Viking boats and bubble rollers: holidays were never this fun when I was little

Wexford is the perfect holiday spot for children, from Pirates Cove to Hook Head Lighthouse, and lovely beaches at nearly every turn

The Hook lighthouse has a cafe in the visitor centre,  concentrating on foods prepared onsite and breads, cakes and scones baked in the in-house bakery.

The Hook lighthouse has a cafe in the visitor centre, concentrating on foods prepared onsite and breads, cakes and scones baked in the in-house bakery.

 

Did Vikings really wear helmets with horns? The enduring stereotype of these fearsome Scandinavian warriors may be a little false, it turns out – or certainly when it comes to headgear. Archaeologists have never uncovered any kind of horned helmet from the Viking era and it’s more likely, they say, that they wore something simple made of iron or leather when they went about terrorising and pillaging.

This curious historical detail is just one of many that arises on a tour of the Irish National Heritage Park in Co Wexford, which takes you on a time trail through woodlands and lakes, from the Stone Age to the Early Christian years and up to the Viking era. Set over 35 acres, there’s a Mesolithic campsite, Medieval Ringfort, Crannóg and Fulacht Fiadh – and it all reminds me how much I learnt, and have forgotten, from school.

Neil and Hazel Grennan at the Irish National Heritage Centre in Wexford.
Neil and Hazel Grennan at the Irish National Heritage Centre in Wexford.

Our guide, Joe, who looks like some sort of ancient Celt in a long robe and sword, is full of easy-going and informative banter as we follow him through the centuries. It’s a light-hearted look at history, that is enjoyable for our two little ones (aged five and seven) who get to explore the different thatched huts and tomb sites, making all that ancient history just a little more easy to visualise.

We stop at Pirates Cove in Gorey, which is the perfect fun fix after a car journey – and the kind of colourful kiddie utopia that I don’t think even existed when I was their age

One of the highlights, they tell me later, was getting a chance to feed the park’s friendly robins – as demonstrated by Joe – who fluttered down to peck at little crumbs of cheese from their outstretched hands. The tour ends at the Viking Boatyard, for a climb aboard the longboat and we’re sent off wondering about the truth and myths about Vikings.

Passport to Fun

The heritage park is one of the stops on Wexford’s new Passport to Fun guide to travelling around the county with children, which is all about fresh air, good food, family-friendly activities and a little bit of learning. We stop at Pirates Cove in Gorey, which is the perfect fun fix after a car journey – and the kind of colourful kiddie utopia that I don’t think even existed when I was their age.

There are paddle boats, go-carts, an indoor soft play area and bubble rollers, where the children stumble and wave and bounce around like little hamsters while trying to balance on the water. There’s also excellent bumper boats for the adults to join in too and motor around under the special pirate discovery cove and waterfall before we head back, all tuckered out, to the car.

Hazel and Neil Grennan at Pirates Cove in Gorey, Co Wexford.
Hazel and Neil Grennan at Pirates Cove in Gorey, Co Wexford.

At the Riverside Park Hotel in Enniscorthy, the family rooms are cleverly designed with a small partition and individual TV and headsets for the children’s beds – it’s the kind of small detail that gives a little reprieve from the sounds of the Octonauts or Peter Rabbit, and a great opportunity to read a chapter of my book in lovely silence.

Haunted house

Loftus Hall is known as the most haunted house Ireland, and it certainly looks the part. It’s a slightly desolate sight, this greying mansion looming at the end of a long driveway. Many of the windows are boarded up, and you might end up wondering if you’re in the right place. But it’s all part of the experience of this eerie place on the Hook Peninsula.

Loftus Hall on Hook Peninsula in Wexford.
Loftus Hall on Hook Peninsula in Wexford.

Built in 1350 by the Redmond family, the house was famously renovated, at a massive cost, for the much-hyped visit of Queen Victoria – which never came about in the end. There are lovely walled gardens to the side, while a tour inside the dimly lit house is full of fascinating stories from the tale of the mysterious stranger who appeared one stormy night to the masterful tilers whose hands were cut off when they finished their work in the house, to prevent them doing the same exquisite flooring anywhere else.

The day tour makes for an entertaining mix of history, legend and myth, and it’s just the right side of spooky for children, while there’s also After Dark tours, and Halloween ones, which take the fright-factor up a notch.

Beaches and lunches

Wexford is full of stunning beaches and the Strand Tavern in Duncannon is a good spot for lunch after a stroll along the shore. You’ll get Hook Head crab claws, a hearty chowder, haddock and chips for the kiddies, and a deliciously fresh glass of Citra Pale Ale by local brewers YellowBelly.

There’s archery, airsoft, kayaking and loads of room for camping at the expansive International Outdoor Adventure Centre in Tagoat. And if you or your little ones have a head for heights, there’s plenty of climbing activities on the high ropes and the Jacob’s ladder with all the safety gear provided.

Hook Lighthouse is more than 800 years old and is the world’s oldest working lighthouse. It’s an amazing structure to stand and look at up close – and then go inside.

Hazel and Neil Grennan at Hook Head Lighthouse in Wexford.
Hazel and Neil Grennan at Hook Head Lighthouse in Wexford.

There’s a stunning view all around the peninsula when you get to the top, and through the many tiny windows while winding your way back down its 115 stone steps.

Fun places for kids in Wexford

Pirates Cove, Gorey: great for all ages, with soft play, bowling and outdoor water activities, 11am-6pm piratescove.ie

International Outdoor Adventure Centre: outdoor activities for adults and children aged eight upwards ioac.ie

Loftus Hall, Hook Head peninsula: Tours hourly from 12pm, lasting 45 minutes. Prices €6-€10 loftushall.ie

Irish National Heritage Centre, Co Wexford: walking tours and activities for all ages inhp.ie

For more ideas see visitwexford.ie 

Places to eat in Wexford

Green Acres, Wexford town: this is a lovely, airy spot for lunch with top quality local produce and fish, make sure to visit the gallery upstairs too. greenacres.ie

Alba, Enniscorthy: authentic Italian dishes with warm welcome for children. 

albarestaurant.ie

Strand Tavern, Duncannon: cosy, family-run spot beside the beach, very family-friendly. strandtavern.ie

Where to stay: 

Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy riversideparkhotel.com

Four-star family-friendly hotel with spacious rooms and full leisure centre.

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