Have you ever dreamed of exploring Ireland in a horse-drawn cart? Gipsy caravans in brochures look like a treat – and promise a traditional way to enjoy a holiday in Ireland. The caravans seem straight out of another time, taking you through unspoiled landscapes at a leisurely pace while reconnecting to a part of Irish cultural history. But is it really worth it? Here is what you really need to know about Irish Gipsy caravans.
Irish Caravan Travel
An old-fashioned Gipsy or Romany caravan is a horse-drawn mobile home, which can sometimes still be spotted in quiet fields or trundling town country roads. Available in a box-shaped version or as the very rounded "barrel-top" variety, an Irish caravan offers very cramped quarters without many modern comforts. The standard caravan would comfortably sleep two adults and two children, with a gas stove thrown in for preparing your meals. What that means, in reality, is that these caravans differ quite a bit from modern mobile homes.
There is no fridge, no toilet, no shower, to name a few creature comforts that you will have to sacrifice.
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 people that travel through Britain and mainland Europe. So the idea that a caravan offers a traditional holiday line is pure marketing. Pavee used these caravans as their everyday home, and no settled Irish person would have even thought about spending a vacation this way. The idea of adopting a caravan as a mode of exploring Ireland is a bit of romantic fiction.
The gypsy caravan that you can rent in parts of Ireland 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 because they use live animals and can only travel at a relatively low pace. If you rent 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 these align with your travel plans you before you decide to commit to the caravan.
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 in Ireland. The horses tend to take these rural traffic jams in 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 cars who will usually end up stuck behind your horse-drawn caravan.
Parking the Caravan
Most vacations providers who rent out romany caravans do not expect you to stop and sleep beside the road. Instead, you'll be guided to a camping ground with communal facilities like toilets and showers and a common (field) where your horse can relax and graze. These campgrounds are the best place to comfortable park your caravan while on the road.
Experiencing Unspoiled Landscapes
Due to the restricted area in which a horse-drawn caravan can safely travel in, and the minor roads you'll have to use, you will see some of the most rural parts of Ireland. These landscapes are generally unspoiled though some may be hidden behind hedges which line many Irish country lanes.
Considering a Horse-Drawn Caravan as a Mobile 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 reserve more conventional accommodation such as a hotel or B&B.
- 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. Reassess to be sure that this is the kind of setting that you want for your vacation.
- A gypsy caravan can be a great way to spend a family vacation, but only if your kids can live without technology for a while. There is nowhere to charge phones or laptops in a caravan.
- 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 due to the open camping situation.
The Bottom Line – Recommended or Not?
Yes and no – it all depends on your idea of the perfect holiday and your tolerance for exploring the great outdoors, including having to deal with 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 have to leave a bit up to chance, put the horse before the wagon and go.