Things you can do this weekend and all summer (Phase One)
1 Stare at the heavens: With the grounding of flights and the absence of cars on our roads, the atmosphere is cleaner and clearer than it has been in generations, making it a perfect time to star gaze. It costs nothing, and can be done from your front door or back garden, although it may be nicer to travel a bit further. On the next clear evening go somewhere remote – within 5km of your house, or 20km from June 8th – and wait for the stars to shine. If you haven’t a notion what you’re looking at, there’s an app for that. The Sky Guide highlights the constellations, planets and satellites. Just point your phone up and a world is illuminated. It’s free but the enhanced version is better and costs less than a fiver.
2 Sun yourself, carefully: There may be no exams this summer, but hopefully the weather gods have missed that memo and will still bring us a pleasant June. Take advantage of working from home and get your Vitamin D kick on your lunch break. But remember the Irish sun still burns, so don’t forget the sun block. The Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference App works out where you are and how long you can be in the sun without burning, based on your complexion, time of day and the SPF you’re using. Don’t worry if you can’t get fancy sun cream this year. Most supermarkets stock own-brand creams that are as good.
3 Explore the wonders close to you: Each year, Fáilte Ireland publishes a list of the most popular paid-for and free attractions across the country. They are normally overrun with tourists. Many of the outdoor spots – including Castletown House Parklands, the Connemara National Park and Kilkenny Castle Parklands are already open to those lucky enough to live close to them. If that includes you, resolve to explore them more in the weeks ahead. They will be quieter now than you will ever see them again (hopefully).
4 Flower power: It wasn’t only flour that was in short supply in the early days of the crisis, flowers were too as the Botanic Gardens closed to the public. It reopened in Phase One of lifting of restrictions and is a marvellous resource for those lucky enough to live within 5km. The gardens are following strict social distancing and there may be delays getting in. The enclosed spaces and greenhouses are closed but the gardens in full bloom should soothe your soul.
5 Just keep swimming: Unless things change dramatically in the weeks ahead, most plans to swim in the warm waters of the Med or the Caribbean or the Andaman Sea have sunk for this year. But if you live within striking distance of the sea – and given we are an island, many of us do – surrender to the inevitable and swim. Will it be warm? No. Will you spend hours in the water? No. Will you feel better after a bracing dip? 100 per cent. If you really struggle with the cold, buy a wet suit. You can pick up cheap ones in supermarkets and online. Do not go overboard in your search for socially distanced swimming spots, stick to safer places where there are other swimmers.
6 Eat out, in: We can’t go to restaurants for now, but the restaurants can come to us. Many are offering cook-at-home meal kits, which allow you to create out-of-home dining experiences in your kitchen. For the BBQ we’ve tried Box Burger in Bray, and BuJo and Asador in Dublin. Meanwhile, Grano in Stoneybatter and Allta in Dublin 2 are selling boxes that include freshly made pasta. There are hundreds of other restaurants across the country doing similar things, including Campagne in Kilkenny and the Tannery in Dungarvan. You’ll have a pleasant dining experience, while also be supporting local businesses at a time when they really need it.
7 Carry on camping … in your back garden: Okay so, the campsites of Europe are out for now and anyone looking forward to Electric Picnic has had their plans for life under canvas shelved. But do not underestimate the craic that can be had by putting up a tent in your back garden and letting your kids sleep in it. Adults might even be able to knock a bit of fun out of the experience too. And if it rains, your own bed (and the loo) will be just steps away.
8 Turn a negative into a positive: We often put ourselves under pressure to do stuff on summer days, particularly when it’s sunny. We have to get to the beach. Or we need to climb a mountain. Or jump in a lake. But the travel restrictions are stopping us rushing off to the beach only to find that everyone else had the same idea, leaving us sitting in traffic for hours getting hot, cranky and in the mood to go home. Remember that it is often the sun, not the destination, that makes an Irish summer’s day. So relish the fact that you have to keep it local and enjoy whatever fine days we have without the self-induced stress.
9 Take a self-guided walking tour of your home town: Sometimes, we fail to notice the architectural gems on our doorstep so go forth and discover the architecture of the towns and cities near you. Many places have impressive downloadable walking guides such as discoverboynevalley.ie and you can follow the medieval walls of Dublin on dublincity.ie (search for Walks through medieval Dublin). You can also take a driving tour of the ecclesiastical places in Galway online at galwayeast.com.
10 Movie makers: We frequently hear about the dangers of smartphones and while they can certainly be horrific destroyers of time – for adults and for kids – they can also used to create low-cost, memorable experiences. There are easy-to-use apps to help you shoot funny home videos in high-definition. Children and adults can become their own Orson Welles or Quentin Tarantino by writing short films and then direct and act in them. It is much easier than it sounds once you have some space, silly props and time. Not only will you have fun making the movies, they’ll be a great record of these strange times.
11 Exercise more: With gyms and pilates studios closed, and limits imposed on how far we can travel, it has been hard for people to stay in shape, but trainers have stepped up to the plate. Perpetua in Dublin, for instance, has been hosting a range of live and on-demand workouts. Pilates instructor Caoimhe O’Dwyer has also been running free 10-minute classes on weekday mornings at 8am on Instagram. She tells us they are “designed as your 8am wake-up call. Jump out of bed, you don’t even need a mat, just yourself” and she promises that within 10 minutes “you will feel taller, in less discomfort and pain and more energised”.
12 Tourist attractions: In any normal year, Ireland attracts millions of overseas visitors willing to spend substantial sums to explore our country. So try to see our part of the world through the eyes of the people who spend big bucks to visit it. Think about the biggest attractions in your neighbourhood and devote a day – or several – to checking them out. Apart from anything else, they will be devoid of overseas tourists which will give you a chance to experience them like never before.
13 Listen up: In an age of endless streaming and playlists, the album is under threat like never before. So do your bit to help out by listening to just one album each day (or even a week) from start to finish just as the artist intended. With virtually the entire back catalogue of popular music now available for free on your mobile phone, you have no excuse not to widen your musical horizons.
14 Bubble bubble, toil and trouble: We don’t care what age you are, blowing bubbles is one of the simplest pleasures in life, and blowing really impressive ones can become a competitive sport for families. For some giant bubbles, mix 250ml of washing up liquid with 1.5 litres of water and either 50ml of glycerine or 30g of cornflour. Use a giant bubble wand or make your own with two wooden sticks and some twine. There are lots of videos showing you how online.
15 Bake it off: We all know that the world has gone mad with the baking and the cooking and the eating. While we are hopefully nearing the end of the crisis, stay the course and challenge yourself to cook a new meal at least twice a week, every week. At the risk of blowing our own trumpets, the Irish Times food section has some amazing recipes to get you started. Try our Kitchen Cabinet series on irishtimes.com, where some of Ireland’s top chefs and food writers share their favourite, easy make-at-home meals for lockdown.
16 Go back to the future: Get everyone off their devices (and their bums) and head outside for some old-fashioned games, and exercise to boot. Teach the kids how to play the games of your childhood, such as catch, hide and seek, and What Time is it Mister Wolf? Get some chalk and play hopscotch, or grab a football and play Kerb ball. You could go really retro and raid your sewing basket and play Elastics (also known as French skipping/Chinese jump rope). Irish company inside-outside.ie is selling the elastics online.
17 Learn more about your hometown: Abarta Heritage (abartaheritage.ie) has a great range of free audio guides to the heritage of towns including Abbeyleix and Portarlington in Co Laois, Buttevant and Doneraile, Co Cork, Carlingford, Co Louth, Celbridge and Kildare town, Co Kildare, Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, Edenderry, Co Offaly, Sligo town and Tralee, Co Kerry. You might be surprised by what you learn on your own doorstep.
18 Stretch yourself: Yoga studios have been closed for months now and the idea of doing hot yoga cheek by jowl with strangers now seems plain weird. But that doesn’t mean you can’t continue or take up yoga, which is good for both the mind and the body. Margaret Young runs Wild Soul yoga and she is starting Zoom classes in June, but is running a special free class for readers on Sunday, May 31st at 10am at wildsoul.as.me/IrishTimes.
19 Picnic... wherever you can reach: With so many people working from home – or out of work – there has never been a better time to swap Al Desko meals for Al Fresco dining. When the weather allows, eat outdoors as often as you can. A picnic for four can be made for a tenner and the fact that you are eating outdoors will make it more memorable.
20 Grow vegetables: There’s nothing quite like the taste of home-grown vegetables, and since the lockdown, there has been an upsurge of interest in growing food in Ireland. The Grow It Yourself movement (GIY.ie) encourages everyone to plant vegetables this summer. You can get lots of tips on which plants need more or less sun and watering on its website. Easy ones to grow from seed include kale, lettuce, carrots, runner beans and chard. Plant them wherever you’ve got the space – on a balcony, in a bucket, in flower beds or even on a dedicated section of a lawn.
21 Paint outdoors: Painting “en plein air” is a perfect summer activity this year. There are plenty of YouTube videos offering painting tips but for starters, remember it’s best to wear neutral colours so your clothes don’t reflect colour onto your canvas; don’t hold your paint palette as you need to keep your hands free for changing brushes or grabbing a rag. Use good quality paints and brushes, where you can.
22 Pen pal: We are living through extraordinary times. There are days when it feels like we are watching chapters of future history books being written in real time – or entire episodes of Reeling in the Years. Many people suggest we keep journals, but that’s not for everyone. But we can all write a letter – to our future selves. Write a note, as long or as short as you like (but try to make it at least 600 words) documenting how your life has been over the last few months. Put in an envelope and hide it away. It might be nice to open it and read it in 2030. Or 2060.
23 Discover Irish scientists on a walking tour: Ingenious Ireland, the county by county description of Ireland’s science heritage by Irish science writer, Mary Mulvihill has recently been republished by Four Courts Press. Mulvihill, who died in 2015, also put together a series of audio guides to walking tours of Irish scientists which are now available to download as smart phone apps for a small cost on ingeniousireland.ie. Science activity trails for family outings are free to download.
24 Explore Your Shore: From June 8th, we’ll be able to travel up to 20km from our homes, if Phase Two of the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions continues as expected. So, day trips to sandy beaches will be cherished more than ever this summer. But if your coastal spot is a rocky shoreline or pebbly beach, why not record the marine species you spot while you’re there? The National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Explore Your Shore video has some superb images of crabs, jellyfish, urchins, lobsters, and various seaweeds and fish to help you identify what you find. exploreyourshore.ie
25 Cruinniú na nÓg: Ireland’s national day of free creativity for young people goes ahead – from a distance – on June 13th, with plenty of online workshops from artists throughout Ireland. Children and teenagers can join in a céilí in the kitchen, pop-up poetry sessions, coderdojo classes, learn circus skills, song-writing or take part in film-making workshops. Go to cruinniu.creativeireland.gov.ie, select your county, age-group and book your workshop.
26 Drive-in events: Entertainment entrepreneur, Will Meara, who was behind the Bingo Loco phenomenon, has commandeered drive-in locations in Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Cork, Waterford and Limerick to show classic movies, family- friendly shows and concerts to give us all the going out experience while we’re still under lockdown. Check out programme details on @driveinevents on Instagram. Meanwhile, Retro Drive-In have taken over racecourse car parks in Leopardstown, Fairyhouse, Galway and Punchestown for movie nights and screenings of spectacular sporting events. retrodrivein.ie
27 Visit your local library: Public libraries have been providing ebooks and emagazines to readers during the lockdown. Through Pressreader, members have access to over 7,400 international newspapers and magazines, as well as 30 Irish local and national publications. The TumbleBook Library also has more than 1,100 children’s e-books. Libraries also offer free music streaming services and courses from fitness to learning to play an instrument or language. Some libraries also deliver books and DVDs to the over 70s cocooners. The National Library of Ireland is also sharing its archival photographs and videos online (catalogue.nli.ie) but from June 8th, some libraries will open with social distancing protocols for an order and go service. librariesireland.ie
28 Throw a distanced street party: People are sitting on their doorsteps and playing in front of their houses, often for the first time. There’s even street bingo and outdoor table quizzes happening. Make the most of a bad situation by organising a cookout in your neighbourhood. Post fliers – safely – though doors of neighbouring houses setting a time when everyone is invited to an on-street picnic. Remind people they will have to keep their distance for the duration. It’s still all about coming together while staying apart.
29 Visit a heritage site: The Office of Public Works (OPW) has an extensive reopening roadmap for all the heritage sites it manages (assets.gov.ie). So, from June 8th, outdoor sites such as the Céide Fields in Co Mayo, the Hill of Tara in Co Meath and ecclesiastical ruins at Clonmacnoise in Co Westmeath will open to the public. The Casino at Marino, the National Botanic Gardens, Iveagh Gardens, the gardens at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park, the grounds at Emo Court, Co Laois, and the gardens on Fota Island, Co Cork already opened to visitors on May 18th. Some sites are designated for those cocooning only between 10am-1pm. See website for details.
30 Go walking: The problem with the 2km, and later the 5km exercise limit from home, was that urban folk often found it difficult to enjoy the proven mental health benefits of green spaces. With the limit extended to 20km from June 8th, a new world of walks has opened up for town dwellers. We’ve found some of the finest walks within striking distance of our main urban centres.
North Dublin – Ardgillan Demense, Skerries, Co Dublin
Ardgillan is ideal for walks with small kids, since the 3.5 km path is buggy friendly. After exiting the car park, you will be rewarded with monumental views over the great turreted castle to the Irish Sea and the Cooley and Mourne Mountains beyond. Follow the perimeter wall of the demesne by going left through alternating woodlands and rolling meadows. Eventually, you will walk parallel to the Dublin/Railway line and pass close by a reputedly haunted footbridge leading to a beach that is known as The Lady Stairs.
31 South Dublin – Lackan Wood and Knockree, Co Wicklow: South Dubliners can use their 20km limit to push into the airy expanses of the Wicklow uplands (and avoid the crush at the popular spots in the Dublin mountains). A great family outing is Lackan Wood on Knockree Mountain, lying just south of the Enniskerry to Glencree road. Follow the Wicklow Way southeast through woodland before going sharply left and upwards to a captivating viewing point. Then return to the Wicklow Way and either retrace your steps or continue through the sublime woodlands and across the Glencree River to Crone Wood carpark. (Distance: 5km for either option).
32 Drogheda – Boyne Valley Camino, Co Louth: Located 10km northwest of Drogheda, Mellifont Abbey is of profound historic significance as Ireland’s first Cistercian foundation. Now, the ancient pilgrim route linking Mellifont with Drogheda has been revived. Starting from St Peter’s Church, Drogheda, the trail follows the River Boyne before gaining the woodlands of the Townley Estate and then meandering quiet lanes to Mellifont. A separate return route gives a total walk of 25km. A route map is available for download. caminosociety.com
33 Cork City – Crosshaven Railway Walk, Co Cork: Arguably Ireland’s first greenway, the Crosshaven Railway Walk lies about 12km south of Cork City and leads to one of Ireland’s most picturesque harbour villages. Your walk begins at Kilnagleary, near Carrigaline, and runs along the old Cork to Crosshaven railway line. As you follow this serene path, you have the tidal Owenabue River for company all the way. Keep on through Crosshaven to reach a track that leads up to Fort Camden, for a panoramic view over the Cork Harbour.
34 West Dublin – Lucan to Hazelhatch, Co Dublin: There is something especially serene about waterside walking and a good example is the short canal bank walk from Lucan to Hazelhatch, which makes an ideal family outing. From the start of the Grand Canal Way bridge, on the R120 between Lucan and Newcastle, head west on a lovely sylvan trail. Here, you will encounter some 18th century industrial heritage: old mills, beautiful bridges and canal locks. Very soon the path will decant you at Hazelhatch. For the perfect day, have a picnic lunch here before retracing your steps.
35 Waterford City – The Waterford Greenway: One of Ireland’s greatest recreational innovations, this has been out of reach of most people recently. Soon however, Waterford people can reclaim 20km of it, by walking or cycling from the city. Do this and you will enjoy great views of Waterford estuary while imbibing upon the brawny outline of the Comeragh Mountains. There is also the Waterford and Suir Valley Heritage Railway, and you will pass the rear of Mount Congreve – one of the world’s most renowned and diverse gardens.
36 Limerick – Clare Glens, Newport, Co Tipperary: Lying 16km east of Limerick City, this picturesque glen consists of a stunning gorge gouged out by the Clare River. From the trailhead follow the purple arrows through mature woodlands before reaching the riverbank at a wooden footbridge. Then it is on to another bridge offering a spectacular view of an impressive waterfall. Cross this bridge, turn right and follow the path back to the trailhead having walked about 3.5km.
37 Kilkenny – Nore Valley, Co Kilkenny: One of the finest Irish riverside outings, the Nore Valley walk links Bennettsbridge with Kilkenny City. Begin from the elegant arches of the 18th-century bridge and follow the River Nore upstream on a well-developed track. Along the way, you’ll pass flower rich woodlands, the rock faces from which Kilkenny’s famous black marble was once hewn, and a huge abandoned mill. Your outing finishes beside the great Kilkenny Castle at the heart of the Marble City after about two hours walking.
38 Galway – Rinville Park, Oranmore, Co Galway: Rinville offers a sublime walk, ideal for families, through woodlands and rolling parkland. From the carpark follow the trail west, while enjoying views across Galway Bay to the Burren hills. Onwards then past a wetland area and the ruins of the Georgian, Rinville Hall. Next to capture your curiosity will be the De Burgo redoubt of Rinville Castle, before returning to your parking place after a 2.5km outing. The trail may be lengthened by visiting the seashore and exploring the picturesque West Wood.
39 Portlaoise – Killamuck Bog Loop, Co Laois: Lying some 15km south of Portlaoise, Abbeyleix rewards visitors with period architecture and a captivating 8km walking trail. Starting from the Manor Hotel, follow the purple arrows through the lovely woodland paths of Abbeyleix Demesne. Later, a greenway leads to Killamuck Bog, which is managed by volunteer effort and has a boardwalk giving access to its boggy heartland. Here, kids can see the intriguing process of environmental change that laid down the Irish peatlands. An old railway line then returns you to the trail head after a two-hour ramble.
40 Ennis – Dromore Forest, Co Clare: Lying 13km north of Ennis, the 400-hectare Dromore Nature Reserve offers a captivating woodland and lakeside walk of 6km. Start from Dromore Visitor Centre by ambling a tree-lined by-road with the River Fergus gurgling happily alongside. Continue through sublime natural woodland that is the last Irish refugee of the now very rare pine martin. Dromore Lake, which has been beautifully sculpted by nature, comes next with the limestone pavement shoreline making a perfect place to relax before returning to the trailhead.
41 On yer bike: Although cars are still king on many Irish roads, here’s hoping that recent lockdown measures will encourage more respect among road users and more cycle tracks in cities and beyond. Wherever you live in Ireland, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-track roads to explore now there’s less traffic – some of which will take you to woodland, river, lake, canal or strip of coastline. If travelling in a group, always cycle in single file, and the people at the start and end of the group should wear high visibility jackets.
42 Go out for a meal: Phase Three is due to come into place on June 29th, and playgrounds, cafes and restaurants – where social distancing can be maintained – are expected to reopen. Restaurants and cafes have been badly hit by Covid-19 restrictions, and are doing their best to reopen, introducing screens, smaller capacity and more outdoor seating. So if you can, support your local eateries.
43 Hit the road: Phase Four – which at the time of writing is due to come into effect on July 20th – will see some of the most significant changes in restrictions, notably the lifting of the 20km boundary from your home. This is the perfect time to get out and experience your own country. Hire a campervan – there are lots still available online – and hit the road. Why not pick some of our best beaches to explore on your road trip? Check out irishtimes.com for 50 Great Irish Beaches.
44 Get away, at home: Holiday parks and caravan parks are also due to reopen in Phase Four. They’re bound to be busy, so book early. Check out discoverireland.com for lists of campsites and caravan parks. We’ve got suggestions for the best places for glamping on irishtimes.com (Note: not all will be open this summer).
45 Art attack: Museums and galleries are also set to open in Phase Four, though also with strict social distancing rules. Until then, visit their websites and view lots of the collection online. Then pick a painting, a work of art or a relic (or even a ginormous whale skeleton) and visit it in person when you can. Some good websites include nationalgallery.ie, museum.ie, chesterbeatty.ie, imma.ie, crawfordartgallery.ie and gallery.limerick.ie.
46 Social distancing in style: Hotels are due to open in this phase, although at reduced capacity, and the hotel bar will remain under wraps until Phase Five. Enjoy some luxury social distancing at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel in Connemara. It is offering guests a choice of a luxury picnic to take on a ramble through the 700-acre estate, a cheese and wine hamper to scoff on the grounds, or a feast laid out on a blanket in the walled garden. €440pp for two nights’ B&B and your choice of picnic. See ballynahinch-castle.com. Or splash out with a stay at two of Ireland’s luxury castle hotels. Ashford and Dromoland castles have joined forces for a ‘legendary castles’ promotion. From June 1st, you can book four nights (two at each castle) for €1,800 for 2pp sharing (to stay from July 20th - October 31st 2020.) See ashfordcastle.com or dromoland.ie. For more inspiration, see irishtimes.com, where we’ve got a list of 100 of the Best Places to Stay (not all of these places will be open), and keep an eye on the Irish Times Magazine in the coming weeks for more Irish travel ideas and deals.
47 Forage for wild foods: Once you open your eyes to the free foods in the hedgerows, you’ll never be stuck for something tasty and original to eat again. And, while you’ll have to wait until the autumn to pick blackberries, elderberries, rose hips and crab apples, July and August is the time to pick wild blueberries (fraughans). These tiny, tasty berries can be eaten straight away or can be used in desserts, pies, jam and jelly. Mushrooms also appear from July onwards but it’s important to follow a guidebook or a reliable identification app before taking any home. Flowers such as dog rose are tasty in salads and meadowsweet can be used as a herbal tea. The ground rule of foraging is to pick a third, leave a third for wildlife and another third for the plant to rejuvenate.
48 Home from home: You can find lots of self-catering ideas on sites such as discoverireland.com and dreamireland.com (which includes private rentals and self-catering options at Irish hotels). One hotel offering self-catering packages is Dunmore House in Clonakilty, Co Cork. You can explore 10 beaches within 10 minutes of the hotel (including beautiful Inchydoney) and you can also get food delivered to your door from their kitchen and organic garden. A three-bed house for 7 nights from €1,150, 6-bed house for 7 nights from €1,600. dunmorehousehotel.ie
49 Get planning: Now is the perfect time to start planning next year’s holidays. You may have credit from an airline or holiday company, and most tour operators and holiday companies have good discounts available for 2021. If you’re worried about handing over non-refundable deposits, or you’re not in a position to pay now, enjoy the planning. Work out where you’ll go, look at accommodation options, and research the history, culture and activities at your destination. Read up on the cuisine, and prepare some meals to get you in the mood. You could learn a few words of the local language, too.
50 And finally ... for god’s sake, get yourself a proper haircut.