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Ireland’s B and Bs Provide More Than A Warm Bed And Hearty Meal

August 14, 2009

During the Celtic Tiger boom, hotels chains popped up throughout Ireland, and they continue to cater to a range of guests from the business set to tour groups, but bed and breakfasts continue to provide visitors with a combination of local flavor and value that hotels are unable to match. The small, independently-owned bed and breakfasts, also known as B&Bs, are famous for their warm hospitality and hearty Irish breakfasts.

Be it a country farmhouse, a Georgian manor or a modern bungalow, the greatest asset to most B&Bs still tends to be its owners. Spending a few moments with your hosts will reveal that in addition to opening up their home, they are quick to offer insight into nearby restaurants, pubs, traditional music and activities — as well as providing their own take on local legends, sites and general life in their part of Ireland.

The Anatomy of a Great B&B

When you check in, your host will provide you with a pair of keys, one for your private room and another for the front door, which allows you to come and go as you please. You will also have access to a bathroom; “en suite” rooms (pronounced “on-sweet”), which are becoming the norm, include a bathroom within your room rather than down the hall. Each guest will be provided a towel and sometimes a washcloth, hand towel and each bed will include linens and extra blankets.

A full Irish breakfast will be on the menu every morning. This includes a serving of rashers (Irish bacon), as well as a fried egg (you may request your eggs scrambled), a fried tomato, mushrooms, a banger (pork sausage) and in many cases, a serving of white pudding and of black pudding. For those who don’t know, Irish puddings are actually sausages stuffed with meat, whole grain and spices. White pudding tends to be a bit milder while black pudding appears denser and gets its color from animal blood that is integral to the recipe.

In addition to the hot Irish breakfast, most B&Bs have a table of assorted cold cereals, fruit, breads and yogurt to which you may help yourself. Hot tea, milk and juice are always served and coffee, which is usually instant, is commonly available. Some B&Bs also offer alternative hot breakfast options — which may include garden-picked vegetables or fresh salmon, while others may provide healthier alternatives to the fry.

Many hosts provide extra amenities that make their accommodations more like a boutique hotel than a traditional B&B. This can include furnishing rooms with electric tea kettles, biscuits, irons, hair dryers, radio alarm clocks and televisions. Meanwhile, several B&Bs provide additional public spaces such as a TV room, library or picnic area, and some even offer internet access.

Booking A Great B&B

There are several ways to find a great B&B. A guidebook with a strong accommodation section can provide a good snapshot of places to stay. Meanwhile, paid listings like the Board Failte (Irish Tourist Board) and Town and Country books offer an extensive list of amenities available at or near their listings and require that each B&B meets specific criteria. Internet message boards, like Trip Advisor, give you the opportunity to read other guests’ comments, but remember, message boards are written by strangers who may have different standards than you.

Most B&Bs have some type of internet presence, be it their own website or a listing on a shared site. Their rates (sometimes called tariffs) are clearly marked for each season and a list of amenities posted. Most B&Bs include photos of the exterior and interior. Be aware that many B&Bs include photos of nearby attractions, so although they may display an image of, say, sheep grazing on a mountain slope near a pristine lake, that might not be the view from your room.

Inquiries and bookings can be made via email or phone. However, many B&Bs also offer online booking. In most cases a credit card is required to reserve a room (even when the B&B doesn’t accept credit cards as payment). Be sure to print off copies of all confirmation emails and email correspondence before you leave, in the event there is a problem with your booking.

It is possible to book-as-you-go when traveling in Ireland. This can be as simple as knocking on a door and asking if there is a room available. However, this process can be especially tedious in the high season months of June, July and August. If you are turned away at one place, be sure to ask for a recommendation. Many hosts will offer to call a neighboring B&B to inquire about vacancy. If you have special needs, have a specific B&B in mind or are staying in Dublin, book your accommodations in advance.

Another great resource is the tourist offices. Their network allows them to book accommodations for you anywhere in Ireland. They charge a small fee for the booking, but since they make the calls and secure the reservation for you, it can be well worth your time in stopping by.

Some Tips For Improving Your B&B Experience

  • Once you have your room reserved, the best time to arrive at a B&B is between 4:30 and 6:30 in the evening. You can check in early, but realize the owner may be away running errands, picking children up from school, laundering sheets and towels or simply may not have your room turned over yet. On the other hand, if you’ll be arriving AFTER 6pm it is important to call the B&B to let them know when they can expect you.
  • Many B&Bs will have tea and biscuits waiting for you on arrival — either in your room, the breakfast room or somewhere else in the hall. Feel free to stop in and enjoy them. Your host will often spend a moment inquiring about your plans, offering suggestions for your stay.
  • Breakfast is usually served between 8 and 9:30 in the morning. Your host will ask what time you would prefer breakfast served, so be sure to arrive in the breakfast room at that time. If you plan to get an early start to your day, you can inquire about an earlier serving time. If your host cannot accommodate the request, many will offer to leave out some fruit and cereal. In this situation, pay your bill the night before and ask about check-out protocol.
  • Although a B&B may ask for a credit card to hold a room, they rarely ask you to pay for the room until after breakfast. If you are asked to pay upon arrival, always inspect the premises and ask what will be served for breakfast before exchanging money.
  • Speaking of money, B&Bs in Ireland can be very direct about asking for cash over credit cards. Some even state that there is an additional fee on credit card transactions. Other B&Bs will take only cash, while others gladly accept credit cards, so it is important to research this information prior to settling the bill.
  • B&B hosts usually rely on their guests being “on their way,” be it checked-out or off site-seeing, before 11 am. This allows the host plenty of time for household chores and family obligations.
  • While at a B&B, guests are not expected to help with chores, so no need to worry about making beds or clearing the table. If you spill or break something — don’t worry, accidents happen. Just let your host know as soon as possible so they can tend to it.
  • If you have dietary restrictions, discuss it with your hosts, but realize they might not be able to accommodate special diets.
  • Although your hosts will go out of their way to make you feel welcome, tipping and bringing gifts for your hosts is not expected. If you insist on bringing a gift, consider a prepackaged food product or small present from your hometown; include a brief note explaining the gift, and do not be offended if your host chooses not to open it in front of you.
One Comment leave one →
  1. September 4, 2009 2:17 PM

    On our recent trip to Ireland, we stayed in a B&B in a small town called Ballinamore, in county Leitrim. The B&B was very nice and extremely clean. What I enjoyed most were the conversations we had with our hosts. They were very friendly and they helped give us a sense of the community. They also helped a bit with my family history search and some local directions as well! (By the way, I’m sure they would have given us plenty of space if we wanted it, so don’t be scared off if you are looking for privacy.)

    The name of the B&B is Buille Toll – I recommend it.

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