If the thought of heading back to homework, uniforms and school lunches is hard to bear, just think how the kids feel. The best way to brush off the back-to-school blues is with a last-minute burst of fun. We’ve rounded up 20 ways to keep that holiday feeling as long as possible.
1. Saturday marks the start of National Heritage Week, although, to be pedantic, it's actually National Heritage Nine Days, because it runs until August 27th. All the more time for you take everybody's mind off the impending gloom by getting involved. This year's theme is "It's In Your Nature", so the programme is packed with outdoor escapades from urban wildlife tours to foraging walks and bee hotel builds. There are events on all over the country, including a Whale and Dolphin Day (August 26th) at Hook Lighthouse in Co Wexford, between 11am and 5.30pm, so hopefully someone will tell the cetaceans. For more, see Manchán Magan's A to Z guide to Ireland's natural heritage.
2. Have a laugh at the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival (August 24th-27th) in the picturesque village of Waterville, the great comic's famous home-from-home on the Ring of Kerry. As well as offering the most bowler hats the kids are likely to see outside of a Mary Poppins movie (the town is aiming to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for this feat on Saturday 26th), there'll be loads of street entertainment plus Fossetts circus.
3.You'll have to be quick but there's still time to immerse yourselves in the Rose of Tralee Festival (running until 22nd August), now in its 58th year. If you're used to checking out this particular "Lovely Girls" competition from the sofa, it might be fun to go see them do their thing – sing, dance, talk – live and in person. Even if you can't get a coveted ticket, there's still plenty of street entertainment plus a circus, funfair and fireworks. Just like on stage.
4. For the equally fleet of foot – and ace at last-minute accommodation – the mighty Fleadh Cheoil finishes up on Monday (August 21st), having brought the best of the country's traditional musicians to Ennis, Co Clare. Visitor numbers are always off the scale for this August – and indeed august – shindig, but the atmosphere at this most family-friendly of festivals is like nothing else. There are concerts, céilís, exhibitions, lectures and street performances, and a good excuse to stay on and explore the Burren, Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle after the crowds go home.
5. Which of us could pass up the chance to ring the bells at Christ Church Cathedral? Well, Dublin's citizens had better stock up on ear plugs because from Saturday August 19th to Saturday August 26th, as part of National Heritage Week, this wonderful 11th-century institution has put together a jam-packed programme of family-friendly events, including organ recitals, treasure trails, talks and tours, plus an opportunity to ring those bells. Form an orderly queue.
6. How many times have you sprinted through St Stephen's Green late for something, dawdled to feed the ducks, or sunbathed on your lunch break? So why not transform it from being a backdrop to the main event? Find out all sorts of interesting nuggets from its fascinating past, whether it's the location of its old gallows, the ghosts passing through the railings or the names on the arch. Next Saturday (August 26th) the wonderful Little Museum of Dublin just across the road is organising a 60-minute tour around the Green, led by historian Donal Fallon, to fill you in on all sorts of aspects the city's star park. And, best of all, though you have to book, admission is free.
7. Budding film buffs in the family might appreciate a trip to the Irish Film Institute's Family Festival next weekend (August 26th and 27th). An annual event, it's aimed at bringing families together to see some of the finest animated and live action movies from around the world, as well as take part in workshops. If the only screen you see them looking at these days is the one on the palm of their hand, and you feel like you're interrupting them every time you speak, this one could be just the ticket.
8. Trim is a terrific little town for a family break, with all sorts of historic monuments in its hinterland, from castles to cairns. Visit on Sunday August 27th for the Salmon of Knowledge Festival at Trim Castle – itself a great place for an entertaining guided tour. The same day will see the start of the Race Around Ireland cycle race, with adventure races for grownups and children, plus traditional music and dance, dramatic performances and craft stalls from all over the Boyne Valley region.
9. Fancy a spot of otter? Tim Clabon of the Irish Wildlife Trust is bringing Dubs back to nature with an otter-spotting walk along the Dodder river at 10am on Sunday August 27th, explaining all about otters, their slides and holts, as well as Ratty, Toad, Mole and all their riverbank friends. Well maybe not Ratty, perhaps. With a recent survey finding that one in eight kids in the UK has never seen a real-life cow, it's maybe no harm to show your own brood the wildlife on their suburban doorstep.
10. If you've got kids, chances are you've got Harry Potter fans. You may not be able to enrol them in Hogwarts but you can ease the pain of the return to boring old real school with a visit to LeakyCon (August 31st to September 3rd). This fandom event, which takes place at the City West Hotel, promises to bring together all sorts of cast members – including Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas) and more – for interviews, discussions and all things wizarding.
11. Another one that requires you to leave the house now – right now! – is the Terryglass Arts Festival in Tipperary. Based in the picturesque village of the same name, which boasts a 6th-century monastery, it features a village carnival, a visual arts exhibition, local food market, music and street entertainment, suitable for all ages and, crucially, all free. There is still time to join the fun but you'll be glad you did because Sunday is family fun day.
12. Kilruddery House and Gardens in Bray, Co Wicklow has successfully transformed itself into one of the county's most popular family-friendly destinations, with a host of fun stuff to do, from bushcraft classes to tree-top high-wires. This weekend (August 19th-20th) sees it play host to Groove, the fast-growing music and wellness festival. This year it has expanded its family zone and offers face paints, kids yoga and giant inflatable zorbs on the lake.
13. How nice it is to take a cycling break where you don't have to worry about traffic – other than other cyclists, that is. Nowadays that gives you a choice of options, including both the well-established Western Greenway, the 42km cycle trail from Newport to Achill, and the new Waterford Greenway, the 46km off-road cycling trail along the old railway line between Waterford and Dungarvan. The route takes you over tall viaducts, under tunnels and past the gardens of Mount Congreve. You'll find cycle hire available at both trails, so no worries about having to load up the car.
14. Soak up the last few days of summer in the sunny South East with a history-themed trip taking in the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross, Co Wexford, the arboretum at JFK Park and the Irish National Heritage Park just outside Wexford. The latter brings the history of Ireland's built environment to life – from crannógs and ring forts to box coffins and dolmens – with "have a go" family fun activities dotted around the grounds. Book ahead and stay overnight in its ring fort which costs €400 for up to six people. It's the perfect opportunity to explain to the kids what life was like before wifi.
15. Head to Kinsale for family-friendly guided walking tours that tell the story of the Kinsale Giant – an 18th-century celebrity who stood eight-foot-three in his stockinged feet (his boots are in the local museum). Drive out to Charles Fort, the town's well preserved star-shaped fortification dating to the 17th century, or see it from the sea side on a boat trip with Cork Sea Safaris, which is based in Cork harbour but runs half-day trips to Kinsale. Stay over, with doubles from €160 a night available online at the Trident Hotel, right on the harbour, at the time of writing.
16. A quick trip to a UK theme park is a fun-filled way to counter the end of summer gloom. Send them back in with a smile after a Stenaline two-day ferry trip including a trip to Legoland, Alton Towers or Drayton Manor theme parks. Packages start at around €650 and include fast ferry travel, including car, from Dublin to Holyhead or Rosslare to Fishguard, two-night hotel accommodation on or near the theme park, and one-day park entry tickets for a family of four.
17. If there's any sign of good weather on the way, dust down that old tent in the attic and have it at the ready for a few days of family camping. There are loads of great campsites up and down the country and it's a great option if your summer holiday budget is well and truly gone and the cost of getting them kitted out for school still looms. A camping pitch can still be booked, at the time of writing, for a two-day stay this week at Pure Camping, an eco camp site on the Loop Head peninsula in Co Clare, from €70 for a family of five.
18. It's still peak season so availability isn't guaranteed, but if you log on to the Irish Landmark Trust's website, you may be lucky and find a cancellation on one of its unique properties. At the time of writing you could still book Castletown Round House, a gate lodge at the pedestrian entrance to Castletown House, the Palladian pile in Celbridge, for five nights, starting on Monday August 21st, for €1,080 for two adults and three kids. And you could still get two nights – on Thursday August 24th and Friday August 25th – at its child-friendly Merrion Mews property in Dublin, which sleeps six, from €822.
19. Cruise back to school after a leisurely stint on the Shannon with Shannon River, a boat hire company that handles bookings for a number of cruiser companies. It might just have some availability left for its special offer of 30 per cent discounts on selected boats for seven nights' stay up until the end of August. There are a number of route options, starting from Carrick-on-Shannon or Athlone and heading north or south. Or cruise around Lough Erne and explore its islands.
20. Finally, to really give the kids a tonic, crown the summer with a last-minute trip to Disneyland Paris. Abbey Travel has – again at the time of writing – four-day stays for a family of four from Tuesday August 22nd to Saturday August 26th, staying at the two-star Santa Fe hotel, in the park, from €733 per person, including flights and park tickets. If that doesn't make up for having to get back into scratchy jumpers and sore shoes, well, it's only 63 sleeps to mid-term.