Staycation without the crowds? Irish hospitality can start with a humble scone...
Fresh scones. After sitting down with two Irish B&B owners in as many weeks, I’ve been reminded of what lies at the heart of Irish hospitality.
Within minutes of both, we landed on the same glowing image — a plate of homemade scones, served to guests with a cuppa and a chat.
Scones aren’t sexy. Marketers won’t be fast-tracking the scene to millennials. But what’s happening here goes way beyond a simple bit of baking — it’s about an authentic, uncontrived human connection, and in our frenzied lives, that’s a sought-after prize.
“Ah sure, it’s a very easy thing,” said Eileen Joyce of Springview House in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny (see our Fab 50 here). You won’t find Springview on Airbnb or Twitter, but 90pc of her guests come from overseas.
As we sat surrounded by a farmyard and family photos, it struck me that this is exactly what her visitors want. A real Irish house, a warm host and a slap-up breakfast.
There are over 1,000 B&Bs in Ireland, according to Fáilte Ireland. They account for just 5pc of Irish bed spaces, and many worry about passing the baton to a younger generation, but they haven’t fallen through the cracks.
Visits were up 18pc last year, according to B&B Ireland, and the other host I met — Ann Campbell from Seashore B&B near Ballysadare, Co Sligo — regularly welcomes guests from the US, Germany and Switzerland.
She serves lovely scones and breakfasts too, and has little trouble filling rooms. “It’s the simple things,” she said. “The Irishness is where it’s all coming from.”
So many of our home holiday choices are influenced by PR and marketing. From the Wild Atlantic Way to hotel chains and honeypots like Dublin and Kerry, big players have large budgets and loud voices.
But there’s far more out there — one reason Thomas Breathneach drove from Carnsore Point to Ballycotton for this week’s travel pages, and Mark Keenan tried out a barge holiday. You think B&Bs are niche? Try barges.
Reminding ourselves of these hidden gems is timely. Overtourism is a global issue, with pinch destinations growing crowded and expensive in peak season.
Contrast that with somewhere like north Mayo, whose Céide Fields have just won the Carlo Scarpa Prize, despite attracting just 30,000 visitors a year. You won’t find tour buses on the new Lough Derg Blueway, at the Burren Slow Food Festival (May 11–13) or the Cavan Walking Festival (May 4–11, pictured above), either.
Scour the map for places in between, and you’ll find all kinds of rewards... while spending less, particularly if you can travel midweek and during school term.
This Thursday, Fáilte Ireland unveils its next major tourism brand. Encompassing the Midlands, it will complement the Wild Atlantic Way, Dublin and Ireland’s Ancient East, with the aim of driving tourism development “across a region of midwest Ireland”, it says.
I’ll be waiting for details. And hopefully a scone.
Read more:The Fab 50: Ireland's 50 best places to stay for 2018