Destin-Nation Ireland: Budget Travel in Clover

A Guide to Budget Ireland

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Ireland has always been a popular destination for Americans, many of whom trace their ancestry to the island. Yet there is more on offer here than nostalgia for famines past. For those traveling on a budget, Ireland offers easy access to areas of tremendous natural beauty and an invitation to participate in local events and customs.

Ireland has always been a popular destination for Americans, many of whom trace their ancestry to the island. Yet there is more on offer here than nostalgia for famines past. For those traveling on a budget, Ireland offers easy access to areas of tremendous natural beauty and an invitation to participate in local events and customs.

Five years ago, when its economy was booming, an inexpensive trip to Ireland was all but impossible. Now that the property bubble has popped and the so-called "Celtic Tiger" has been declawed, prices have declined drastically and the Emerald Isle is again a feasible destination for budget-bound tourists. Should the economy become any less stable, price fluctuation could become a problem. So go now.

Getting there won't be hard. Aer Lingus, Delta, and United Airlines all offer frequent nonstop flights from Dublin to New York. Booking ahead pays dividends and lucky travelers can nab round trip fares from $500 or lower.

In fact, getting to Dublin is so easy that Northern Ireland - no longer a dangerous destination - often goes overlooked. The countryside in the north is worth a visit and travelers here are far from the madding (and occasionally maddening) crowd.

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Destin-Nation Ireland: Budget Travel in Clover

Many pubs in Ireland schedule regular jams for traditional Irish musicians.  Bartenders generally will know when the next "session" is, so enterprising travelers can quickly generate a calendar full of free concerts. In the online age, many bars post their music schedules online, but it is still a better idea to walk around and ask as it allows visitors to get a feel for how welcomed they will be during the events, which are in many cases an important community activity. Be careful not to take a musician's seat. There is nothing scarier than a pissed off fiddler.

Some of the establishments in the Temple Bar zone of Dublin, the most heavily touristed area of the city, have sessions, but it is more rewarding to venture further afield as many of the isle's best musicians live well outside the city. Doolin, a hamlet on the west coast in County Clare, is known for its particularly rich musical tradition. 

One of the big expenses for anyone traveling in Ireland is bound to be beer. When people say that drinking is the Irish national pastime, they are not kidding. The question for any budget traveler is how to avoid drinking his or her budget. Visitors should adhere to a Guinness standard and only pay what they feel is reasonable for a pint of the dark stuff. ($6.50 is probably about right.) 

The aspiring pot-bellied can venture to Quirkies Bar in Tralee, County Kerry, which claims to sell the cheapest pints in Ireland. Does it? Absolutely not. The cheapest pint is a free pint, so be friendly to locals and publicans. And remember that thick lager is more than just a drink, its a meal. The dedicated barhopper should be able to subsist on only bar snacks and Guinness - though we cannot, for legal reasons, recommend this. 

It should come as no surprise that heavily Catholic Ireland has a lot of churches, so many in fact that going on a dedicated church tour would be exhausting and futile: No one will see them all. A good strategy for travelers interested in bathing in gothic melancholia is to highlight the churches (or cathedrals or chapels) between point A and point B and use them to punctuate the day. A few ecclesiastical highlights: St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, St. Stephen's in Dublin, and Christ Church Cathedral, also in Dublin.

Visitors are welcomed warmly into most Irish churches, but remembering to dress appropriately is key. Taking a break in the pews can also be rewarding for those eager to observe first hand what a central role the church plays in Irish life despite recent scandal. Clergy and parishioners mill about and kids' squeal are forever breaking through the library quiet whispers. Though churchgoing is free, donations are always appreciated. 

The staid classical exterior of the National Museum of Ireland Natural History Branch is in keeping with its stately neighborhood on the outskirts of Dublin, but not with what lies inside. The Natural History Museum, more commonly known as the "Dead Zoo," is packed with the remains of animals trapped, stuffed and placed here during the heyday of british colonial power. The free museum evokes an era when the world was expanding so rapidly that the Western imagination could barely keep up. 

The skeleton of a massive Irish Elk is a particularly inspiring exhibit as it gives some sense of Ireland's primordial past, a distant memory made easily forgettable by a landscape defined so entirely by farms and villages.

The National Museum has several other free museums, including an Archeology gallery that features ancient treasures and weaponry and definitely deserves a visit.

The UK's National Cycle Network has laid over 1,000 miles of bicycle trails through Northern Island, making Belfast the perfect place to saddle up. Bikes are available for rent from Cycle Hire NI and there are a host of lovely B&Bs in the towns on the way to the walled city of Derry. Cycle through not only the gentle countryside that characterizes most of the isle, but also through the old factory towns that survived "the Troubles" and have spent much of the last few decades playing catch-up with the rest of England.

In Derry, a walkway around the confines of the inner city provides broad views where visitors can get a sense of both where the city has been and where the city hopes to go. The nearby Beech Hill Country House Hotel (from $90) provides cyclists with a retreat that recalls a more mannered era. Thick quilts and fireside seats help travelers leave their own troubles behind.

The Aran Islands sit in the turbulent waters off of Ireland's west coast and offer visitors a chance to wander through iron age ruins, lovely towns and the smallest church in the world. The wind whipping across the hills is fierce and wise travelers purchase one of the sweaters for which the island is famous (between $100 and $200 at a number of different stores) before setting off on a cliffside hike. Smart visitors choose their sweater patterns carefully: Villagers used to use the weave of drowned fishermen's sweaters to identify where they were from - wrong weave, wrong town. The sweaters may look expensive here, but the quality is excellent and warmth is always a good investment.

The Aran Direct ferry from Rossaville arrives on Inishmore, the largest of the islands, where visitors will find Dun Aonghasa ($4.50 entry fee), a massive fort overlooking the sea. 

The largest graveyard in Ireland, Glasnevin cemetery is like a sculpture park, a history museum and a haunted house all rolled into one. Amid a host of angels, visitors to this Dublin graveyard will find the stately grave of an actor, caught forever in a pose of leading man masculinity, looking towards the cemetery's imposing walls, which were constructed in the 1800s to keep out thieves eager to unearth and sell bodies to scientists.

The Celtic cross dominates here. The symbol, a cross imprinted with a circle, is both pagan and christian. The circle represents an ancient conception of the endlessness of life's cycle and the symbol long served as a sort of nationalist banner.

Observant travelers will notice the famous graffito on the graveyard's wall: "Eireoimid aris." This quote (meaning "We will rise again") was supposed to inspire political action, but wound up inspiring mostly filthy puns.


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