Fun for the family in Ireland
Fed up of ferries and anxious about airports? The good news is that there are plenty of family holidays worth staying home for, each promising loads of activities and great value too. SANDRA O’CONNELLrounds up some of the best
Surfing in Sligo
Stay at the Clarion Hotel in Sligo and families on a budget get the best of both worlds.
As well as traditional hotel rooms, it has 89 spacious family suites with kitchenettes, perfect for good value self-catering breaks but with the option of hotel comforts.
There are loads of things to do in the area but, if you fancy letting the kids do their thing while you tour everywhere from Ben Bulben to the megalithic tombs at Carrowmore, and of course Yeats’ grave, check out the package it runs in conjunction with Turfnsurf, a surf school in Bundoran.
Kids are collected at 9am for an all-day programme of surf lessons, beach games and a Crystal Maze-style challenge. The hotel can provide the packed lunches required and transport and wetsuits are included. Opt for anything from one day at €45 to five days for €200 per child.
There are loads of other things to do in the area too, including beach trekking at Island View Riding Stables, the Eagle’s Flying show at Ballymote and the gorgeous beach at Rosses Point.
The Beach Hotel in Mullaghmore is home to Offshore Watersports, if you fancy a “bubblemaker” introduction to scuba diving. Donegal Adventure Centre in Bundoran is just up the road.
Meanwhile, back at the Clarion, there’s the health centre and pool to enjoy plus organised events for children including daily soccer camp from 10.30am to 3pm with Sligo Rovers and the hotel’s in-house kids’ club from 4pm to 8pm.
Make a point of getting out at least one night to John McGettrick’s Ceoláras Coleman, the traditional music venue in Gurteen. There’s a real old style welcome, with tea and scones in the intermission and your kids will love to see the local children perform, some as young as five or six and all pros.
The cost:three nights B&B plus two dinners at the Clarion in Sligo costs €229 per adult, kids get breakfast free and the early bird kids’ dinner menu is €5. Or stay at the Radisson Blu in the town on a two-night family trekking break, including dinner and a beach ride for two children, from €420 for a family of four.
Websites:clarionhotelsligo.com and radissonblu.ie.
West Cork is wonderful and if you’re going to base the family somewhere in order to tour it, you won’t beat Kinsale. Gateway to the region, it’s equally handy for other points too, including Cork city, the wildlife park at Fota and the funfairs of Youghal.
The Trident Hotel in Kinsale is offering “stay and sail” packages, which might suit older kids, aboard cruising yachts based at its private marina.
The package includes two nights B&B plus one evening meal for €316 for two, including a half-day’s sailing either to the Old Head of Kinsale or around the Sovereign rocks with a professional skipper on board to show you the ropes.
If you’ve got younger kids you might take a harbour cruise on board the Spirit of Kinsale instead, or ditch the sea legs altogether in favour of one of the walking tours that leave from the tourist office each day, before boarding the miniature tourist train up to Charles Fort.
For the energetic, Kinsale Outdoor Education Centre has a range of courses including sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and rock climbing. If you are staying in the area a five-day non-residential course for kids starts at €190. For more ad hoc adventures, prices for Actionpak Paintball, just outside the town, start at €30 per session.
For self-catering, check out Kinsale Holiday Village, five minutes’ walk from the town. Being Kinsale, there’s no shortage of nice places to eat when you’ve had enough of cooking.
The cost:overnights at the Trident Hotel start at €48 per person sharing. A week at Kinsale Holiday Village starts at €500 for a unit sleeping five.
Websites:tridenthotel.com and kinsaleholidayvillage.com.
Of all the places my kids have stayed in Ireland, the one they talk about the most is Riversdale, a collection of wooden cabins in, of all places, Knockvicar Co Roscommon.
Owned by John and Tina Burke, who have been in the hospitality business for four decades, the cabins are straight out of Little House on the Prairie, all except one, the first one they built, which is pure Hansel & Gretel.
Warm, cosy and guaranteed to bring out your pioneer spirit the cabins are the perfect base from which to visit the area’s attractions.
First up is Lough Key which is just behind the cottages, though not visible from them. As well as all those healthy forest walks (and cycles – Pedal Pushers in nearby Boyle will deliver hire bikes to you in the park) it has a terrific playground, a treetop boardwalk and, best of all, the fantastic Boda Borg mental challenge course for all the family.
Once you’ve had your fill of that check out 17th century King House in Boyle and let the kids detonate the dynamite at the Arigna Mining Experience – the recorded explosion is guaranteed to make you jump.
If you like walking, the entire area is criss-crossed by old miners’ paths, uphill and down dale, all clearly marked.
Nearby Lough Allen is the place to go to rent kayaks by the hour while Moorlands Equestrian Centre is the place to go for horse-riding lessons and short treks.
But whatever you do by day, don’t leave without at least one visit to Cootehall Bridge Restaurant, a five-minute drive from Knockvicar, and to keep up the story references, it’s like something out of the Wind in the Willows.
The cost:a week at a Riversdale eco cabin costs €650 in high season.
Towns all around the country could take a lesson from Killarney about how to keep visitors happy.
Granted, not every town is so physically blessed, with a stunning national park in the middle and the mighty Macgillycuddy’s Reeks as a backdrop.
Even if it didn’t have all these natural assets however, the breakfast at the Brehon Hotel would be worth making the trip for, just to see what a mountain range made up of pancakes, waffles, syrups and sauces looks like on a breakfast bar.
What’s more, it’s another of those clever hotels that provide self-catering units on site as well, giving you the opportunity to crank up, or down, the spending as you choose.
The hotel has its own entertainment venue too, so by night this summer you can enjoy everything from Tommy Tiernan to a Michael Jackson tribute band.
You won’t run out of things to do outside of the hotel either, from funfairs to hill walking and pony trekking through the national park with Killarney Riding Stables.
Best of all however is a boat trip across the lake to Dinis Island to see the meeting of the waters. The tea rooms on the island is so good you’d swim to it if you had to.
The cost:three nights B&B at the Brehon, including a family ticket to Muckross Traditional Farms, Crag Caves and Crazy Caves Adventure Centre, plus access to the Eager Eagles Kids Club at the Gleneagle Hotel next door, costs from €199 per adult and €85 per child midweek.
If you’re the adventurous type of family, with a strong penchant for adrenalin, there’s only one place to go this summer – Killary.
Funny that a place the size of a dust mote on your map could have carved such a big reputation for itself as the country’s outdoor adventure HQ, but that’s precisely what Ireland’s only fjord has done.
There are two great centres here. Killary Adventure Centre offers an alphabet of outdoor pursuits, from from abseiling to zipwiring. It also runs special family games such as laser combat, as well as water-based fun such as ringo rides, wakeboarding and water skiing. Best known of all is its enormous sky frame, offering a bungee jump and a giant swing.
Although it’s best known for its school tours and student trips, it does great value family packages too, including a three-night midweek package of B&B, two lunches, two dinners and two full days of activities for €550, based on two adults, two childrenm plus €99 for each additional child.
Alternatively, stay in the nearby Leenane Hotel, right on the waterside, which has great offers including three nights BB and dinner for €199 per person, and just book an activity day for a family of five from Killary Adventure Centre for €240.
For an even easier to achieve blend of hotel luxury and outdoor adventure, check out Delphi Mountain Resort, which has great food, a beautiful spa, and top notch accommodation alongside some of the best outdoor pursuits equipment in the country, including the longest zip line.
The cost:five nights B&B at Delphi for a family of five costs €1,169, and you get to choose whether you want that price to include four dinners, or two dinners plus three half days’ of activities.
Websites:killaryadventure.com, leenanehotel.com, and delphimountainresort.com.
Trips to Trim
Meath is a terrific place to base yourself for ease of access to the capital and also because it’s really the heritage capital of the country. Just maybe don’t mention that bit to the kids.
That said, among the most interesting places we brought the kids last year was to the archaeological dig at Bective Abbey. Led by husband and wife team Matthew and Geraldine Stout, from St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, it’s a terrific way for them to see history brought to life.
Indeed, you can even book the family on to a two-week dig at the site with the Irish Archaeological Field School, a sort of archaeology-cum-education-cum-tourism venture. It will change the way kids look at mounds of earth forever.
Or just enjoy the area’s rich heritage in a more passive fashion, with guided tours of Trim Castle, the Hill of Tara and, of course, the Bru na Boinne visitor centre.
Keep up that gentle pace with a visit to nearby Rathbeggan Family Park and Angling Centre, for a barbecue or picnic. It has a little petting zoo and playground and you can rent rods, bait and paddle boats here for a gentle afternoon’s fishing (though not so gentle for the fish) or rev things up with a paintball session in the adjacent course.
The cost:stay in a family room at Highfield House, Trim’s 18th century former maternity hospital, now a B&B, for €120 per family room. Or go self-catering at Beechwood House which has a special offer for July of four nights, midweek, for a house sleeping four for €450.
Websites:stayathighfield.com and beechwoodlodge.ie.
Loads to do in Louth
If you thought Carlingford was a sleepy little village, well you’d be right. And wrong. Though quiet midweek, at weekends the place is packed and the restaurants heaving. But don’t let that put you off. It’s a gem of a place for a family break because it has one of the best water-based adventure centres in the country.
Once you’ve had a spin around the old part, taking in St John’s Castle, Taafe’s Castle, The Mint and the Dominican Friary in all of, oh, 10 minutes, head back to Tholsel Street to the centre of operations for Carlingford Adventure Centre.
Before you know it your kids will be driving speedboats, jumping off telegraph poles and trying their hand at the challenge course. Its five-day summer “mad camps” start at €150.
Alternatively, tire them out for free with a walk up Slieve Foy, which rises dramatically behind the town.
From there it’s but a short hop to Funtasia, the water park in Drogheda with a spaghetti junction of chutes and flumes.
Aside from the pool it has high ropes activities and roller skating and it’s all indoors, so entirely weather independent.
The cost:it’s all so good you’d do it twice, which is perfect because Carlingford Accommodation is offering those who book a stay an additional three-night midweek break for €100. A week’s stay at its Trinity Mews property, right in the centre of town, is €700.
Summer in Dublin
With the possible exception of Christmas Eve, Grafton Street never looks better than it does at the height of summer, when it’s awash with street artists and musicians and those guys that don’t move for hours on end.
It’s also packed with overseas tourists who, let’s face it, just look better than we do – an added visual bonus. When the sun shines, it could give any capital city you care to mention a run for its money.
Even if it doesn’t – shine that is – there are still loads of free things to do, from feeding the ducks at St Stephen’s Green to browsing museums and galleries.
For a little more money, Dublin Zoo is gorgeous – and has just overtaken the Guinness Storehouse as the city’s most visited tourist attraction – or you can hop on the Dart for days out to Dalkey or Bray. If you’ve got the car the joys of Blessington’s Lakes and Wicklow’s beaches are just a short drive away.
All in all, it’s a capital idea for a family break, if only so the kids know their way around when they come up for college.
Thanks to the glut of accommodation in the city, you can find rooms for as low as €50 a night on websites such as Dublinhotels.com.
The cost:for really great value in some of the best locations in the city, check out Fitzwilliam Townhouse on Upper Fitzwilliam Street – close to the action but not kept awake by it all night – where you can get family and triple rooms from €69 a night midweek.
Low cost Kilkenny
For a family affair that’s not going to break the bank, check out the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny. It’s offering what just might be the best value family break around at a cost of roughly €60 per adult, per night, and kids staying for free.
But it gets better. The five-day deal includes not just B&B, but dinner on two evenings of your choice. On top of that you get an hour’s pony trekking for the kids at Warrington Equestrian Centre and the hotel will pack a picnic basket for you to enjoy afterwards.
You’ll also get a one-day family pass to nearby Castlecomer Discovery Park, plus a €25 voucher for the hotel’s spa – all for €60 per adult, per night.
Five days won’t be enough to see all there is in the area, from Kilkenny Castle to the ruins at Jerpoint Abbey and Dunmore Caves, to name but a few. But that’s fine, because at that price you can afford to come back.
Then again, you might fancy going somewhere different and the best thing of all about this offer is that guests availing of it receive a complimentary two-night stay at any of the four sister Flynn hotels around Ireland, including the Imperial in Cork, the Old Ground Hotel Ennis and the Park Hotel Dungarvan. So that’s two hols for the cost of one.
The cost:the five-night family package starts at €299 per person if you check in on a Sunday, kids stay for free.