What’s on your summer bucket list?

A selective guide to places to go and things to do with the family

Tom and Aisling Brennan in the Amococo, a luminarium, at Spraoi, in Waterford

Tom and Aisling Brennan in the Amococo, a luminarium, at Spraoi, in Waterford


We’re into week one of school holidays for all. Anybody bored yet? Overscheduling is a curse of modern childhood, so, when the whirl stops, it takes a while to adjust. And, of course, when both parents are working outside the home, a different sort of schedule has to kick in.

Work commitments apart, summer should be about spontaneity. However it’s worth planning some days out, not only to punctuate down-time at home but also to capitalise on all the family entertainment on offer around the country.

So, with the weeks stretching ahead, what’s on your summer bucket list? Apart from the “must-dos” of picnics, swims, walks in the woods and a bag of chips by the seaside, here are a few suggestions, with a focus on the free, as well as the new.


Free Wednesdays

It would be a good idea to tick off one of the heritage sites run by the Office of Public Works tomorrow or on August 6th because, on the first Wednesday of the month, there is free admission to many of them. These include: Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co Cork; Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin; Trim Castle, Co Meath, Dunmore Cave, Co Kilkenny and the John F Kennedy Aboretum, Co Wexford. See heritageireland.ie

National Play Day

There will be free fun and games in Dublin’s Merrion Square park this Sunday, July 6th, from 2-5pm, to celebrate National Play Day. Skipping, marbles, penalty shoot-outs, obstacle courses, dress up and den-building will be among the activities available. sugradh.org

For the day that’s in it, check what might be going on in your local area. For instance, in south Dublin, the annual, free teddy bears’ picnic, incorporating games for National Play Day, is on in Blackrock park, 1pm-5pm: bring a bear and a blanket. And, if there’s an ailing bear in your family, treatment will be available at a “field” hospital. dlrevents.ie

Tipp hurler Ronan Maher with Rachelle (16) and Patrick (14) Bowden at the launch of Festival of Gaelic Sport 

Festive fun

No matter where you are in Ireland this summer, there will be a festival, big or small, near you, with children’s events, many of them free. From the headline international festivals such as Galway Arts (July 14th-27th, giaf.ie) and Kilkenny Arts (August 8th-17th, kilkennyarts.ie) to more local affairs, such as the Clonmel Junction Festival, Co Tipperary (July 4th-13th, junctionfestival.com) and Sneem Family Festival in the Ring of Kerry (July 16th-20th, sneemfamilyfestival.com), you’ll be surprised how much is going on out there.

New this year is the Festival of Gaelic Sport in Thurles, Co Tipperary, from July 4th-12th,with more than 100 teams due to travel for the “Fleadh agus Failte” in the home of hurling.

What used to be the Street Performance World Championship has evolved into Laya Healthcare’s City Spectacular, which runs in Dublin’s Merrion Square July 11th-13th and in Cork’s Fitzgerald Park, July 19th-20th. All events free. cityspectacular.com

The street spectacle Spraoi (above) in Co Waterford (August 1st-3rd, spraoi.com) is definitely one to catch. Bedtime must wait for the big parade, which kicks off at 9.30pm on the final day and culminates in fireworks.

Passion for purple

There’s free entry to the Wexford Lavender Farm at Inch, near Gorey, which opened last April. Facilities include a visitor centre, outdoor playground and indoor playroom, and a cafe. There are woodland walks, ranging in length from two to six kilometres (not suitable for buggies/wheelchairs), but children are sure to want to cadge a ride (€2.50 per child) on the “Billy the Bull” barrel train. wexfordlavenderfarm.com

Go for a laugh

Billed as “Ireland’s first dedicated comedy festival for children”, FunnyFest at the Ark in Dublin’s Temple Bar kicks off this Saturday (July 5th) and runs until August 24th. In addition to stand-up comedy gigs for families (aged six-plus) with comedians such as Kevin Gildea, Bec Hill, Paul Tylak and Reuben, there will be workshops on different themes, including slapstick and comedy animation, for varying age groups. Prices from €8 a head. ark.ie

King of the castles

A brand new visitor centre with plenty of interactive, interpretative exhibits opened last summer in the medieval King John’s Castle in the heart of Limerick. Touch-screen technology, 3D models and ghostly projections make the visit great fun for children – in a Horrible Histories kind of way. Online rates: adults €8, children 5-16 €4.50, 0-5 free. shannonheritage.com

James Archbold from Tallaght with Ronan and Neala O Morain from Dalkey in one of the Overend vintage
James Archbold from Tallaght with Ronan and Neala O Morain from Dalkey in one of the Overend vintage cars at Airfield

Down on the farm

The urban farm of Airfield, near Dundrum in south Co Dublin, has been redeveloped and there’s plenty to charm children on this 38-acre, working farm, including a new farmyard, milking parlour, redesigned gardens, woodland walks and indoor and outdoor play areas. Family admission rates range from €14 for one adult and one child to €32 for two adults and three children (under-threes go free). airfield.ie.

A petting farm and animal theatre is free to visit at Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, on July 26th/27th and August 23rd/24th, from noon to 3pm. There will be lots of fluffy little creatures such as guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits to see and you can pose for a picture with a llama. woolywardsfarm.com

There are open farms throughout the country that offer a range of attractions, including animal petting, walks and picnic spots. Among the best are:

Leahy’s Open Farm, near Midleton, Co Cork: the chance to operate a real mini JCB digger, play crazy golf, race on a go-kart track and navigate a maze, as well as pet the animals, will keep everyone busy. €9 per person.

Clonfert Pet Farm, near Maynooth, Co Kildare: llama, alpaca and wallabies add an exotic touch to the usual Irish farmyard line-up. €5 per person, family (2&2) €15, clonfertpetfarm.com

Causey Farm, Navan, Co Meath: fancy trying to round up sheep, cut turf or milk a cow? Here’s your chance with the Causey Farm Experience – a three-and-a-half hour programme of activities for all ages, run every Friday in July and August, starting at 2pm. €14 per person or €50 for family of four, causey.ie

Newgrange Farm, near Slane, Co Meath: a new water-play area, sand pits and toy tractors are among the “add-ons” here. €9 per person; family of four, €28; newgrangefarm.com

Castle House family fun day with Michael (3) and Andrew (18 months) Molloy from Maynooth

Upstairs, downstairs

Living History tours will give children a uniform to re-enact the role of servants at Castletown House, Co Kildare, during the week July 14th-20th. The permanent Berkeley Toy Collection is another attraction. Admission to the grounds free; tour of the house €12.50 for family of five. castletown.ie

Stone the crows!

The Durrow Scarecrow Festival in Co Laois made it into The Irish Times Ticket supplement’s Top 10 Festivals last year. Running this year from July 27th to August 4th, the focus is very much on the family and teenagers are well catered for in the Teenzone. In addition to the serious business of the All-Ireland Scarecrow Championships (build yours at home and bring it along) for a prize fund of €3,000, there will be a duck derby, forge and foundry demonstrations, live music and a “woof and wellie walk”, to name just a few of the events. durrowscarecrowfestival.com

Lyndsay O'Brien and Matthew Byrne-Kane at Bray Air Show last year

Flights of fancy

Aviation enthusiasts young and old will love Atlantic AirVenture in Shannon, Co Clare. While there’s plenty to see in the museum, a real wow factor is the flight simulator in the cockpit of a former Boeing 737, where, after a short pre-flight lesson, you can take to the virtual skies. Rates for a museum/simulator package range from €35 for two, to €229 for a “first class” deal for a family of six. atlanticairventure.com

However, it’s free all the way at the Bray Air Show, which is due to take off at 3.30pm on July 20th. It is a highlight of the Bray SummerFest that starts on July 5th and concludes with fireworks at 9.30pm on August 4th. Both of those sky-high events can be enjoyed from anywhere that has a good view of the Co Wicklow coastal town. braysummerfest.com

Juggle this way

International and Irish circus artists will gather at the Green Glen Arena in Millstreet, Co Cork, for the European Juggling Convention, July 19th-27th. The programme includes free circus workshops in the local GAA hall for all ages, daily, July 21st-25th. And the event culminates in a public parade around the town (starting at 2pm from the arena), featuring about 2,000 jugglers, stiltwalkers, clown, acrobatics, spinners and other extraordinary talents, after which The Juggling Olympics, from 3pm, is open to all at the GAA grounds. ejc2014.org

An impressive sand castle

Sand castle

Building sand castles is an integral part of summer but it’s not always something you can do in the heart of the city. However, from July 26th, to coincide with an exhibition of sand sculptures in the courtyard, Dublin Castle invites children to sculpt, design and build their own sand castle creations for free in a specially constructed children’s sand play area in the Upper Castle yard. Also during July, every weekend there is a Family Trail in the castle (for those visiting State apartments: adults €4.50; children 12 and under €2; six and under free) and children who complete it can claim a certificate and prize from reception. dublincastle.ie

The sand is in situ for the Duncannon Sandsculpting Festival on the Co Wexford coast, August 15th-17th. Expect fireworks, beach games and street theatre as well as sand-castle building competitions.

Find the Key

The introduction this year of Segways and electric bikes will help the whole family get around at Lough Key Forest Park in Boyle, Co Roscommon. Other activities include a tree canopy walk, adventure play area and the Boda Borg indoor challenge. Costs start from a €4 exit fee per vehicle at the 800-acre park (although this is waived if you spend more than €20 on other activities or in the café). loughkey.ie

Galleries galore

There’s free Drop-in Family Drawing, Monday to Friday, 11am-noon, at the National Gallery, Dublin, during July and August. Tiny tot workshops (July 18th/19th and Aug 15th/16th) and baby workshops (July 21st and August 18th) are also free but need to be booked.

Teenagers are offered free workshops and other activities in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, during the week beginning July 21st. Booking essential. cbl.ie

The Hunt Museum in Limerick has a free arts and craft kids club on the first Sunday of every month, 2.30pm-4.30pm. Booking advisable. huntmuseum.com

Jump Zone, which started in Sandyford, Co Dublin, has now opened a second indoor trampoline park across the city, in Santry. A good option on rainy days. Why not book yourself in for a bounce as well, instead of just sitting in the café while the kids have all the fun? Children have to be aged at least five and booking is recommended. Cost: €10 an hour. jumpzone.ie

‘Great windows opening to the South’ The doors of the beautifully restored Lissadell House in Co Sligo are open daily to the public again this summer after years of legal wrangling. While small children and antiques are not the best combination, and the literary associations will go way over their heads, they are bound to be in awe of the scale and beauty of the place, as well as the splendid grounds in which they can let off steam. Admission adults €12, children €6. lissadellhouse.com

Pony express

Free pony rides for children every Wednesday and Saturday during July are bound to be a hit among young equine enthusiasts visiting the Irish National Stud in Co Kildare, along with the Japanese Gardens, St Fiachra’s Garden and the Horse Museum. Places to picnic and play too. Family admission online (two adults and four children) to cover all, €28. irishnationalstud.ie

Walking the pig

Nature walks with Norman the micro-pig at noon every Sunday during July and August are one of the more unusual activities at the Burren Nature Sanctuary in Kinvara, Co Galway. Farm animals, fairy woods and an adventure playground are also on site, where child prices range from €5 for access to sanctuary and walk, to €10 for the other activities as well, with one adult free per child. bns.ie

Playgrounds for teenagers

For older children who are into skateboards, it might be worth planning an outing around a skate park. There’s a brand new, free skatepark in Wicklow town, by the Murragh car park, while the one in Bandon, Co Cork, is open for its first summer. The Wreckless skate shop in Gorey, Co Wexford, opened a new indoor skate park there (€6/€7 for three- or four-hour session, or six-day camps for €100) last April and, very helpfully, has a map of other skateparks throughout Ireland on its website, wreckless.ie

Behind bars

A new-look and more interactive visitor experience awaits you at Wicklow Gaol after redevelopment this year. Exhibits include a replica two-deck convict ship. Admission adult €7.40, child €4.50, family €19, wicklowshistoricjail.com


Jungle joy

An evening, outdoor performance of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book comes to Belvedere House, Gardens and Park near Mullingar, Co Westmeath, this Thursday (July 3rd).

Staged by the UK’s Chapterhouse Garden Theatre Company, it starts at 7pm, with picnicking welcomed from 6pm when the gates open. Family of four ticket, €45. (There are also performances in Enniskillen Castle Museums, Co Fermanagh, July 2nd; Oldbridge Estate, Co Meath, July 5th and Rathmullan House, Co Donegal, July 6th.)

Meanwhile, Belvedere is a fine destination for day-trips and the good news is that admission prices came down at the beginning of the year; they’re now adults €8, child €4 and family of four €23. belvedere-house.ie

Young dragons wanted

Children aged 10-14 are invited to sign up for a free, week-long “entrepreneurial bootcamp” run by BizWorld in both Deansgrange and Ballyroan public libraries in Dublin, July 28th-August 1st. bizworldireland.ie

Saving the best for last

“Families . . . generations exploring heritage together” is the theme of this year’s National Heritage Week, which falls right at the end of the school holidays and gets better every year. Running from August 23rd to 31st, there’s an incredibly extensive, nationwide programme of events and places to visit – most of them free. Find out what’s happening in your county on heritageweek.ie, where there’s also a free app to download.



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