A 20-year-old from Athlone has earned himself a dream trip across Europe after winning a competition to promote a Dublin hostel, and Ireland in general, to continental backpackers.
Ciaran O'Connor - a son of Val and Margaret from Curramore, Kiltoom - recently began a month-long adventure in which he will be paid to visit cities such as Bruges, Amsterdam, Poznan, Prague and Vienna.
The DCU communications student was chosen as an ambassador for Dublin's Isaac's Hostel from more than 100 applicants. As part of his enviable brief, he will be posting internet updates on his progress via the Facebook website and on a blog.
Ciaran began his journey in London last weekend and by the time the Westmeath Independent caught up with him by phone yesterday (Tuesday), he was in Paris.
Explaining how his competition win came about, he said: "Mothers are the best personal assistants and my mother had told me that she heard a mention on the radio of a competition which basically allowed you to go inter-railing for free. She didn't know the name of the hostel in question, so I had to do a bit of 'googling,' but eventually I found it."
Applicants were required to submit a 300-word written piece on 'What it means to be an ambassador for Ireland' but Ciaran (who studies audio production and manages DCU's student radio station) also put together an audio entry featuring music by The Dubliners and other Irish artists.
After a subsequent interview, he was told last month that he was the lucky winner of the competition.
Through a remarkable coincidence he had also won tickets, in a separate competition, to the Olympic finals in men's tennis and this was why his journey began in London, where he witnessed Andy Murray's victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon last Sunday.
Discussing his trip to date, he said: "My role is to be an ambassador for Ireland, in the name of Isaac's hostel. As a redhead I'm well-placed to do that, because if I'm wearing a green top then I'm a walking Tricolour!
"I've been enjoying it so far. I've been meeting up with people of many different nationalities and trying to explain 'the craic' to them, which is interesting. I try to show people that Ireland is a place that can't just be talked about - it must be experienced."
When asked how his friends had reacted after hearing he had won a free trip across Europe, he replied: "There were a few choice words used - 'poxy' is about the only one I can repeat - but in fairness people have been very supportive and have been offering suggestions on Facebook and Twitter for sights that I should try to see in the various cities."
With the assistance of Tourism Ireland, interviews have been arranged with travel bloggers and journalists to promote Ciaran's campaign to encourage backpackers and the youth market to visit Ireland.
James Clancy, the managing director of Isaac's Hostel said its competition has attracted entries from all over the country, as well as some from as far afield as the United States and India.
"The pride and positivity with which young people speak about Ireland is a testimony to the strong and optimistic nation we are. However, Ciaran stood out as the clear favourite," he said. "We believe he will do Isaacs Hostel and the country proud."
Updates from Ciaran's travels over the coming weeks are due to appear on the 'Isaacs Hostel' Facebook page.