Hosteling in Ireland

Coming from a family with a history of strong identification with its Irish roots (I recall a St. Patrick’s Day when my dad considered pouring Jameson — or maybe Bailey’s — into his mother’s ashes and the only reason he decided that might be a bad idea was that he feared it would reanimate her), I couldn’t go to Ireland and only see Dublin. I wanted to do at least one reasonably long train ride through the countryside and really see as much of the country as possible in my five-day time frame. So my trip ended up involving three cities and two quite different hostels.

Generator Hostel in Dublin was sleek, hip, and polished, with some of the most updated furnishings I’ve seen in any hostel (power sockets — yes, plural — built into each bunk bed headboard? Yes, please!), a nice-looking bar and cafe (which I never actually tried, but it looked like everyone else was enjoying it), a spacious and comfy lobby, and a great location just around the corner from the Old Jameson Distillery and a quick walk from the Smithfield Luas stop. The front desk offered everything from towel rentals to the range of toiletries hotels always have around in case you’ve forgotten something (although, this being a hostel, those toiletries definitely weren’t free). They seemed to take a lot of care to make you forget that you were in a place where rates start at €9 a night, an illusion I was totally willing to buy into.

Kinlay House Cork, on the other hand, was closer to the traditional hostel experience. The rooms and facilities were very clean and well-kept, but definitely more basic. I ponied up for a single so that I could have some privacy in the second half of my trip, and it was exactly like being back in my dorm room — no frills (well, unless you consider free WiFi a frill. Which I guess most people probably would. I think my middle-class American privilege is showing). In the case of the bathrooms, the facilities were spotless but, as you’d expect from a hostel, they were cramped and the showers had that inconvenient mechanism where you had to press a button over and over to turn the water on in 10- or 15-second increments. Kinlay House also didn’t have the same kind of social atmosphere you found in the Generator lobby with its bar and its decent music, though there was a communal dining aspect to the free breakfast in the mornings. Points to Kinlay House for offering free breakfast — I believe Generator’s was paid. And to be fair, the quieter atmosphere could be perceived as more refreshing.

I feel like this post seems biased, but I don’t mean to knock Kinlay House. The staff was helpful (they booked my half-day tour to Blarney & Cobh for me) and it was very well-maintained. I think it just comes down to the sort of experience you’re looking for — if you want the traditional backpacking experience, a place like Kinlay House is a great option for its simplicity and cleanliness (and free breakfast!). But if you’re a person who would prefer to stay in hotels but is just too poor to afford them (and I admittedly fall into this camp), a place more like Generator is probably a better bet for helping you forget that you’re in a budget accommodation, and to go from that to a traditional hostel like Kinlay House may not have made for the most unbiased impressions.

If you’ve been to Dublin or Cork, where did you stay? What hostels would you recommend?

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