E - Exercise and fresh air
R - Revisiting scenic Dunmore East
F - Family memories made
O - Outdoor adventures
R - Rested, recharged and revitalised
D - Dreaming of next year already
'This moment shifted my mindset'
Lough Muckno, Co Monaghan - Vera Gorman
"This photograph was taken on March 18th - a week into lockdown. The country had closed down and everything was very uncertain. I was out of work, I couldn’t visit family, couldn’t see friends. Thankfully this beautiful walk down at Lough Muckno in Castleblayney, County Monaghan was in my 5km.
"Despite all the negativity at the time, I stopped to to appreciate and really take in this view and beautiful sunset. This moment shifted my mindset. It made me realise that despite everything that was happening, there would be an end to all the craziness. Days and nights would come and go and we would eventually get back to some sort of ‘normality’. It made me appreciate the world around me and gave me the time to slow down and focus on the positives."
'Staycation was fuel for my soul'
The joy and delight on these furry faces,
Accompanied my staycation through various places.
From hill walks and swims in the Sunny SouthEast,
To playtime and cuddles at Donabate beach.
Staycation for me meant time with my tribe,
Four adults, two dogs in one house - we survived!
The board games came out, as did the black bags,
Power-washers and lawnmowers, heaps of old gags.
Creativity this summer reached whole new extremes,
Rock painting and makeovers for those who were keen.
Six months to nourish, to bake and indulge.
To nurture, encourage, stimulate and nudge.
Weekends we splished and we splashed in the waves,
We walked and we talked and drank tea by the caves.
Our passions for writing, the garden and games,
Gave way to Zooming by night and by day.
It was time to reflect on what mattered most,
To build on relationships without playing host.
Time to connect; to sit and be still,
Time to catch up on Netflix and chill.
2020 Staycations were best,
For the time that they gave us to stop and reflect.
Sunshine and ice-creams, sunflowers and bees,
The kindness of strangers brought some to their knees.
Exploring new landscapes, new beaches, new parks,
Memories of which will remain in our hearts.
Ireland your beauty has come as no surprise,
But this year you really have opened our eyes,
You’ve brought us together, right back to our homes,
Our fondness for simple and easy has grown.
We’ve slowed down and listened, reached out and let go,
Staycation for me was fuel for my soul.
Everyone who submitted staycation memories was entered into a draw for one of eight prizes, for when we travel again. And the winners are...
Magic at Monart
A two-night spa break, with B&B, one gourmet evening meal and a 60-minute spa treatment for two at Monart, Co Wexford. monart.ie.
Winner: Pat Connor, Co Dublin
Layover at the Lodge
A romantic, two-night break for two adults with dinner on one evening at the Lodge at Ashford Castle. thelodgeac.com.
Winner: Olivia Wall, Cork
Kick back at the K Club
A two-night stay with breakfast on both mornings and dinner on one evening at the five-star resort in Co Kildare. kclub.ie.
Winner: Anne Marie Scarry, Co Galway
A two-night break for two people at five-star Fota Island Resort, Co Cork, with breakfast each day and dinner on one evening. fotaisland.ie
Winner: Pio Carley, Co Dublin
A deluxe night away with breakfast, a private bathing experience and access to the thermal village. galgorm.com
Winner: Karen Summerville, Co Mayo
Relax at the River Lee
A two-night stay with dinner on one evening in the Grill Room at the River Lee Hotel in Cork. doylecollection.com
Winner: Mags Dunne, Co Dublin
Blue Book beauty
An overnight stay for two with dinner in Ballymaloe House, in beautiful East Cork. irelands-blue-book.ie; ballymaloe.ie
Winner: Liam Greene, Dublin 11
Prize winners will be contacted with within 20 days of the closing date. Full T&Cs are on independent.ie/travelawards.