Ireland is a travel bargain this summer. With the favorable rate of exchange, bed-and-breakfast accomodations are as low as $10 and can be booked each night through the local Irish Tourist Board. Or you can reserve ahead in lovely country inns for around $25.
Exploring on your own by bicycle or car is easy here. It's hard to get lost. Maps are good, roads are fairly well marked, and distances between villages are short.
Driving in Ireland is on the left, of course. But there's little traffic to worry about except in Dublin. (The only problem I had was getting the windshield wipers when I wanted the turn signal.) Just be sure to stay to the left when you do see another car. And remember that sheep and cows have the right of way.
If you are bringing the family and staying a week, you can rent your own thatched cottage in Tully Cross, near Renvyle, in Connemara. The cottages are partly owned by local people who will make you feel welcome and part of the village. These new cottages are designed to give the flavor and charm of the old, but with such modern conveniences as heat and plumbing. Romantic as the originals might look, they were not noted for warmth and comfort. (Around $300 a week.)
A special surprise is Irish food. A fine continental-style cuisine has emerged in recent years to live down the traditional reputation of overcooked meats and boiled potatoes. In the west, Irish chefs are taking full advantage of the sea, with smoked salmon, sea trout, and prawns among the local specialties. Vegetables are abundant and fresh from the kitchen garden. And then there's all that brown bread, with loads of creamy butter!
Meals in a good restaurant or inn might seem a little expensive, $18 to $25 for dinner, but a comparable feast in the United States or London would cost far more.
If you're like me, you'll come home singing the praises of Irish food, people , music, and scenery. But everyone will ask about two things - politics and weather. So, about the former: The Republic of Ireland is still a safe country for traveling. The ''troubles'' are currently confined to small areas in Northern Ireland. Remember that the political separation of Ireland happened a generation ago.
The weather, however, is another matter and a much more popular subject of conversation. It does rain a lot in Ireland, but it's a misty kind. The changing light in the rain can actually add to the charm and enhance your photographs - as long as you're prepared. I found an inexpensive, lightweight nylon slicker set from my local Army-Navy surplus store to be invaluable. When a beautiful sunny morning suddenly turned wet, I pulled on my slickers and enjoyed an afternoon of picturetaking unhampered.
For information on cottage rentals, consult your travel agent or write: Rent-an-Irish Cottage Ltd., Shannon Airport House, Shannon International Airport , County Clare, Ireland.