What to do with the kids in Kilkenny
From lizards and crocodiles to treetop climbing and paddle-boating, there’s much to do for families
The treetop walk at Castlecomer Discovery Park.
The Burmese python is one of the biggest snakes in the world, and you can see one at the National Reptile Zoo in Kilkenny. This fat, yellow and white bundle was coiled up in a corner when we visited recently, though they can extend to 6m long and weigh more than 90kg.
This is just one of the many fascinating creatures you’ll come across at the reptile zoo (nationalreptilezoo.ie), from lizards and hairy spiders to crocodiles and bullfrogs. There’s a friendly royal python which we were all given a chance to hold – it was surprisingly heavy and firm to touch – while learning more about how it sheds its skin into one long, papery tube, that it is non-venomous, and the smallest of the pythons. Cleopatra used to wear these docile snakes as jewellery – or so the story goes – and you can almost see why; its narrow head moves only a little when I hold it, and it seems very relaxed in front of the small audience gathered around. The Egyptian leader was also rumoured to have died by venomous poison of an asp – though there are differing theories on that too.
The theme at the reptile zoo is very much about conservation and learning, with many rescue animals forming part of the exhibits. At the walk-in habitat, for example, we’re given a short tour, and get to experience the humidity of a tropical rainforest while spotting creatures in the foliage. Children can get close to the long-necked carnivorous turtles, and give the iguanas a little stroke on the back.
Overall, this is a great spot for children – and adults – to wander around. It’s not too big, so you can do the circuit a few times and revisit your favourite reptiles, like the fire-bellied toad and the poison dart frog. And there’s a soft play area to make sure those little legs are properly stretched before getting back in the car and heading onwards to Kilkenny.
La Rivista (larivista.ie) in Kilkenny city is our dinner stop, where the children are handed crayons and colouring sheets the minute we get in the door. The pizzas are top notch and the atmosphere relaxed.
We head straight for the pool at the Lyrath (lyrath.com), a child-friendly hotel just outside Kilkenny city. Our family room opens out on to a lovely patio and bigger green area, so the children can run around for a bit before bedtime. The hotel, which includes the original 17th-century manor house, is set on 170 acres of mature parkland with lots of lovely walks, a lake, falconry and archery activities, and a playground.
Castlecomer Discovery Park
Day two of our mini-trip to Kilkenny is at the Castlecomer Discovery Park (discoverypark.ie). We start at the treetop-walk, getting kitted out with helmets and ropes. Stepping across a rope bridge some 8m off the ground is pretty terrifying – for me – but it’s a big hit with my eight-year-old, who immediately wants to do it all over again. But there are too many other things to get to; next up is the climbing wall, and then on to a particularly good playground with zipline.
Opened in 2007 as a community project following the closure of the coal mines, Castlecomer Discovery Park is a not-for-profit social enterprise. Set in the former grounds of the Wandeford Estate, it covers 80 acres of beautiful woodlands, a lake and trails. It also includes the Coal Mining Exhibition, Redwood Café, visitor centre and design craft studios located in the former stable yard, which is a lovely spot to potter around when all the adventuring is over and the children are having an ice-cream.
There’s a relaxed and friendly atmosphere to the park, which caters for all ages. You’ll spot locals out for their weekend walks making good use of this wonderful resource, and a few birthday parties in and around the elf and fairy village and the giant bouncing net. There’s also the Junior Woodlands Adventure Course, which is for ages three and up, and where my youngest was very happy testing out her balance and climbing skills. There are activities for older children too, such as archery or axe-throwing, and ziplines, mountain-biking, canoeing and Segway tours that the grown-ups might enjoy too.
We finish up at the lake where we clamber into a paddle boat and go for a leisurely tour under the trees, watch the swan with her new fluffy cygnets, and spot a few small grebes hiding in amongst the reeds.