Festivals of Love

After all the talk of romantic locations in our last blogpost we got to thinking about other unique romantic events that happen in Ireland throughout the year. It turns out that romance is one of the big attractions when it comes to gatherings in the country. We checked out what was on offer and it turns out that Clare, Donegal, Galway and Cork are the places to be this year.


Lisdoonvarna is the undisputed centre of romance in Ireland. This one-time spa town in County Clare is so romantic that it has two matchmaking festivals. The traditional matchmaking festival is one of the largest in Europe. It has been held there for over 150 years and it  attracts upwards of 40,000 people all looking to find the love of their lives in the west of Ireland. They are helped greatly by lots of craic, country music dancing and Willie Daly who is a third generation matchmaker.

An alternative twist on the traditional matchmaking festival is The Outing which is running into its third year now. This runs in October in Lisdoonvarna. Although it is aimed at the LGBT community, this festival attracts everyone because it is just so much fun. There will be clubbing and fire-breathing and all sorts of alternative events that will shock the pants off you. In cute Irish style there will also be tea dances, and it will be hosted by Ireland’s favourite drag queen, Panti Bliss. Both of these festivals are near our hostels – The Burren Hostel in Lisdoonvarna and the Rowan Tree Hostel in Ennis.

Up in Donegal there is also a matchmaking festival in Ardara in November. This also has blind dates, speed dating, carry-your-partner competitions and even traffic light dating (where you wear green if you are available, orange if it is complicated and red if you are taken). Here you will find more matchmakers holding court and settling romances while the top country & music bands liven up proceedings. Our Bluestacks Hostel and Errigal Hostel are good bases to visit Ardara.

Jonathon Swift said “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”. Casanova swore by them. He supposedly ate 50 every day to keep his libido up. On the west coast of Ireland, every September sees the oldest oyster festival in the world. This is where you can wash the oysters down with champagne or stout, watch the parades and listen to the trad music. If you want to match Casanova’s exploits, you will have to beat Estonia’s Anti Lipek who is the current  oyster shucking world champion. Our Sleepzone Galway Hostel is centrally located for all you oyster lovers.


If you are a redhead and you are looking to keep the ginger gene alive, Cork is the place to be. Every year, dozens of our carrot-topped friends make their way to the red county to meet their foxy brothers and sisters and take part in all things redhair related for the Redhead Convention. This includes more speed dating with flame haired beauties, the Foxygen stage, ginger cook-offs, carrot throwing competitions and the crowning of the King and Queen of the Redheads. If you want to be red’y for it, check out our Cork International Hostel for your accommodation.




Adventure Forum

My first ever adventure with An Óige was two years ago. It was on a humid summer evening in the Mansion House. Yes, the Lord Mayor’s house. A bunch of young professionals sat listening to the inspirational Jim Gavin, the former Air Pilot – turned manager of the Dublin GAA team. He displayed the electric and modest presence of a decorated man. Jim was speaking to a group of us about dedication, leadership and the importance of belief in success.

I was sitting amongst this mass of young people. We had replied to a shout from the An Óige rooftops, a call to become involved in Ireland’s oldest and greatest Hosteling network. My parents had often reflected on their nostalgic experiences with An Óige’s hostels. They told me of seemingly timeless adventures during the late 60s and 70s. With friends, they would trek from hostel to hostel, rambling and winding through Wicklow. They once hitchhiked from the heights of Donegal to the mystical Connemara landscapes with rucksacks and guitars in tow.


Looking at An Óige’s map of hostels that are generously dotted around this great island, a flame was lit. An Óige hostels are located in amazing natural locations with access to many adventure activities nearby. As the then Lord Mayor thanked us and bid us farewell in the quirky, befuddled way that any Dublin city Mayor would, my mind was running wild with ideas about volunteering with An Óige. I was not the only one. Along with me were a bunch of business heads, adventure seekers, philosophers, outdoor enthusiasts, fashionistas and scouts. All different, but all united under the hosteling roof, dedicated to promoting An Óige’s ethos of giving young people an experience of the Irish countryside.

Arising from the Mansion House on that night in summer, the Adventure Forum was created. A group of us were brought together to create adventures for young people around the idea of hosteling. Our task is to work with the staff and each other to promote and partake in Adventure hosteling all around Ireland. We are also the young voice of An Óige.

This is why I have just returned home from an moonlit hike and meal in the peaceful surroundings of Knockree Youth Hostel.  Along with the fun and the banter we were also reporting on the projects we were working on. These covered areas such as media awareness, membership rejuvenation, activities, weekend trips, video projects, eco and sustainability projects and DIY work parties. It is great to be a part of it and we are always looking for new members.

Do you have a love of adventure? Do you want to volunteer with one of Ireland’s oldest organisations for young people?

If so, check out our Volunteer page or get in touch with kate@anoige.ie

knockree hostel

Brainstorming Adventures

Thanks to Darragh Miller for the blogpost!

10 Most Romantic Spots in Ireland

Ireland is well known as one of the most romantic spots in the world and recent surveys have shown that we are not too shabby when it comes to the old romancing. Here in An Óige we have couples that first met in our hostels and they now have grandchildren staying in our hostels. So you could say that we know a think or two about the subject of romance. These are our 10 recommended romantic spots, from the stunning Cliffs of Moher to a guaranteed marriage in a year thanks to a metal man on top of a rock, with lots of beautiful places in between. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, so what better way to surprise your loved one than with a romantic Irish trip?

Most romantic coastal spots

1) Being an island, we have more than our fair share of sandy stretches, secluded coves and wild cliffs where a fellow can get down on one knee without having the whole world looking at him.  If a dramatic backdrop is what you are looking for, the Cliffs of Moher offer miles of cliffs that will live on in the memory for years to come. They’re only down the road from our Burren Hostel and Rowan Tree Hostel.


Cliffs of Moher – cycleireland


2) If you want another coastal spot, Kilmakeder Church in the Dingle Peninsula has an ancient ogham stone with a hole in the top. In olden days, two fingers that touched through the hole were considered joined for life. Check this place out while staying in Dunquin Hostel.

CC-BY-SA 2.0 Daniel Stockman

Daniel Stockman

Most romantic lakeland spots

3) There is something about a large still expanse of water that gets us all romantic. Some say they mirror the longings of the soul. Others say it is the tranquil contrast between water and greenery. Still others say it is the fishing. When it comes to lakes, Killarney is up there as a world beater and there is no better spot to view the lakes than at the lovely named Ladies View. It is a bit of a trek from our Killarney and Black Valley Hostels but let’s be honest, we don’t mind a good hike. Fittingly, the second biggest lake in Ireland, Lough Corrib is situated in between Sleepzone Galway and the Old Mill Westport. Even closer to it is our Cong Hostel, where the romance between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara happened “The Quiet Man”.

Ladies View

Ladies View

Most romantic cities

4) We couldn’t mention romance without mentioning Dublin. Halfpenny Bridge is among our favourite places. The charming Halfpenny Bridge may not have many lovelocks on it anymore, but you can certainly choose it for its romantic architecture and the views it gives over Liffey and the center of Dublin:

Halfpenny Bridge

Halfpenny Bridge

5) As a Bonus, we’ll add Cork as well with its beautiful Blackrock Castle. A lot of weddings happen there and it also has a wonderful observatory centre, if you’re interested in getting a romantic view of the stars. The friendliness of Cork will make you feel like home in our Cork International Hostel.

Blackrock Castle

Blackrock Castle

Most romantic county

6) We’re just going to leave you decide why Co. Kerry, with the famous Dingle Peninsula, is definitely one of the most romantic spots you can find around Ireland. The views of the ocean from our Dun Chaoin Hostel, just beyond the cozy Dingle town, will give you the privacy you need for that special moment.

Kerry County - The Kingdom

Kerry County – The Kingdom

Most romantic castle

7) If you want a romantic and mostly medieval style escape for that perfect moment, we recommend Kilruddery and Glenveagh. The gardens at Kilruddery House are from the 17th century and they are one of the very few remaining around here in that style. Being only 20 minutes away from Knockree Hostel and its beautiful honeymoon suite, where last year alone there were 5 wedding receptions held. We can’t think of a more romantic place, actually. But then again, we like all of them so we’ll let you decide.

Kilruddery House

Kilruddery House

8) Situated in the Glenveagh National Park, the Glenveagh castle is definitely a special spot for romantic moments. Just look at the photo below, you can certainly feel transported back to the days of yore. And if you stay at our Errigal Hostel just 30 minutes away, with the beautiful local music in the background, you’re going to have a wonderful time.

Glenveagh castle

Glenveagh castle

Most romantic… adventure

9) Are you and your loved one into surfing? Hiking? Biking? In Ireland we have everything you need. If surfing would be the most romantic adventure for you, then you can go out to Tramore near Waterford. Miles and miles of sandy beaches give way to the best spot for long walks, a lively night life and of course a great spot for surfing. Legend says that if you hop barefoot around the base of the Metal Man in Tramore three times you should be married within the year. Sounds reasonable, right? With our Beach Haven Hostel near by, nothing can go wrong.

MetalMan Tramore

MetalMan Tramore

10) Kayaking in Cape Clear with our Craic’n’Crash team. How can’t you find that romantic?


Kayaking in Cape Clear



Have you got any other suggestions or stories for romantic Ireland? Let us know in the comment section!

5 reasons why you should Rent-a-Hostel

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to rent a whole hostel to yourself? Did you know that An Óige now do Rent-a-Hostels which are ideal for group get-togethers? Imagine a group of you and your friends taking over your favourite hostel and having the time of your lives.

The communal atmosphere in our hostels makes everyone instantly at ease and it makes a stay with us seem like a home away from home. Whether it is family reunions, weddings with that personal touch, or just a bunch of friends hanging out together, our Rent-a-Hostel packages offer you something unique.

1. It’s all yours

Having the exclusive use of a hostel means that you have the place to yourself. Your group will be the only ones there so you can relax knowing that your group will be able to gel and mix in the way that they know best. Whether it is a family get-together or a team-building event it will be you and just you. Also, because we have such a variety of hostels to choose from in all shapes and sizes (from our 18th century lodge in Killarney to our eco hotspot in Donegal), your group will be sure to find somewhere that suits their style. Plus our staff are always nearby in case you need anything.


2. Come and go as you please

Hostellers love their freedom. They don’t do formal very well and they have a healthy dislike for too many rules. Rent-a-Hostel gives you will the run of the place yourself. You choose your own schedule. You cook whatever you want. You come and go as you please. Our hostel amenities are ideal for groups who like to have some flexibility built into their plans, but just in case you don’t want to bother with the cooking, we can even arrange that for you aswell. The decision is yours.


3. Keep the costs down

Organising group time away with your friends need not be a bank-breaking exercise. An Óige was set up to provide budget accommodation for people who like to think outside the box. Rent-a-Hostel actually works out much cheaper because you are paying for the building and not the individual beds. Our prices range from €240 per night in our small mountain lodge in Glenmalure to €1250 per night for our brand spanking new hostels in Wicklow and Donegal during the low  season (of course these are subject to availability). The extra benefits with a Rent-a-Hostel are the private and family rooms along with the dorms. So the more people you have with you, the easier it will be on your wallet.

4. Hassle free

Rent-a-Hostel usually means organising for groups and this is where we can help you. An Óige has been dealing with groups since 1935 so we know how much organising it takes to get a bunch of wildly different personalities from Point A to Point B. Our experienced Groups Department will take care of all your needs for booking the hostel. They can also advise you on your getaway, from local knowledge about schedules and activities to transport and shopping and making sure that you know about the many discounts that our hostel members have access to.

5. A world outside your door
All our hostels were designed to bring visitors into the outdoors. They are situated in the sort of locations that constantly appear on glossy travel magazines. No wonder they  are used for so many weddings! They are also very close to a number of outdoor activities and cultural hotspots so there is always a selection of things to see and do. Perfect for keeping your group entertained. Our hostels in Knockree, Killarney and Donegal are located in the heart of some of the most beautiful spots in Ireland and they are sure to add some relaxing vibes to your break.


Book one of our Rent-a-Hostels for yourself. Email Delphine on groups@anoige.ie, call her 01 830 4555 or check out our group page for more details.

Ten alternative things to do in Dublin

So, you have been to the top attractions in Dublin before. You have done the Guinness Storehouse and stood in line to see the Book of Kells. What if this is your second visit to the capital or if you fancy exploring alternatives? Fear not. Visitors to our Dublin International Hostel are an adventurous lot and they have found real-life Mummies, strange food customs, hidden gardens and secret societies (that are open to the public!) in their explorations of Dublin. Check out what else they suggest to do.

1. Deadly Buzz

Dublin is not a new town. It has history. This means we have lots of dead folk, and dead folk like their space. One of the latest Dublin attractions is Glasnevin Cemetery which houses 1 million deceased Dubs and has the world’s first cemetery museum. Dublin is so popular a resting place that St Valentine even ended up here.

Hostel TipSt Michans Crypt (just ten minutes from our hostel and only €5 in!) where Bram Stoker (author of Dracula) used to give himself nightmares as a child. No-one knows exactly how the crypt has preserved the bodies there, but you can still see the Crusader, the Nun and the Thiefs in their coffins today.

2. Fishy Food

fish and chips

Fish and chips arrived in Dublin after an Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Cervi mistakenly got off the boat at Cork and walked to Dublin in 1880 to sell his fish in batter. His wife Palma would ask customers “Uno di questa, uno di quella?”. This phrase (meaning “one of this, one of the other”) entered the vernacular as a”one and one” and this is how the locals refer to it today. In 1913 Ivan Beshoff came to Dublin from Russia and opened his Edwardian fish shop while Leo Burdock opened his shop in the same year and the two have been in competition ever since. You decide which is the best!

3. Secret Gardens

Blessington St Lodge

Image Credit – William Murphy
Flickr (CC-SA-2.0)

You can’t come to Ireland and not expect to see some greenery. The capital city has about there 2000 hectares of green space. These range from the massive (Phoenix Park, where you need to hire a bike to get around it) to the tiny (The Garden of Remembrance) and are full of surprising features which will delight you (a helicopter pad in Dublin Castle Gardens, a waterfall and sunken archery range in the Iveagh Gardens, and a rhinocerous in the river along the Dodder linear park!).

Hostel Tip – This is the one closest to our hostel (5 minutes – just ask at reception for directions), in Blessington Street Basin. Dublin’s Secret Garden is so secret that even the locals are often unaware of its existence. When the sun is out, it’s a lovely spot to sit and eat a sandwich and watch the wildlife in the lake.


4. Bizarre Bazaars

Ferociius Mingle Market

Dublin was founded by Vikings who realised they needed somewhere to set up shop and sell all the gear that they had been plundering from the rest of Europe. It was like a medieval shopping centre. Since then, Dublin has been buying and selling whatever it could, and the city is still full of markets, which makes it a bargain-hunters dream. You can find everything from the local Moore St which is famous for its local women shouting “Three-for-a-euro!” and calling everyone “Luv” to the Victorian treasure trove of boutiques and stalls that is Georges Street Arcade.

Hostel Tip – Ferocious Mingle Market where hipsters go to pick up what they cannot find elsewhere and figure out what is trendy by listening to fortune-tellers.

5. Lost for Words

Samuel Beckett

Dublin has something in the water when it comes to putting pen to paper. In the past we had Nobel prize-winners like Joyce and Beckett. Today’s Dublin is still a literary city with the musical language of the locals jumping off the page like a nudist at the 40 Foot. Writers like Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle (of The Commitments fame) and Joseph O’ Connor continue to capture that infectious dialect. Spoken word events are taking it to the next level at places like the Brown Bread Mix Tape and Milk and Cookies.

Hostel tip – Our recommendation goes to the Dublin Writers Museum which is just around the corner from our hostel and regularly holds lunchtime theatre and readings.

6. Coasting Along

Dollymount beach

Kite-surfing Dollymount Strand

You wouldn’t normally think of Dublin as a beach spot, but we get a lot of visitors who like to skirt the edges of the city and they tell us that it is worth a gander. Dublin, is after all, a coastal city with walkways connecting the North and the South coastline. Some of them are wide open spaces which are perfect for clearing the head after sampling the Dublin nightlife. Traditional beaches like Portmarnock are full to bursting capacity on sunny days while kite-surfers touch the sky on Dollymount on windy days and wizened old men splash about like seals in mid-winter at the 40 Foot.

Hostel tip – Hop on the DART (nearest staion Connolly Station) and explore the coast at your own pace.

7. Secret Sniggers

Dublin is a great spot for the  craic, that much sought after state of fun that only happens in Ireland and you sit in a crowd of strangers chuckling away to yourself. Many of our finest pub philosophers have tried to define what exactly the “craic” is but all we know is that it involves copious amounts of laughter, which is why comedy is big on the agenda in Dublin.  There are lots of places where you can get your belly-laughs in Dublin, from the The International Bar which has comedy 7 nights a week to The Stags Head FREE comedy stage.

Hostel tipBattle of the Axe comedy improv at The Halfpenny Bridge Bar, just 15 minute walk from our hostel.

8. Authentic Pubs

Quite pint

Dublin is pub central. Yes, we know that you have been to all the best pubs the last time you were here. You had the craic. You have had some pints. You have listened to some music and had a chat with an old Dublin character about the connection between Ulysses and the banking system (Yes, we met him too and he owes us a pint).  You have been to the highest pub, the oldest pub, the smallest pub and probably a pub with an unusual amount of bric-a-brac that was full of tourists. You consider yourself a pub expert at this stage, but most of these pubs are tourist traps.

Hostel Tip – The Sackville Lounge. Authentic and alternative. This small wood-panelled side street pub off O’ Connell St is home to actors waiting to be called for rehearsals, writers procrastinating and office-workers marking time before the hipsters arrive.

9. Not so Secret Buildings

Freemasons Hall, Dublin

Image Credit – Journal.ie
Freemasons Hall, Dublin

Freemasonry is one of the world’s largest secret societies. Although it’s origins are obscure, it was supposed to have come from the 14th century stonemasons guilds in Europe. With the amount of stonework in Ireland, it comes as no surprise that the society arrived here. The Dublin lodge is the oldest in continuous existence in the world and Irish freemasonry was so successful that it was the form that spread through the British colonies. Ireland also initiated the first woman freemason in the world (Elizabeth St. Leger).  In typical Irish fashion, the freemasons in Ireland were never very good at keeping secrets and they built their Grand Lodge across the road from the Government buildings. You can take a tour of the Freemasons HQ (for just €2!) which includes more weird symbolism than you will see in a Da Vinci Code movie.

10. Walk on the Wild Side

Behan Statue, Royal Canal

Image Credit – William Murphy
Flickr – CC BY SA 2.0

One of the more unusual walks here is the walk along the Royal Canal. Here you will meet a statue of Brendan Behan (Dublin playwright famous for prison experiences and writing “The Auld Triangle”). Your walk takes you by the huge Victorian towers of Mountjoy Prison, through two canal locks and up to Broome Bridge where there is a plaque inscribed to the scientist, William Rowan Hamilton.  In a flash of inspiration he invented the formula that would make 3D computer graphics and lunar flight possible. He carved the formula on the stones of the bridge so that he would not forget it. Then he invented apps (actually, we made that last bit up).


Donegal Traditional Music

Our Errigal Hostel is located in the centre of the Donegal Gaeltacht which where you will find some of the best traditional folk musicians in Europe. This is the home of Clannad, Altan and Enya. Most of the pubs in the area host traditional Irish music sessions. There are music schools throughout the year which attract musicians from all over the globe, such as the Frankie Kennedy Winter School and the Ceolnacoille where you can learn how to play your own instrument.

Traditional Irish music is the type of music that turns strangers into friends and it has rhythms that gets the feet tapping. Donegal music is even more unique because of its remote location and its influences. While European folk traditions are suffering as a result of mass produced pop music, Donegal artists such as Enya have spread their musical identity across the globe in films such as Lord of the Rings.

Bodhran, Dekoration im Irish Pub "The Old Dunliner" Hamburg, 17. Apr. 2008

Like a lot of cultural things in Ireland, this is down to history. The earliest annals of Ireland listed musicians alongside poets and kings, so they were obviously deemed important. When the Irish saints travelled across Europe, they also brought their music with them and this tradition of carrying their instruments with them continued into modern times during the waves of emigration.  So popular were they that Queen Elizabeth 1 had Irish harpers and Sean Nós singers in her court. This specialised folk singing was a huge influence on the likes of Van Morrisson and Sinead O’ Connor.

Traditional Irish music is mostly drinking songs, ballads and laments along with dance music. These include reels, hornpipes and jigs. Instruments include the fiddle the flute and the Uileann pipe. Unlike the Scottish bagpipes, uileann pipes are filled with air by a bellows under the elbow. It is said that the Uileann pipes were inspired by warpipes and they take seven years learning, seven years practising and seven years playing. The bodhran was first mentioned in 17th century. This circular drum was probably first used for folk rituals like the wren boys but it gradually found its way to the session where it is most used today.

In the 20th century, button accordion and concertinas were added to the bag of tricks. The banjo followed soon after. Strangely, the banjo is an African instrument which was brought to America by African slaves. Irish musicians had no problem taking these rhythms on board.  In the 1960s in Ireland, folk music underwent a revival with bands like The Clancys who inspired the later fusion of artists like Clannad and Altan. More exotic arrivals were brought into the scene with the mandolin and the bouzoki.

Donegal musicians have very close links with Scotland through the fishing industry and the waves of immigration between the two countries in the 19th century. It developed its own unique style of music. When Comhaltas (the national body for Irish traditional music) set out to promote and standardise music in Ireland, Donegal resisted. The Donegal style of Sean Nós singing uses simple melodies and a nasal style. This gives it a stark and lilting sound and enthusiasts say that the words stand out more. Donegal musicians created the Highland, that Irish version of the Scottish strathspey. There are also mazurkas which are a Polish folk dance that arrived here in the 1840s and took root.

The tin whistle, flute, concertina and accordion were very rare in Donegal until modern times. The fiddle was the king of the instruments. The Donegal fiddle has a quicker pace with more aggressive bowing. Fiddlers often play the melodies against each other in different octaves.  Some say that they try to imitate the bagpipes and there is definitely more of a “lilt” to it. Donegal fiddlers often consider the national repertoire not as exciting as their own techniques which are certainly more diverse and complicated. Luckily, they love to showcase those abilities in Donegal sessions.

Next time you are at one of our hostels in Donegal, make sure you enquire at reception about the nearest music session.









Donegal Cliffs

Anyone who has visited our Errigal Hostel will have met our lovely Sinead there. She has been a part of the hostel since 2007 and is a great woman for the chats and the cup of tea. Over the years she has listened to our guests rave about the lovely scenery and the walks around Errigal but she is not what you call an outdoor lass. Last week she decided to change this, put on her walking boots and head for the hills to see what all the fuss was about. Here is her report.

Slieve League

Sinead at Slieve League

I’ve been looking after visitors to Donegal for a long time and always heard about the amazing Slieve League Cliffs. After our own Errigal Mountain, it is one of the favourite places to visit by the people who stay here. I always felt that I couldn’t give our guests the right description of one of our top beauty spots so I decided to pay it a visit. Of course the weekend that I picked was also the same weekend that the weatherman issued an Amber Warning with gusts of wind in excess of 70mph along the Irish coast. Typical!

Slieve League is about an hour and  a half drive from our hostel and the route took us along a good stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. It is not called wild for nothing.  The wind was howling and the waves were sending spray crashing over the rocks. I can see why so many people come from all over to drive along this route. The Atlantic batters the headlands but the landscape just rolls away into the hills. Along the way I stopped off to see my old friend Mary in Glencolumbcille for some tea. Mary is great craic but she thought I was away with the fairies to be heading to Slieve League on a day like that. She stayed by the turf fire while I headed on.

It was worth it though. The Wild Atlantic Way drive down to the village of Teelin was stunning but the cliffs are amazing. Rising almost 2000ft/598m these sea-cliffs are the highest in Europe and are nearly twice the size of those little excuses for cliffs at Moher. Once you hit the village of Teelin, the views start and you want to stop the car every 2 minutes to get out and look at the view. We drove as far as we could up the road which climbs to the top of the cliffs before getting out at the viewing point.

Slieve League

Image Credit – Wikipedia Commons

What a view!! I was so glad we chose the day we did. The waves were powerful and dramatic beneath us and you could really feel the wind swirl around you and blow the cobwebs off us after the drive. I took a handful of snaps and just looked out along the cliffs and felt really small in comparison. I am so delighted to have went and I now know why our guests rave about it. We just don’t appreciate what beauty surrounds us until we see it through a visitors eyes but at the end of the day I’ll always be a Dunlewey girl and the view of the hills will be tops in my eyes.

To follow Sinead and the Errigal Hostel crew, visit their Facebook page or connect with them on Twitter

Better still, pay them a visit and have a cup of tea with Sinead.

For more info on Slieve League

Dublins Top 10 Budget Attractions

Dublin is a full of life.  From the fun in the pubs to the charm of the neighbourhoods, it is one of those cities that is top of the list for hostel folk who want to get under the skin of a city. Like most capital cities, the trick is to find the quality experiences that offer the best value. That is what hostelling is all about. Here is our list of top attractions with our hostel tips for getting the most out of the experience.

1. Pub Life

Guinness gate, Dublin

Your pilgrimage starts here…

The Guinness Storehouse is the top attraction in Dublin, but at €18 a pop it is not the cheapest. However, we think it is worth parting with your cash. Guinness is iconic. The story of how this craft business became a global brand is a great tale about a man with 21 children, a 9000 year lease and a unique taste. It also tells you a more about Dublin life than any history book could, because it has been part of the city since the 18th century.  The museum itself is shaped like a pint glass and rises 7 stories into the Dublin skyline. Each floor shows you how the drink is made and gives you a barrel load of fascinating  drops that are connected to Guinness. You can even pull your own pint and get a certificate to prove you did it.

Hosteller Pro tips –  Buy your ticket at our Dublin hostel reception for discounts and queue-jumping benefits. Yay! Make a decision on whether to use your pass on the taste experience (different versions of Guinness) or the pint at the end of the tour in the Gravity Bar. Having a pint of Guinness is no big deal to us so we went for the taste experience and we were happy with our choice.

2. Sport Life

hurling twitter

You can tell a lot about a place by the way they play. Croke Park is the home of the Gaelic Athletic Assosciation (GAA), the grassroots cultural sporting force that has been at the heart of Irish life since the late 19th century.  Even for people not interested in sports, this is a must visit as it really gives you an idea of what makes Irish people tick. Unlike most sports, the games are all played by amateurs and you have to play for the team where you were born so it is deeply parochial and it inspires an almost religious  following among ordinary folk. The GAA has been shy of its success in Ireland but this is changing as the world is catching up with the sport since Sky Sports started to broadcast games from the 4th largest stadium in Europe. The new museum is amazing and the Skyline walk ontop of the stadium is one of the best ways to see Dublin in all its glory beneath you.


Hosteller Pro Tip – Go and see a game. National Geographic have voted the finals as “the experience of a lifetime” and overseas sports twitterati have described the national sport of hurling as a cross between hockey and murder. Plus it is only a sort walk from our Dublin International Hostel.

3. Wild Life

Temple Bar, Dublin

Flocks of wild birds roam the streets in bright coloured plumage

Temple Bar is the centre of tourist Dublin. It is like Croke Park for the craic. It is all cobblestones, bohemian shops, cafes and buskers singing their hearts out for the tourists. It also has a lot of commercial stuff, so if it is leprechaun hats and inflatable tricolour hammers you are looking for, this is the place. We go to Temple Bar for some good quality people-watching. This is the main sport in Dublin along with chatting. We love it because it is FREE!

Hosteller Pro Tip – Temple Bar can be expensive for drinks so soak up the atmosphere and keep your cash for cheaper spots. For culture vultures, check out the Photography Archive in Meeting House Square.

4. Past life

Bog Body, Dublin

Preserved Bog Body

Say what you want about Ireland being an expensive place but the fact that our museums are free is a big plus. Go Ireland! The National Museums are where you will see all our EPIC stuff. We have perfectly preserved bog bodies, Viking ships, ceremonial stone axes, celtic brooches, religious objects that have more bling than Beyonce and prehistoric gold which makes you wonder about the fashion sense of the ancient Irish. When Dublin was part of the British Empire we also managed to get our hands on a few Mummies and treasures from the Egyptian expeditians along with Roman and Greek artifacts. We also have the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Museum of Natural History (The Dead Zoo). Did we tell you they are all FREE!

Hosteller Pro Tip – Go to one of the Saturday morning workshops for FREE!

5. Modern Life


Little Museum, Dublin

Known as the “messages”

This is the new kid on the block and winner of all sorts of tourst awards. Imagine if you asked the people of Dublin to root around in their houses and donate anything they thought was important to a museum. This is what you end up with. A fascinating social history of Dublin in the 20th century. It has everything from the story of the Womens Movement to a display of early U2 posters and memorabilia.

Hosteller Pro Tip – Sign up for the City of a Thousand Welcomes and the museum will connect you with a Dublin ambassador who you can go for a pint or a cup of tea with and then you can get a tour for 50% of the price.

6. Plant Life

Botanic Gardens, Dublin

From flesh-eating exotic plants to rare species (so rare that some of them only exist here), the National Botanic Gardens is one of the secret spots that Dubliners go to when they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is an oasis of calm and beauty, and entry is free. A premier scientific institution, the gardens also contain the National Herbarium and several historic wrought iron glasshouses. It has an arboretum, sensory garden, rock garden, Burren area and sculpture trails.

Hosteller Pro Tip – View the newly built Viking longhouse and then pop across the road to Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum. After that pop in to the Gravediggers Pub. Day sorted!

7. Prison Life

Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin

Imagine a giant hostel for Revolutionaries and Rebels with dragons on the door and some really strict house rules. Kilmainham Gaol (the old word for jail) is the place. When the English (Boo! Hiss!) wanted somewhere to put their annoying Irish subjects, this is where they brought them.  This imposing prison was one of the most notorious in Europe and is a must visit for anyone with a heart. This is where revolutionary Joseph Plunkett married Grace Gifford in a cell the night before he was shot and where Anne Devlin was held in solitary confinement for refusing to give up revolutionary, Robert Emmet. At €2 entry for students and €6 for adults, this is great value, and they let you out after (if you behave).

Hosteller Pro Tip – Watch The Italian Job or In the Name of the Father (fantastic movie filmed in the prison starring Daniel Day Lewis about Irish people falsely imprisoned for terrorism) first to get an idea of the space. Go on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Take a moment to stand in the centre of the gaol and just be grateful that times have changed.

8. Student Life

Trinity College, Dublin

Since 1592 this part of the city has been home to that subset of young people called the student. Trinners, as they are known, are largely oblivious of the visitors that wander around the courtyards and buildings looking for the Old Library Exhibition. The university is located in between the busiest streets of the city, with traffic circling in a never ending loop and statues guarding the gates. Once inside, this place is an oasis. The Old Library Exhibition is reasonably priced and it gives you entry to the Book of Kells Exhibition and the Long Room (which was the inspiration for the Jedi Library in The Phantom Menace).

Hosteller Pro Tip – Lots. Watch a student cricket match on the pavilion or visit the exhibition in the Science Gallery or be blown away by the Thursday night evensong mass. Free!

9. Parklife

Phoenix Park, Dublin

City Slickers

Another freebie. This is one of the largest urban parks in the world and definitely the largest in Europe. It was originally built as a walled hunting park in the 16th century and still has herds of deer roaming in it. The Irish President lives here in a house designed by the same lad that designed the White House. Numerous ambassadors live here too. It is full of herds of deer, roller bladers, joggers and cyclists. It has a zoo, a polo field, a cricket pavilion and lots of playing fields. The Garda HQ is there so it should be safe. but you won’t catch us there after dark.

Hosteller Pro Tip – Free Saturday Yoga by the bandstand outside the Zoo.

10. Village Life


Dolphin playing with paddle boarder at Dalkey Island
Image Credit – John Fahy

Dublin is made up of tiny little villages that sit beside each other like old men in a crowded pub. Each one of them has a story to tell. It can be tempting to stay in the city centre but this is not the hostelling way. We like to get out and about and explore the places that the crowds don’t even think about. If you want to discover what Dublin is really like, there is an easy way to do it. The DART service is the urban rail network that runs along the coast from North to South through the city. It is cheap (get a rambler ticket), fast and brings you through a number of  unique parts of Dublin. We recommend you head for Howth to sample the Dublin Bay Prawns and discover radio hiostory in the  Hurdy Gurdy Museum, go kite-boarding on Dollymount Strand, swim in the 40ft at Dun Laoghaire  or sneak around Killiney trying to spot Bono.

If you are a repeat visitor, you will already have done these so we would love to hear what you thought of them?

Top 10 attractions near Newgrange Hostel

Our hostel in Newgrange is situated less than an hour from Dublin, but it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. This is the Boyne Valley which UNESCO designated as one of Ireland’s three World Heritage Sites. Unlike Skellig Michel and the Giants Causeway,  the Boyne Valley was deemed important because it has been used continuously for over 5000 years. It has been the home of the first Stone Age farmers, Bronze Age warriors, Iron Age High Kings, Celtic druids, early medieval saints, Vikings, Normans, English Kings and Irish revolutionaries – they all managed to put their roots down here and most of them left a lot behind for us to explore.

It is this continual use throughout history which gives it so many attractions. Whether you are a country rambler, a city slicker looking to get some fresh air or a family looking for a few spots to picnic with the kids, this is a great place for history buffs.

1. Brú na Boinne


Across the road from the hostel

The huge monuments of Brú na Boinne are older than the Great Pyramids and they cause lots of arguments among our staff. We know that the people who built these giant mounds were early farmers (3500BC) that used stone tools. We don’t know why they built these elaborate structures or how they managed to transport the giant stones from Co Louth or the white quartz from the Wicklow Mountains when they had not even invented the wheel. We do know that they contain a quarter of the stone carving art in the whole of Europe.  We know they were constructed in such a way that at different times of the year, the rising and setting sunlight illuminates the deep interiors and that the mounds also track the movement of the moon and stars. We know that it was a ceremonial pilgrimage site for Celtic people when the Romans were civilising the rest of Europe.

The High Kings of Ireland claimed it in the medieval period and the Vikings attacked it. Even the Normans moved here and built a castle on top of one of the mounds. Go on the tour and make sure you go inside the monuments. Please tell us what you think it was for, before we all drive each other nuts in the office.

2. Tara

Hill of Tara

Tara is so special in Ireland that all roads were designed to lead there. This is the real capital for history buffs. It certainly has some of the best views in Meath, along with the most amount of prehistoric monuments in one spot (which is something in a land where every field has a story!). No matter which way you turn here you will see something connected to a period of Irish history. The stone age people buried their elite here (in 1600BC) and historians reckon that it has been used as a ceremonial complex ever since. The Celts held their rituals here and the High Kings were chosen here, so it was no surprise that St Patrick chose Tara for his final battle with the druids at this spot. When Ireland was trying to get Emancipation, Daniel O’ Conell held his monster rallies up here to drum up support. Tara was considered so special that a group of Victorian Indiana Jones style archaeologists tried to dig it up to look for the Lost Ark of the Covenant (but all they found was old pennies thrown into the holes at night by local people).

Kids love it because it is full of massive grass covered mounds that are ideal for running up and down on (although be careful of the sheep poo!) and every year the Summer Solstice attracts lots of modern day druids. There are guided tours (audio and the old fashioned ones with real people) and we highly recommend these because every bump in the ground here tells a different story about Ireland.

3. Trim Castle

Trim Castle

When the Normans arrived (boo!), they headed upriver and decided that Trim was the place to be. Along with transforming the town from its higgledy-piggledy layout into the straight and narrow streets that are still there today, they also built giant abbeys, town walls to keep the common people out and one of the largest castles of its type in Europe.

The castle tour is fantastic as it tells the story of how it was built, the politics that went on here, the people and the lifestyle of the Normans in Ireland (they had some seriously weird hygiene habits, such as not believing in washing and using poop to fumigate their clothes). They also tell you about how Mel Gibson transformed the castle for the movie, Braveheart. This is about a 40 minute drive from the hostel or you can get a bus from Drogheda.

4. Lough Crew


This is another collection of stone age monuments, only this time they are on the highest spot in the Boyne Valley on a group of three hills that are named after a magical woman called the Cailleach. It is about a half an hour drive from our hostel and involves a gentle climb (with more opportunities for child-rolling) and views as far as Dublin and Northern Ireland.

It is famous for the stone carvings that can be seen in its upright stones and for its alignments with sunrises. The main monument can be entered at certain times of the year and it has a completely different vibe than Newgrange due to the fact that it is on such a remote location. If you make it for the Equinoxes, you will meet lots of interesting characters who have also made the journey to welcome the changing seasons from this hilltop.

5. The River

The Boyne is a slow moving river that meanders gently through the valley. It was named after a water goddess (Boann) that would not do what she was told and was chased into the Irish sea. It flows through the towns of Trim, Navan and Slane and is the old natural border between North and South Ireland. This is probably why it was the site for so many conflicts over time.

The famous Battle of the Boyne (more about that later!) took place along its route, as did an earlier melee between the fabled hero Cú Chulainn and the King of Tara (in which the King riled Cu Cuchulainn so much that he threw his spear across the river and then used his legendary salmon leap to follow the spear and take the king’s head off before it hit the ground. Lovely!) Today the Boyne is used for more gentle pursuits such as kayaking and white water rafting.


6. Mellifont Abbey

Mellifont Abbey, Louth

The Cistercians arrived in the Boyne Valley in 1142. These guys were worker monks. They prefered herding sheep to saying mass, although they did both. They owned a lot of the land here during the middle ages and they gave Newgrange its name after their old grange (sheep farm) became too small for their booming business. They built all the river weirs to catch fish for the Dublin market and they were one of the largest exporters of sheep wool at the time. Considering sheep wool was the most commonest form of clothing material in Europe, they were onto a winner.

The monks are still in Mellifont, working away, although the wool industry is not as big as it used to was. They were a thrifty lot though, so any ruins that were left behind, they kept. Mellifont has an octagonal lavabo ( a really fancy place that priests used to wash their hands), plenty of columns and walls and a visitor centre that specialises in medieval masonry. A solid tour.

7. Oldbridge House

Battle of the Boyne

Battle of the Boyne

Oldbridge House is just outside Drogheda along the banks of the Boyne. You can walk to it from the hostel. The land all around here was the site of the largest battle on Irish soil and it was the last time that European Kings (James and his son-inlaw William. Talk about a family squabble!) physically fought in battle (1690). It was a proper old fashioned battle with cannnons and muskets and charging cavalry and you can still find musket-shot in the fields. After the mess at the Battle of the Boyne the Kings wisely decided to leave that carry-on to soldiers.

It will always be remembered for changing the course of European history (the balance of power shifted from Catholics to the Protestants in Europe) and it is the reason that the Orangemen march in Northern Ireland every July 12th. Inside the house, there is a cool laser display of the battle grounds and more cannons and implements of war from the 17th century.

8. Monasterboice


Monasterboice is another spot near Newgrange Hostel which is worth a visit if ruins are your thing. It has the remains of two early medieval Irish Churches and a typical Irish round tower. Unlike the later Cistercians, the early Irish monks were more into using art instead of sheep farming, so you will see examples of Irish High Crosses here. Irish monks were famous for using these to keep the faith alive during the Dark Ages and one of the best examples in Europe is situated here in front of the round tower. Muirdeach’s High Cross is 5.8m high, carved out of sandstone and decorated with over 100 figures from the Bible connected by Celtic patterns. See if you can find the unusual carving on it of David fighting Goliath.

9. Irish War Museum


Irish Guards

Irish Guards mascot

This is one of the latest attractions in the Boyne Valley. Just about 15 minute drive from the hostel, this park has a living history museum, weapons and artifacts, replica WW1 trenches and tanks. Yes, tanks! This place is a treasure trove of military history.


10. Drogheda



Drogheda by Night
Image Credit – D. O Mahoney

Drogheda is the nearest large town to the hostel and it is full of historical features, ranging from neolithic mounds to medieval gates and Victorian Iron train bridges. It was famously attacked and burned by notorious king-killer Oliver Cromwell but it bounced back. We love it because it has the preserved head of a marytred saint in its cathedral and locals describe their hangovers with the phrase ” I have a a head on me like Saint Oliver Plunkett”. You don’t hear that too often!

If you think we have missed out on attractions near our hostel, we would love to hear your suggestions.

Limerick, Land of Giants

Last month I went to Connemara and this month I headed south to check out Limerick as it was another place that I had only ever passed through. I was attracted by the call of the mountain biking in the area, but while I was there I decided to see what else was going on.

First stop was Limerick city. The young lad wanted to see the Limerick Giant, the half-Breton half-Irish granny that had arrived in the city that day. Supposedly from another galaxy, this 7.5m high geriatric was making her way through the city to learn some Irish stories. She was not difficult to see as she moved along the streets accompanied by her lilliputlian entourage. The streets were lined with well-wishers who had come to see her. An old lad beside explained to me that the last time there were crowds like this in the city it was to see the Pope in the 70s. Myself and the young lad had a good laugh at the sight of her going for a wee in the main street but you would forgive her anything as she was such  a gentle looking soul. She had a peculiar effect on the crowd. Everyone loved her. Even the Gardaí were laughing and smiling and the atmosphere throughout the city was welcoming and friendly. From Limerick we headed to Ballyhoura Hostel to stay the night and get ready for our next days adventures

Ballyhoura Hostel is Ireland’s newest hostel and it is perfectly situated right next door to the largest Mountain Biking trail in Ireland. There are 95km of trails waiting here for the most hardened adrenalin seekers. After a good nights sleep in the luxurious dorms, myself and the young lad got our rental bikes and equipment and headed out to the trails. As we were beginners, we started on the easy 6km Green loop through woods, getting used to the feel of the bikes going over bumps and stumps and banking turns. Straight away, I noticed the calm that descends as you and the bike become one while you flash through the greenery in the quietness. Mountain biking is similar to surfing. It is a combination of speed and balance. The bike, like a board, follows the direction of your eyes. You steer with the belly and stay low and when you lose concentration, you will crash. I learned that the hard way on the 17km Brown loop while taking my eyes off the trail ahead to snatch a quick peek at the view on the way down a descent. Like surfing, the wipeout was more frustrating than painful but the young lad thought it was funny as he zipped past me while I was untangling myself from a muddy shrub.

Back in the hostel, I could appreciate the forward-thinking from whoever had insisted on installing a sauna. Parts of me ached that had not felt anything for quite some time. After chilling for a while in the recreation area watching videos of Mountain Bikers doing some crazy stunts, I was extremely thankful for the extra deep mattresses and Egyptian sheets on the beds. After breakfast the next morning, we headed to Lough Gur for some activity that was a bit more relaxing.

Lough Gur is a fantastic collection of ancient monuments dating from the stone age right up to the historic period. There is an interpretive centre there to explain the 130 monuments in the area but seeing as the majority surround the lake you can just as easily go for a relaxing stroll to visit them all. The young lad downloaded the i-trail on his phone and I got him to give me the tour as we circled the lake.   We saw the largest stone circle in Ireland, the Great Grange which dates from 2000 years before Christ and is divided perfectly by the early morning sun during the Summer Solstice. There are remains of stone age houses, early Christian Churches and a Norman castle. Being a lake, there are remains of island dwellings called crannógs and local folklore has it that there is a submerged town beneath the lake. Our favourite monument was the Giants Grave, a gigantic wedge tomb where archaeologists found the remains of 8 bodies and a young ox that appeared to have been sacrificed intact.

It was gigantic, but it would never be big enough for the Limerick Giant.

Great Grange Stone Circle

Great Grange Stone Circle