At the start of the pandemic, when it looked like lock-down was going to be announced, Declan Feeney made a decision he'd been toying with for a while - he bought a camper van.
"It had been on my radar," says the Sligoman, "But once I knew we were going to be stuck in lockdown for a while, I agreed the sale."
Having owned older camper vans in the past, he decided that this time he wanted something high-spec and reliable with the trust of a recommended dealership behind it. He's now the proud owner of a €52,000 Renault Trafic and already enjoying a break in Connemara with his 11-year-old son and their dog.
"As soon as regulations eased up, we were away," he grins. "But before that we spent nights in it, we used it to drive to restaurants and have our take-away in the van while it was hot. With things being the way they are, there's also great peace of mind in knowing we're the only ones who have been in here, it feels safe."
That's obviously the big selling point right now. As far as a Covid-safe staycation goes, a van ticks a lot of boxes. It's a self-contained home on wheels. With enough supplies, you can be in a camper and still cocoon.
Plenty have cottoned on to the appeal. "We're getting double the amount of enquiries we'd normally get at this time of year," reveals Joe McLoughlin of Cosy Campers in Co Dublin. "Sales are mental," agrees Pat Horan, of Pat Horan Motors Ltd in Co Tipperary. In the 25 years that he's been dealing camper vans, Pat says he's never seen anything like this before.
"The boom years, 2006/2007 were hectic, but this has surpassed it," he reveals. He estimates sales are up 50pc on what he'd expect for this time of year.
One of his recent customers is Kerryman Peter Clark, who found the pressures of recent months inspired him to take the plunge and buy the van he'd always wanted.
"I'd been thinking about getting one for the last five years," explains the emergency medical technician. "But at the moment I've had a lot of changes with my job and, seeing things from a different perspective, I just decided to go for it - now I'm sorry I didn't do it years ago. I can clean it, keep it sterile and, even with work being busy, after a long day I can get into the camper and spend the night locally," he says. "Some days have been hectic and to just get in the van, be by the sea and put the kettle on is very restorative."
Some 30,000 camper vans are owned in Ireland, with prices ranging anywhere from €2,000 to €250,000 for a top-of-the-range Hymer VW. The slow-down in production, caused by the pandemic, has reduced supply to the market and, with demand at an all-time high, buyers beware.
"The amount of wanted adverts I have to authorise on our sales group on Facebook has increased tenfold," reveals Ally Onion, who runs motorhomecraic.com. "But there have also been quite a few scam sales and wanted adverts that we have had to contend with," he adds. "Online is a minefield of scams and new buyers need to be very, very careful."
Peter had looked at buying a van from private dealers. "But I got messed around a bit," he reveals. He had a much more positive experience buying from a dealer. "The after-sales care especially is something you'd never get from a private sale," explains Peter. "Every question I've had - from water pumps to gas services - he's helped me."
Declan is likewise keen to sing the praises of his buy from Cosy Campers, who specialise in building vans to the customer's individual specifications. "The spec is so good, right down to rear vision cameras," he enthuses. "I'm planning on using it every day and getting rid of the car." He's already had enquiries from people keen to buy it off him.
But for those on a more limited budget, many camper-van owners are evangelical about the benefits of self-builds and conversions. Stephanie Collins from Tralee bought her camper van - a former patient transfer vehicle - two years ago for around €6,000 and spent another €1,000 converting it into a comfortable holiday home for her partner and three-year-old daughter. "What you could buy for €7,000 wouldn't compare," she says.
They did the work themselves with no previous background in DIY. "It's been the best thing ever," says Stephanie. "We're both students and we rent but this is ours and we own it. Everywhere we go people love Neena - named because she's an ex-ambulance! My partner's brother has been looking to get a van but it's next to impossible. Every time one appears online, it's gone two minutes later."
There's another welcome aspect to a camper-van holiday, especially for those who have perhaps been living an isolated life of late. Buying a van is buying into a community, with multiple Facebook groups to ask questions in and share experiences.
"Normally there are lots of meets," explains Dublin mum-of-two Denise Carr, who has been taking holidays in her camper van with her kids, aged seven and nine, for the past eight years. "There are events where all the VWs drive in convoy around Ireland. My kids have summer friends who they meet up with every year. As a single parent, you don't necessarily want to be on your own so the community side of having a camper van is something that I love."
The craze for camper vans has also hit the rental market. "For the last two or three weeks, we've been working 12 to 14-hour days answering emails and phone enquiries and bookings!" reveals Sue Best who, along with her husband, runs Lazy Days camper hire in Co Wicklow.
Hires in July and August run at €165 per day with a seven-day minimum, falling to €130/day and a three-day minimum in September.
"It hasn't stopped," says Sue. "We're very nearly booked out and we expect the season will continue well into September and October."
And that's without their usual influx of international customers.
Driving wherever you fancy at a moment's notice and never even having to check the weather forecast sounds pretty idyllic, but there are things to consider should you wish to join the ranks of happy campers. Check the weight of the vehicle and what your licence permits you to drive - not all licences will cover a 7.5 tonne vehicle. Insurance will require your electricity and gas has been serviced and some insurance stipulates height restrictions.
Nor can you park anywhere. Some beaches are no-parking or operate height restriction signs. It's a regular bone of contention in the camper-van community that there's a shortage of dedicated parking spaces in many picturesque Irish towns.
"Most local authorities treat holidaymakers as free-loaders and prevent us from parking and spending money in local shops, restaurants and bars, unlike France and Spain, who actually provide parking for motor homes," reports one irate camper-van owner.
"Ireland has a long way to go to become as welcoming as France, Spain and Germany to camper vans," agrees Ally.
At the other end of the scale there are tales right now of fields in the West of Ireland filled with 40 or 50 vans - so much for splendid isolation. But at a time when freedom has felt curtailed of late, there's a lot to be said for having your own holiday home on wheels.
"The motor caravan holiday is the future of holidays for at least the next two years," predicts Bill Lupton, president of the Motorcaravan Club of Ireland.
"It gives the owner the security of a bed they know only they have slept in, they don't have to interact and they can park almost anywhere they like, when they like. It's freedom and a home on wheels - what more could you want than that?"
Sign up for our free travel newsletter!
Like what you're reading? Subscribe to 'Travel Insider', our free travel newsletter written by award-winning Travel Editor, Pól Ó Conghaile.
I’ve explored a lost town in Kilkenny. I shot one of my favourite Irish photos there. I’ve eaten Michelin-star meals in two different restaurants, and walked into the earth to find one of Ireland’s darkest places. Each time, I could have been home in time for tea.
After months of lockdown, we seem to be falling into two categories - those who are still a little anxious about the realities of our brave new world, and those whose cabin fever is so strong they're getting misty-eyed for 4am trips to the airport and excess baggage fees.