Gipsy Caravans in Ireland

Traveling with an Old World Feeling – But is it Worth it?

Gipsy Caravan in the Wicklow Mountains, Ireland
© 2009 Bernd Biege licensed to, Inc.

Gipsy caravans in brochures look like a treat – and promise a „traditional way“ to enjoy a holiday in Ireland. In unspoiled landscapes at a leisurely place, as near to nature as you can get and with the carbon footprint of a mosquito. Which all sounds very nice. But is it really worth it? Let's take a closer look ...

Gipsy Caravans – A Short Introduction

An old-fashioned Gipsy or Romany caravan is a horse-drawn mobile home, nothing more, nothing less. Available in a box-shaped version or as the very rounded „barrel-top“ variety, it offers very cramped quarters and not many modern comforts. The standard caravan would comfortably sleep two adults and two children, with a gas cooker thrown in for preparing your meals. You read right, that's about it ... no fridge, no toilet, no shower.

The original caravans were not designed for holidays, they were designed for travelers or pavee – the correct name for the nomadic Irish you'll still see camped along main roads. They are not related to the Romani „gipsies“ that travel through Britain and mainland Europe. So the „traditional holiday“ line is pure spin, pavee used these caravans as their everyday home, no settled Irish would have even thought about spending a vacation this way. Effectively the providers are selling a romantic fiction.

Roaming Free?

The gypsy caravan you hire is a vehicle with an „engine“ of exactly one horsepower – a horse drawing the caravan. While this will be obvious from the pictures in the brochure, what will not be immediately obvious is the fact that these caravans are only able to travel on certain routes and very restricted distances. If you hire a caravan in Wicklow, you will not leave County Wicklow at all. In fact, you'll be more restricted (and less comfortable) than on a cabin cruiser on the Shannon.

The company that rents the caravan out to you should be able to give you an exact picture of which routes you are allowed to take – before you sign a contract. Find out whether this will suit you before you decide.

At a Leisurely Pace?

Certainly – the horses that come with the caravans are not really known for their ability to win the races at Fairyhouse. They are docile animals and they'll take their own time to get you from A to B.

Whether this is a leisurely pace can be up to discussion, if you happen to run into traffic. Or, more likely, traffic runs into you. Romany caravans trailing a few dozen cars behind are not an unknown sight. And while the horses do take it in their stride, the humans tend to get nervous and stressed out in these situations. Expect to be at the receiving end of some unfriendly glances from people traveling in non-traditional ways stuck behind you.

Wherever I Lay My Head ...

... there is a camping ground. Most holidays involving romany caravans do not expect you to pitch beside the road. Instead, you'll be guided to a camping ground with communal facilities like toilets and showers and a „common“ where your horse can relax and graze.

And What About the Unspoilt Landscapes?

They are there. No question. Due to the restricted area, a horse-drawn caravan can safely travel in and the minor roads you'll have to use ... you'll be in the backwaters. And these are generally unspoiled. Depending on the area a lot of landscape may, however, be hidden behind hedges.

Who Should Consider a Horse-Drawn Caravan as a Mobile Holiday Home?

Here are some things you might think about:

  • You will only see a very restricted and fairly rural area – if you want to visit the main tourist sites, take a rental car and more conservative accommodation.
  • You will be reduced to basics in many ways – no creature comforts, no TV, no internet access.
  • What sounds romantic, trundling through a slow but never dramatically changing landscape at the back of beyond, can become extraordinarily boring after a while. Make sure you can handle it.
  • A gypsy caravan can be a great family holiday, but only if your kids can live without their Wii and Hannah Montana for a while.
  • A gypsy caravan can be a great romantic holiday for lovers with a craving for the great outdoors. Just remember that privacy may occasionally be compromised (though I am sure, your horse won't rat on you).

The Bottom Line – Recommended or Not?

Yes and no – it all depends on your idea of the perfect holiday and your tolerance for the vicissitudes of nature, including horseflies and the occasional rainy day. If you are looking for comfort and major sights, you should skip the idea of holidaying in a gypsy caravan right now. If you are looking for an unusual experience you cannot plan to the nines ... put the horse before the wagon and go.

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