I read the news today in the Irish Times, oh boy.
15,000 hotel rooms in Ireland need to close.
The Irish Hotels Federation report says 15,000 hotel rooms need “orderly elimination” and closures should begin before summer 2010 tourist season. Apparently, Ireland went on a hotel room building binge in the past ten years due to government tax incentives. Nearly 27,000 new rooms were built in the past decade doubling the hotel rooms in the country.
I spent the summers of 1997 and 1998 traveling around Ireland staying in B&Bs. There are thousands of B&B rooms around the country. The experience of staying in a family’s home is the kind of vacation that brings a tourist up close and personal to an Irish family. I liked the experience, but the intimacy of being with a family was also a catalyst for getting involved with hotel loyalty programs. I enjoy the anonymity and privacy of being a hotel guest.
Fáilte, tabhair cuairt ar Dhún na nGall
The item that touched me from the Irish Times article was reading the Ostan na Rosann Hotel closed this week and put 30 people out of work in Dungloe, Ireland. Kelley and I were at that hotel in July 1997. This is Enya and Clannad country on the northwestern coast of Ireland in County Donegal.
The Ostan na Rosann Hotel and Leisure centre is closed for the Winter.
I don’t recall if I was reading Let’s Go Ireland, Lonely Planet, or some early Ireland internet travel website in 1997 when the advice came that if a tourist wanted to see what was left of the real Ireland, then go where the fewest tourists visit and spend time in County Donegal, the northern most county of Ireland and mostly separated from the rest of Ireland by the Northern Ireland border.
We had been in Ireland about a week when we arrived in Dungloe. If you have a travel story to tell my wife Kelley about riding a bus through Central America or Southeast Asia with the locals, Kelley will reciprocate with a story of riding a Lough Swilly bus from Letterkenny to Dungloe with the locals.
During the days in Dungloe I hiked for miles around “The Rosses” in the early morning summer light. Alone, but never lonely walking in sunshine and showers, clouds constantly moving overhead and changing the color shades of green and blue visible on the landscape and lakes. The smell of burning peat coming from the occasional farmhouse took me back to an earlier time; the gigantic wind turbines near Mt. Errigal a few miles away notwithstanding. Walking in County Donegal was a step back to a pastoral time with just me, the sheep, and an occasional dog using the paths. I had it in my head to walk the entire coastline of Ireland over successive summers. That is an idea I might come back to one day.
On the morning walk back through Dungloe I would stop at the bakery around 8:30 or 9am for sandwich breads. The baker questioned me every morning on why I was up so early while on vacation. He was one of the few people working this early in the morning. The streets remained fairly quiet each day until around 11am.
The west coast of County Donegal was a place where magic things happen, or speaking in more grounded terms “rather improbable coincidences” occur. (I just realized Clannad is playing on the TV music station as I am writing this. Coincidence of course.)
One day while in Dungloe I talked Kelley into walking several miles to the Burtonport ferry for a ride over to Arranmore Island. We spent the afternoon visiting small pubs on the island, talking with a soccer star who looked like a gorgeous young Roger Daltrey, and receiving sage advice from an elderly publican on why “too much choice in America” is not necessarily a good thing.
Back on the mainland we stopped in a Burtonport pub and joined a crowd of Irish pub drinkers cheer on England for a couple of hours in a rugby battle with South Africa on the pub’s TV. Irish criticism of England, which we commonly heard in the summer of 1997, seemed to be placed on the backburner when it came to sports and the Irish didn’t have a team in the match.
Turned out I had read the bus schedule incorrectly and the bus ride back to Dungloe I promised Kelley did not happen. We had to walk the miles back to Dungloe after the rugby game ended. In the middle of the fields there suddenly appeared a young Scotsman from Glasgow. He talked incessantly on the walk to town and we understood less than half of what he said. He had one difficult accent to comprehend. In a truly rural camaraderie gesture he offered an invitation for me to join him and his buds for drinking. He said they never had much money to drink, but a good punch-up made for great evening entertainment after the money was gone. I don’t know if he was serious or not, but a good punch-up was something I worked to avoid during our Irish pub crawls.
We ran into him again a week later at a crowded festival in Donegal town and we were able to spend time with him and three generations of his family in a crowded pub. No punch-ups at the end of the evening. Those are the kind of travel memories that remain with you years later.