The great Irish camping holiday is imprinted in our family albums, in our collective Insta story and in our gallivanting DNA.
Whether it's John Hinde images of caravanning through Connemara, or engineering an Argos tent at Electric Picnic, we seem to bear an all-weather penchant to embrace our great outdoors.
But as Irish tourism gears up to reopen on June 29, is our ultimate open-air sector likely to appeal to social-distancing travellers?
I pitched the notion to caravan and camping professionals across the country, and they appear poised for a short, unprecedented - and bumper - season.
"The season's already looking very positive," says Con Quill of the Irish Caravan and Camping Council.
"There's been a huge surge in bookings since the roadmap announcement on May 1 - some parks' online booking systems even crashed. Given the season starting at the end of June and schools already returning in August, this year's seasonal window is also exceptionally short, so my strong advice for consumers is to book early."
As we went to press, Quill and Ireland's camping sector - like all hospitality businesses - had just received guidelines from Fáilte Ireland as to how exactly they should operate after June 29.
But he's confident that many sites across the country are already ahead of the curve in terms of preparation. Those guidelines range from social distancing on site to enhanced cleaning, staggering check-ins and encouraging online bookings. But there will be impacts on the culture of camping as we know it, too.
"We're not going to see as many tents this season," Quill adds. "Many, but not all sites, can't accept them due to extra pressure on shared facilities. Conversely, we'll see a lot more domestic campers this year, from those tourists who typically may have ventured overseas."
He recommends against arriving on spec this summer, or you may be faced with a wide berth.
Camping in a Covid-19 landscape...
Covid-19 will likely change the camping holiday as we know it, at least until there is a vaccine, treatments or sustainable suppression. So how are new health regulations translating to this summer's family holiday?
Down on Wexford's ever-popular coastline, Niamh Darcy and her family own and manage the award-winning Morriscastle Strand Holiday Park. As one of the larger touring sites in the country, Morriscastle's numbers can swell to over 1,000 visitors during a July heyday. This summer, however, its loyal guests can expect a switch-up.
"I can't say it's not been a massive challenge," she explains. "We've basically had to pre-empt all the various human interactions which occur around the park and micro-manage them accordingly."
For accommodation, that means reducing their capacity by 40pc (to allow for extra vacant berths between many of their pitches). For sanitation, it means removing the likes of middle sinks and, for personal touches, it means a neat "text and delivery" service that will be available to vulnerable guests via the site's shop.
As for amenities, younger visitors may have to relinquish meeting their holiday crush over the foosball table this summer. "We've unfortunately had to close our games rooms," Niamh says. "But our on-site cinema will be available for family hire and we're developing additional game options, too."
Morriscastle's catalogue of outdoor activities already includes an all-weather football pitch and tennis courts to relieve any Wimbledon FOMO.
"But we're ultimately very fortunate in that our best amenity is that span of gorgeous beach along our site, so even a pandemic can't detract from that and its magic."
Gearing up for glamping
Another sector hoping to feel the love this summer is Ireland's ever-increasing trove of glamping sites.
With touted restrictions in hotels ranging from buffet bans to new lift etiquette, there may be an added appeal to luxury with a more alfresco air this summer.
"I guess we're extremely lucky that, by its very nature, we've always offered a level of social distancing," says Linda O'Sullivan, owner of Killarney Glamping in Co Kerry. "Everything here, be it our glamping suites or luxury lodges, was originally designed with individual couples and privacy in mind."
The outfit has still had to reassess its offering ahead of the season, however - with some educated second-guessing of any regulations before they land.
In the case of house-keeping, that means Nespresso machines and BBQs stay, while decorative soft-furnishings, due to cleaning logistics, go. "At least my own house looks very plush as a result right now," Linda jokes.
The sense of community amid the hospitality sector in Killarney has also helped her business transition, with local restaurants pivoting their own model to offer glamping guests a takeaway option if they prefer to dine in.
But there's still a bittersweet element to the innovation for Linda and her colleagues, too.
"We've always prided ourselves on a personal welcome here, but now we'll offer a completely contactless stay for our guests - if it's their preference, of course."
Packing notes and 'sardine syndrome'
Whether camping or glamping, there's a greater onus on campers to be self-sufficient this summer. Even the most organised should note that, if you're not staying in a fully stocked unit, many sites are removing shared delph and utensils from common areas. While camp life is also synonymous with camaraderie, bear in mind that borrowing items may be more of a site faux pas this season - so don't forget to pack the mattress pump (or corkscrew!).
With the Government's roadmap permitting accommodation like hotels, hostels and campsites to reopen from June 29 under social distancing guidelines, operators are also gearing up for a late summer bottleneck.
"We've actually seen a massive reaction to the season," says Kris Acton, owner of Clifden Eco Beach Camping and Caravanning Park, who attributes the demand for camping to a Covid-induced zeitgeist. "I think increased climate change awareness over recent years combined with the current pandemic has really made people sit down and look at how they holiday and I think they're really starting to lean towards camping."
Acton is hopeful he'll shore up interest.
"We provide a semi-wild camping environment with low density regardless and visitors don't face the encroachment or sardine syndrome you may experience on the Continent." As a result, sustainability-centred Clidfen Eco Beach (it was Ireland's first eco-certified, carbon-neutral premises) doesn't need to downsize occupancy, but will rather tweak other aspects of its operations and encourage visitors to arrive self-sufficient and eco-sound.
"This period is really teaching us that the great outdoors is there to be enjoyed," Acton says. "So summer 2020 is an ideal opportunity for us to connect with Ireland's natural beauty."
As we gear up for the camping season ahead, that's probably the most vital message of all.
Clifden Eco Park (pictured above and main) offers camping rates from €21 per couple and €28 per family with transfers also available for campers wishing to leave their car (and carbon footprint) at home. clifdenecocamping.ie
Killarney Glamping (pictured below) offers summer prices from €125 per couple per night for a romantic glamping suite and, as an all-weather site, discounts are available for off-season, too. killarneyglamping.com
Morriscastle Strand Holiday Park offers touring rates from €25 for a family of four (or a couple) while the site’s gorgeous sea-view pods start from €110 per night. morriscastlestrand.com
Lough Mardal Lodge’s skydome yurts, set in unspoiled Donegal wilderness, have summer rates from €130 per night based on a two-night minimum. The site featured in our Fab 50 this year. loughmardalglamping.ie
Lough Derg Lakeside Holiday Park in Co Clare is a pure water-lover’s haven with rates from €18 per couple and €25 per family. lakesideireland.com
Wicklow Mountain National Park (wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie) is one of the few spots in Ireland where you can camp in the wild. There are strict guidelines but the view is worth it.
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