Pól Ó Conghaile: The sun is shining on Irish tourism - let's enjoy it
Home, sweet home
Let's make a little hay, and enjoy our country and each other while we can, says our Travel Editor.
When the sun shone this week, it felt like Ireland had swapped Instagram filters.
Within 24 hours, a stultifying, wintry grey had blossomed into a bright, blue-skied land where anything seemed possible.
Lawns were cut. Seeds were planted. Coats were left at home.
As St Patrick's day kicked off, traditionally the start of Ireland's tourism season, I felt an endorphin-like flush of optimism.
Yup, 2016 is going to be a good year.
Ireland may not have a government, but it has a tourism industry - visits jumped by over 20pc last year, according to CSO figures. Lonely Planet dubs the country a "global trailblazer" in its latest guide, and our food and craft drink scenes are flourishing.
In the months ahead, Fáilte Ireland will launch Ireland's Ancient East, Waterford is to unveil its 48km Deise Greenway, and EPIC Ireland will open at Dublin's CHQ.
Star Wars has landed on the Skelligs; Center Parcs is coming to Longford. In compiling this week's Irish bucket list, we had more options than ever.
It's not all sunshine, of course.
If the rainclouds of Rip-Off Ireland return, it's up to us to resist them.
Dublin has a new brand ('A Breath of Fresh Air'), but it's also plagued by streetworks, tattiness and a shortage of hotel rooms. It needs a capital project, similar to Titanic Belfast, to galvanise against European competitors.
All over the country, we need to find a balance between crowds, and quality. How many tour buses can the Wild Atlantic Way accommodate?
Let's enjoy the optimism; then take it to the next level.
Tips of the week...
Try something new
Hotels and self-catering holiday homes dominate the Irish staycation market, but they're not the only show in town. Airbnb.ie now has over 7,200 Irish hosts, and you can rent entire houses and apartments as well as rooms. Luxury Hostels are combining hotel-style comforts with affordable rates, and that's not even starting on camping.
As recession fades in the rearview mirror, booking early is becoming more important - particularly for school holiday periods. Right now, Trident Holiday Homes (tridentholidayhomes.ie) is offering early birds 20pc off rentals booked before March 31, for selected dates between May and July. A two-weeks-for-one offer is also available.
Hit hotels directly
Online sites like booking.com, hotels.com and trivago.ie are super-handy for searches, but it's worth checking directly with the hotel before you book. Hotels can bundle B&B with dinners and activities in special offers, and at high times of demand (eg late bookings) they tend to hold rooms back from such sites. Try the IHF's irelandhotels.com or groups like selecthotelsireland.com too.
What's on your Irish Bucket List?
We live in the best little country in the world, if our readers' tips are anything to go by! When we asked for suggestions for our Irish Bucket List on Facebook, replies ranged from Dungarvan to Donegal. Here are a few of our faves...
Máire Ní Conghaile, Co Galway: 'Inis Oírr, Aran islands for all its natural beauty. Trá álainn, the famous Plassey shipwreck, beautiful cycles and walks around the island and a fabulous playground for families. Great spot to relax and unwind!'
Elaine Loughman, Co Laois: 'What about the hidden lreland! Like the Slieve Blooms or the Rock of Dunamase (above) or beautiful Emo Court or Heywood Gardens!'
Catherine Boland: 'Loop Head is breathtaking. When you're there, drop into the amazing art studio and enjoy tea and the best scones ever with local artist and guide, Carmel Madigan. To me, it has far more spectacular scenery and better cliff views than the Cliffs of Moher!'
Read more:Dublin's Casual Food Revolution: 21 ideas for your next foodie trip The Irish Bucket List: 30 things to do in Ireland before you die Kinsale 2.0: A new wave hits Ireland's original foodie town