I camp. In Ireland. With about 500 other hippie-ish Irish people. It rains. It can be cold. It can be hot enough to give you sun stroke but I have only missed once in five years and that was only because my ankle was just out of plaster. I’ve had acquaintances look baleful at the prospect of camping in Ireland but it can really work well.
Yes, somewhere in Ireland there are 500 people gathering to camp out, cook meals together, make music and have a lot of fun over a week come rain or shine.
What I find really inspirational about Ireland is how so many people – with not a lot of financial resources – are endlessly creative. And they have fun while they are doing it.
Part of the appeal of Earthsong Camps is the programme of workshops- there’s plenty to do under canvas during the day and the evening. Drumming is a big feature on the programme but then so is four part singing, sound bath workships, drama, and other arts activities like willow sculpture. This is why this camp in Ireland is our favourite. It has a strong arts programme along with being environmentally sustainable. It’s this combination that makes camping in Ireland’s uncertain summer weather a pleasure. So not only can you be inspired to live more sustainably after a week of new concepts, you also get to try out lots of different art forms. You might be inspired to belly dance or to whirl like a Dervish. You might try your hand at writing your spiritual autobiography. You might be inspired to stand up and sing a song in public by taking to the cabaret’s stage.
I’m looking forward to having time out – away from the internet (bless it), cell phones, and anything electronic that goes buzz and womp. I’ll enjoy listening to music that is all acoustic, all ‘home made’ and in the moment. This switching off and powering down is an intriguing recipe for getting your internal battery recharged for the rest of the year.
The whole ethos of Earthsong Camps to live lightly on the land – part of an organic farm during the rest of year. We have composting toilets. The showers are heated by log burning stove. We camp in small circles of about twenty people so we can share the cooking and washing up (using eco-friendly washing products, of course!) Part of that is for camaraderie sake. But the practical spin is that you generally only have to cook dinner once during the week. And that is part of what makes a vacation!
Meitheal (pronounced meh-hall) is a concept rooted in Ireland’s rural harvest traditions. Since we will be camping at Lunasa (when July segues into August) this is particularly apt. Meitheal was the practice of each neighbour in turn helping one another to bring the hay in each year at this time. You have to work in dry weather so it is all hands to the scythes, one farm after the other, so that everyone has enough fodder for their cattle in winter. This communal helpfulness is more than just voluntarism. It’s the reality of everyone being part of the community, playing a vital part in the smooth operating of camp.
So the youngsters go on fetching water detail. The adults will take a turn helping out in some area of the camp. It might be sharing your life story with the teens. It could be that you wake early to stoke the log burner so the early risers have warm water for their morning shower. It might be helping out in the evening’s cabaret. The details need attention but there is always someone to put things in the Lost and Found tent or clear up a yurt after a workshop. That’s meitheal.
We have made wonderful friends over the years and we always look forward to meeting up again, embarrassing the children by commenting on how much they have grown. It’s a great way of connecting with people who share similar interests and who want to be kind to the planet. It’s ecotourism as well as a staycation”
So I am packing up my thermals in my old kit bag. It’s been an unseasonably cold summer. But you never know, it could get warm yet! The great constant of Ireland.
A reader of my blog is interested in traveling around Ireland but will only really be able to use public transport. She also wants to be able to access some of the fairy places and ancient sites. My short answer was, “Not impossible, but tricky.” It is doable with discipline, good organization, timekeeping and timetable literacy. To get to the more remote places you will probably meet amenable locals who will offer lifts and every assistance you could hope for, which is part of rural hospitality.
So Yes, you can really earn your Light Carbon Footprint badge using public transport. Using public transport in Ireland is also a way of seeing Ireland as an ecotourism destination.
You do need to wear waterproof outerwear and footwear because there will be times when you can only access some of the really interesting places by foot. If you are happy on a bike then also look into bike hire in places that you will visit. Also pack light as you will probably be wheeling, lugging or backpacking over a fair amount of distance. So consider your back’s health. I took a Redmond 40 litre rucksack for a one week trip. Allow for the inevitable books, gifts, CDs you will accumulate enroute. Leave some empty space in other words.
For instance, my enquirer would like to visit the Cavan Burren, which has many megalithic monuments. Now there is a wonderful opportunity to get guided bus tours during the Cathal Buí Festival week, in 2012 from 27th June to 2nd July. But outside of that festival you can still get a bus to Blacklion. While the Burren is a good six kilometres uphill and away someone who is happy to bicycle could enquire about bike hire in the Tourist information office. Otherwise it is a hike, but a taxi could fetch you home. Or your B&B proprietor would most likely see your right.
As I said, not impossible, but tricky. You cannot be shy about asking questions. Be clear where you would like to visit and then ask locals to help you figure out those logistics.
I do not have a full driver’s license and just over ten years ago when we were contemplating a move to rural Ireland I did a solo trip to see if it was possible to get around using just public transport. With the generous assistance of some B&B owners who gave me lifts to bus stops to make connections that didn’t work to plan, it did work out.
I did it by bus because there was an absolute steal of deal through Eurolines from England(where we were living at that time) to Dublin. All roads and transport links lead to Dublin so, bleary eyed from the over night ferry, I traveled onwards to Limerick where I fell comatose into my hostel bed and slept thirteen hours.
The bus services in Ireland are remarkably prompt. I encountered only one delay on my trip when some prankster had let a goat into the bus in Scariff overnight. The driver’s seat had been eaten. But even this amounted only to about a half hour delay while we waited for the replacement bus to arrive. You do need to be aware though that on Sundays and Bank Holidays (public holidays) the buses are fewer and farther between.
Since I am older now and not so lithe and limber of limb, I’d choose to take the train as my first preference. Whenever I return from transatlantic flights I take the early train to Sligo to get me to my bed in the shortest time. However, my outgoing journey to the airport is usually by bus. Bus Éireann is cheaper than Iaonród Éireann but if you combine the best of both you should be able to get around. Buses will take you deeper into the rural areas. Once in the very rural areas you may need to resort to kindly B&B proprietors, bicycle hire or shoe leather.
Irish Rail has a few options to suit the tourist. Check the prices, which will alter but there are three tickets for travelers around Ireland.The 4 Day Trekker Ticket is valid for 4 consecutive days and can be used on all Irish Rail Services.Useful for a short stay with brief hops between towns outlying Dublin.
The Irish Rover Rail ticket seems a better deal for transatlantic visitors who would like to see a number of destinations or sites over a two week period. This ticket is valid for 5 days of travel out of 15 consecutive days. It can be used on all Irish Rail Services including all Northern Ireland Railways services, which could allow you to take in Belfast, the Antrim coastal towns and Derry. With this option plus local bus you could conceivably see the Giant’s Causeway. Be aware that the timetables for the North of Ireland will be through Translink rather than on the Bus Éireann timetables.
If you are seriously wanting to get out into the countryside then you may want to spring for the Irish Explorer Rail and Bus ticket. This option is valid 8 days of travel out of 15 consecutive days and includes all Irish Rail Services and all Bus Éireann services.
If you have a bit of time you may get more bang for your buck by just using the tourist bus tickets available from Bus Éireann. They have an Open Road Ticket which is completely flexible in terms of length of time it will be valid. You choose your first and last travel dates. This is valid in the Republic only. If you want to include Northern Ireland on your itinerary then you probably should opt for the Irish Rover Ticket.
Depending on how long you will be touring, bear in mind that trains allow more leg room and opportunities to stretch your legs and wander around. But the buses will allow you to see more of the countryside on their routes.
On my trek those many years ago I was able to bus from Dublin to Limerick, Limerick to Mountshannon. My kind B&B proprietor, Mr. Waterstone, gave me a lift to Scariff on the morning that I went to Liscannor, via Limerick and some tourist time out in Ennis en route. I did a fair amount of walking that week in the Mountshannon area and it was a few miles hike to the Cliffs of Moher from my Liscannor B&B but I was prepared for wet weather and had good hiking boots. I was offered lifts and those that I accepted proved completely harmless but hitching lifts on your own in unknown territory is never a good idea.
You may want to have a smart phone and buy an Irish pay as you go SIM card while traveling so you can access the internet and check bus and train timetables. Depending on the area where you travel you will have to gauge which provider to use. Vodaphone is strong in rural areas. O2 seems to be popular in built up areas. Meteor is getting better in rural coverage. Ask at the shop, tell them where you intend to tour and enquire about the coverage in the areas you will visit.
So, once you know where you want to go and what you want to see, start perusing the online bus and train timetables to figure how you can pack it all in to one very eco-friendly itinerary. Traveling by public transport is slower, but you will meet people, chat, see a great deal of the countryside from your window. You can be independent but also secure as a lone woman traveler. And that lone woman trekker can walk lightly leaving less of a carbon footprint if she uses public transport.
Sustainable travel. Responsible tourism. Ecotourism. These are the buzz words for people who want and need to travel but sincerely desire to leave as light a carbonfoot print as possible. In which case, Ireland has a great deal to offer. In my A-Z of Things to See in Ireland, E stands for Eire as an Eco-destination. A great deal of effort and investment has been made to maximise the attractions and unspoilt natural beauty of Ireland’s Northwest as an ecotourism destination. There is absolutely a wealth of things to see, places to stay and good food to eat – and I have a hot tip at the end of this article for how you can neutralise you air and terrestrial mileage at the end of this article.