10 Best: Free mid-term adventures for kids
Pol O Conghaile picks some fun trips for the kids - and they're all free.
Explore the Geopark in Co Cavan
Did you know that Ireland used to be located below the equator, in tropical latitudes?
Granted, that was hundreds of millions of years ago -- and Lord knows, any tropical weather has long since disappeared -- but you can still see limestone formations from the time at the Marble Arch Caves Geopark.
The UNESCO-designated park is best known for its eponymous caves, of course, but you can see plenty else here without incurring an entry fee.
Straddling the Cavan/Fermanagh border are several stunning lake and mountain walks, including one of Ireland's best-kept secrets, the Burren Forest, on the middle slopes of West Cavan's Cuilcagh Mountain.
Details: Tel: 028 6634 8855; marblearchcavesgeopark.com.
Secret life of bogs at An Creagán, Co Tyrone
Set below the Sperrin Mountains, An Creagán is a 21st-century interpretive centre on the site of a 10,000-year-old glacial esker near Omagh.
After learning about the surrounding bogland's origins in the last Ice Age, families can explore the nearby stone circles at Beaghmore, potter around the duck ponds and a community garden, and venture off to walk or cycle several forest trails stitched into the unique landscape itself.
It's not all about the past, mind you -- ongoing events range from free stargazing sessions to arts and crafts workshops.
Details: Tel: 048 8076 1112; ancreagan.com.
Puzzling pathways in Dublin City
Nothing beats exploring a city by foot, but walking tours often turn out to be long, boring and expensive. That's why Ingenious Ireland's 'Dublin by Numbers' trails look so attractive.
The trails are free, suitable for children aged six plus, and take 60 to 90 minutes.
All you need do is download the activity sheet from its website, bring chalk, pencils and a one-metre piece of string for measuring things, and you're all set.
The trail kicks off at the Royal Irish Fusiliers Arch, and proceeds to puzzle its way through Stephen's Green, encouraging participants to spot shapes, measure the circumference of a tree, and use trigonometry to gauge the height of Wolfe Tone en route.
Details: For more information see ingeniousireland.ie.
First steps on Ireland's Camino in Ardmore, Co Waterford
Nothing is freer than fresh air, and you'll fill your lungs with the stuff on the spectacular cliff walk that begins at St Declan's Hermitage in Ardmore.
The 5km loop wraps around Ram Head, passing a wrecked crane ship known as the Sampson, before returning to village -- the highlight of which is arguably the finest round tower in Ireland.
Interestingly, Ardmore is also the starting point for what local walker Kevin O'Donnell is calling "Ireland's Camino".
This March, Kevin will lead the Knockmealdown Active group from Ardfinnan to Ardmore over three days. "You could easily compare Ardmore to Pamplona," he says. Consider the mid-term cliff-walk the start of your training.
Details: For details on Knockmealdown Active's March trek call 086 354 1700.
Childhood in times gone by in Dublin
Mid-term 2012 may be dominated by iPads and smartphones, but it wasn't always that way, as two free exhibitions in Dublin illustrate.
The Berkeley Costume and Toy Collection at Rathfarnham Castle dates from 1740 to 1820, with artefacts ranging from an over-sized rocking horse once used to teach children how to ride, to a delicate 19th-century dolls' house.
The current exhibition at the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar is 'Small Lives', a series of photos of Irish childhood from 1880-1970.
Images include stiff studio portraits and girls skipping outside the Ballymun Flats in 1969.
Details: Tel: 01-493 9462; heritage ireland.ie (Rathfarnham); 01-603 0200; nli.ie ('Small Lives').
Hands-on history at the National Museum
Ireland's national museums are free to visit, as are their eye-catching mid-term event and activity programmes.
Tomorrow (Sunday 12) there is a free handling session at the Museum of Decorative Arts & History at Collins Barracks (3pm-4pm).
On Valentine's Day, the National Museum of Archaeology is exploring St Valentine's Roman origins, along with the chance to examine replica Roman coins (11am-1pm).
On Friday 17, the National Museum of Country Life in Castlebar invites you to 'Come Knit with Me' (11am-1pm).
Finally, on Saturday 18, there's a Super Animals tour at the Museum of Natural History, during which you can design your own animal with super powers (3pm-4pm).
Details: Tel: 01-677 7444; museum.ie.
Green fingers at Vandeleur Walled Garden, Co Clare
A family ticket to the Vandeleur Walled Garden at Kilrush normally costs €10, but visits until April are free.
Set among 420 acres of woodland, the old estate makes for a surprisingly varied day out. Just some of the attractions bringing the fauna and flora to life for the kids include a tricky horizontal maze, Victorian-style working glasshouse, living willow structure and a butterfly trail.
An outdoor chess set was added last year, there's a farm machinery collection peppered around the courtyard, and you can explore the Vandeleur family history in a museum above the tea rooms.
Details: Tel: 065 905 1760; vendeleurwalledgarden.com.
Up the walls in Limerick
Instead of the kids driving you up the walls this mid-term break, why not drive them up the walls instead?
Nevsail Watersports is running free kids' rock-climbing sessions on a 22-foot indoor wall at Presentation Secondary School in Limerick.
The open sessions take place from 3pm to 4pm and 4pm to 5pm next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The sessions are geared towards giving kids the chance to try out the thrill of rock-climbing in a safe (and dry) environment.
Just 12 children can be accommodated at each hour-long session, so advance booking is essential, but everyone who secures a place is guaranteed a go on the main wall, not to mention race across on the traverse section.
Details: Tel: 086 330 8236; nevsailwatersports.ie.
Forest frolics in Cork & Mayo
Think we're a nation of couch potatoes? Think again.
Every year, Coillte welcomes some 18 million visitors to its forests, nature walks and thumping mountain bike trails.
Take the Lake Walk at Castlefreke, Co Cork, a 30-minute stroll leading to Kilkeran Lake and sand dunes believed to have been formed by a tsunami in 1743.
Or what about Cong Forest in Co Mayo, where the last High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, lived the final years of his life?
Centuries-old yew trees and caves in which you can see Lough Mask travelling underground are just some of the highlights here.
Details: Visit coillteoutdoors.ie.
On the Butler Trail in South Tipperary
We may be in recession, but a surprising amount of new tracks and trails are set to open this year, including this 38km route linking Butler strongholds in Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Shannon.
The Butler family dominated Ireland's southeast from the 13th to 18th centuries, at stops such as Cahir Castle, the Swiss Cottage (which charge for entry) and the Main Guard in Clonmel and Ormonde Castle in Carrick (which are free).
Legend says the latter was built by Black Tom Butler in anticipation of a visit from Queen Elizabeth. Alas, she never arrived.
Afterwards, continue on towards the ultimate Butler pad, Kilkenny Castle, where you can let your own dynasty loose in the playground.
Details: For more information visit discoverireland.ie/the butlertrail.