Long a mainstay for budget prices and homey accommodations, Ireland’s B&Bs have stepped into a new age of marketing savvy and solidarity. Instead of categorizing themselves into two rival organizations and web sites (Irish Town & Country Homes vs. Irish Farmhouse Holidays), all of the member homeowners voted recently to consolidate into one organization and a new web site – B&B Ireland (www.BandBIreland.com).

This new web site is a portal for information and bookings for town and country homes and farmhouses all over Ireland at one source.  No more checking out the Town & Country Homes web site and then comparing it to the Farmhouse Holidays web site. The new web site enables visitors to search by county, city or town, and currency. It also points to “Special Offers,” currently ranging from discounts to 3-nights-for-the-price-of-2 deals.

The average night at a B&B with full Irish breakfast costs around $50 (35 euro) per person, still a good deal, and an even better deal when you pay for two nights and get to stay three.

In the 40-plus years since Ireland introduced the B&B concept, a lot of progress has been made in the sector.  The idea was first floated by representatives of the then-Bord Failte (now Failte Ireland/Tourism Ireland). The tourism officials suggested to a few farmhouse owners, led by Nancy Fitzgerald of Knockraha, Co. Cork, that they take paying guests to make extra money and to ease the shortage of hotel rooms as tourism to Ireland began suddenly to swing upward in the late 1960’s.  Nancy agreed to give it a go, and rounded up a dozen or so farmhouse owner friends.  

The experiment worked smoothly from the start except for one factor – the farmhouse owners found it difficult to charge for their rooms.  In a land known for its hospitality to strangers, the concept of actually charging a guest had to be learned. The agreed rate was then 2 Irish pounds (about $5).

Once they began to see the income, the farmhouse women soon found it easier to accept the money – and American visitors all felt they were getting a bargain and a friendly place to stay as well. The number of farmhouse B&Bs mushroomed and soon found competition from a rival group – Town & Country Homes, led by another astute Cork home owner, Angela Muckley of Bantry, Co. Cork.  What started in Cork soon spread all over Ireland and today there are more than 1,100 registered and approved B&Bs and self-catering options – all bookable on the new BandBIreland.com web site.

The leaders of B & B Ireland are also endeavoring to put a new spin on the B&B experience by introducing specialist themed vacations – from fishing, walking and golfing to heritage/culture visits and cookery and herb-growing classes. The Definitive Irish Bed & Breakfast & Self Catering Guide 2010 is also available for free online. And if you have never stayed in an Irish B&B home, the web site also includes a charming narrated video that illustrates what to expect.

In sync with its new outlook, B & B Ireland has also voted in a new and highly respected Chairperson, Margaret Cahill, former Head of the European and British offices for Tourism Ireland. Margaret also spent almost 20 years as Promotions Manager for the Irish Tourism Board in NY (then known as the Irish Tourist Board), so she is well versed on what appeals to American travelers. With Margaret at the helm, good deals and smart marketing will be synonymous with B & B Ireland from now on. For more information, visit  www.BandBIreland.com.

Patricia Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Visit Pat’s website (www.IrelandExpert.com) or get her latest book, Ireland Travel 101 (http://www.IrelandTravel101.com)