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YOUTH BEAT

Hostels and Tours Beckon Irish Rovers

May 07, 2000|LUCY IZON

Celtic crosses, green hillsides, cozy pubs with traditional music, castle ruins--whatever draws you to Ireland, you don't have to join expensive structured tours to find your way around.

Every year, the Irish Youth Hostel Assn. (An Oige) creates packages for independent travelers. The packages include vouchers for shared room accommodations in any of its 34 locations.

This summer, the association offers "Bus and Rambler Holidays" that include vouchers for seven nights' hostel accommodation and a rail/bus Explorer Ticket valid for any eight days of travel within 15 consecutive days for about $195, or the same with vouchers for 14 nights' accommodation for $264.

"Rail/Cycling Holidays" last from one week to one month. Each includes round-trip rail fare to another destination in Ireland, seven nights' accommodation, bike rental for one week, plus the rail travel. Cost: $152. For 14 nights' accommodation and bike for two weeks, it's $243.

For more information on other packages and route suggestions with An Oige, contact the Irish Youth Hostel Assn. head office at the recently renovated Dublin International Youth Hostel, 61 Mountjoy St., Dublin 7; telephone 011-353-1-830-4555, fax 011-353-1-830-5808, Internet http://www.irelandyha.org.

If you don't want to go it completely alone but want more flexibility than a full tour, two companies offer backpackers flexible programs: Blarney Bus and Stray Travel Network.

Radical Travel's Blarney Bus offers a jump-on-jump-off transportation service. If you have at least three days you can try the "Celtic Knot" tour, priced at $90, which includes transportation from Dublin through Wicklow (monastic ruins of Glendalough) and on to Galway, which is known for its music and night life. From Galway you can visit the Cliffs of Moher. And as you travel from Galway to Dublin, you see the Boyne Valley, the Hill of Tara and Newgrange.

If you have at least six days, you can try the "Shamrocker Flexitour," priced from $120, transportation only. It includes stops in Cork, at the Rock of Cashel historic ruin, Blarney Castle, the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park and Doolin (known for traditional Irish folk music). Some attractions will have an additional entrance fee. Blarney Bus also reserves some beds at hostels along the route, so you can arrange lodgings as you go. Find out more on the Internet at http://www.radicaltravel.com, or contact Blarney Bus, 1-2 Aston Place, Temple Bar, Dublin 2; tel. 011-353-1-672-7651, fax 011-353-1-672-5935.

Stray Travel Network offers two three-day-minimum services, Dublin to Killarney and Killarney to Dublin, for $83 each. You can stop where you wish, and tickets are valid for up to two months. Or try the six-day-minimum all-Ireland route for $120 with a ticket that is valid for up to four months. The route from Dublin includes stops in Cork, Schull, Killarney, Galway and Donegal. The tickets are sold in North America by Council Travel, tel. (800) 226-8624. For complete details visit http:// www.straytravel.com or contact 171 Earls Court Road, Earls Court, London; tel. 011-44-7373-7737, fax 011-44-7373-7739.

Tir na nOg Tours is an Irish-owned-and-operated company that runs backpacker-style tours of Ireland. It offers six-day tours around either the north or the south. Groups are small--15 to 20 people--and the fees include transportation, hostel accommodations, breakfasts and site entrance fees. The six-day southern route goes from Dublin to Galway, Tralee, West Cork and Kilkenny before returning through the Wicklow Mountains to Dublin. The price is about $250.

This year Tir na nOg Tours is introducing backpacker activity tours. A 10-day trip, with surfing in the Atlantic, horseback riding in Dingle, cycling on the Aran Islands, sea kayaking in West Cork and high-speed boating on Ireland's only fiord, is $483 (sharing a four-bed room). Departures are every four weeks. For full details, visit Internet http://www.tirnanogtours.com or contact Tir na nOg Tours, 57 Lr. Gardiner St, Dublin 1; tel. 011-353-1-836-4684, fax 011-353-1-855-9059, or in Great Britain you can phone for free at 0800-783-6416.

Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet http://www.izon.com.

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