Traveling to a foreign country can be rather intimidating especially if it is your first time or if you don't do it very often. Some of these comments may seem to be rather obvious and yet, you would be surprised at how many times questions come up on various travel forums indicating some people are just new to the whole experience.
During our trip, we had enough time and wanted to cover much of the country, so we had the opportunity to sample most of the lodging options available in Ireland: hotels, self-catering cottages and a bed & breakfast home. All were fantastic in their own unique way. The only other option we did consider was a hostel.
Understanding what you and your travel companions want and need, is 80% of the battle. The other 20% will be your budget. With hotels, you will want to know what comes with the price of your room. For both of our choices, a full Irish breakfast was included. This helped to keep our meal costs down. We also wanted to have the option of dining at the hotel in the evenings without having to leave to find a restaurant. For others, that may not be an important factor.
Self-catering cottages are wonderful for those who want to keep some routine similar to they have at home. For us, we simply do not like dining out for all meals on vacation. Beyond the expense, often it leads to overeating or not eating things that are good for you. I understand that is as much an issue of self control and discipline, but for us, it's something we don't want to have to worry about. If you are planning to cook in your cottage, be sure that you have the facilities you want. Some self-catering cottages (or apartments) have cooking burners and smaller "college dorm" sized refrigerators. For us, we require full size appliances whenever we're planning a self-catering vacation.
When booking a self-catering cottage you will also want to know what amenities they offer. A washer and dryer within the cottage is always a nice feature especially on a long trip. Doing wash every five or six days will allow you to pack light and stay fresh without the expense of sending laundry out (if you are in a hotel for at least a couple of days).
Lastly, you must inquire as to what is included in the cottage as some have moved away from providing linens and charge for your actual utility use. Don't be open for a surprise at check-in or check-out.
Bed & Breakfasts are found throughout Ireland. For me, I like to know where I'm going and where I'm going to be sleeping each night. Ireland is somewhere that it is very easy to take each day as it comes, stopping into a posted B&B without a reservation. Many people enjoy that aspect of travel in Ireland, so that is really subject to individual preference.
If it matters to you, be sure to understand what the bathroom situation will be. "Ensuite" means you will have a private bathroom connected or in your B&B room. Otherwise, you may find yourselves sharing a bathroom and shower with others on your floor or within a grouping of rooms. I've always opted for private bathroom arrangements, because "when you have to go, you have to go."
I previously mentioned hostels although we did not stay in one. Hostels are also widely available throughout Ireland. We crossed paths with several students who were traveling largely utilizing hostels. The bonus is that they are very inexpensive (as little as €9.95 per night) and sometimes even come with a continental breakfast. The downside is that more often than not, you'll be in a dorm or bunkhouse type of arrangement with shared bathroom facilities. When you're 20 and carefree, that works . . . when you're 50-something and with your mother-in-law . . . not so much!