Kildare: The €99 night away
Your guide to Ireland on a shoestring.
All prices are calculated per person, and include one night’s accommodation, two meals (breakfast and lunch/dinner), and all activities. We’ve also added €15 for bus or petrol costs within the county.
MONEY SAVING TIPS
Members of An Taisce, the National Trust (antaisice.org) are entitled to discounts of 25pc off entry to attractions such as the National Stud. Irish Rail (irishrail.ie) currently has online fares from €10, one-way.
1 Treasure Island at Lullymore Heritage Park
Can you imagine an island in a bog? Search for Lullymore, Co Kildare, on Google Maps using satellite view, and that’s exactly what you’ll find.
A mineral-rich oasis of green surrounded by big, squelchy swathes of the Bog of Allen, it’s a weird and wonderful aerial image.
Even more surprising, however, are the attractions and activities built on that island by a local community determined to combat unemployment with a unique tourism venture.
On my visit to Lullymore, I get to watch newly arrived goats chomping on a pet farm, follow a forest trail and survey a minigolf course. I even sniff a big, greasy lump of centuries-old bog butter.
The picture I take home, however, is that of a fairy bower built over several years by different carpenters. “The last guy who had a go at it was into ‘Lord of the Rings’,” park manager Ray Stapleton explains. The miniature houses and rope bridges are used to illustrate the story of An Tuatha Dé Dannan. So the island is not only unusual, but enchanted too.
Details: €25 for a family of four. Tel: 045 870238; lullymoreheritagepark.com.
2 A flutter at Punchestown
Never been to the races? Now’s your chance. Come April, the Punchestown Festival will see tens of thousands of punters cramming the famous course, but the seven-race card shaping up this Wednesday (February 22) will get you ringside for just €10.
The midweek meet is largely an industry affair, with a crowd of some 1,500 expected. Among them will be jockeys such as Ruby Walsh, Paul Carberry and Davy Russell, in their absolute element.
Kildare’s racecourses, studs and training yards lie at the heart of Ireland’s obsession with horse-racing, so this could be the ideal opportunity to see what it’s all about. Kids go free, and you’ll be able to grab lunch for under a tenner, too.
Details: Tel: 045 897704; punchestown.com.
3 See the stars at Newbridge Silverware
Newbridge Silverware isn’t your run-of-the-mill shopping stop. My first sense of that comes inside the front door, where autographed pictures of Roy Rogers, Shirley Temple, Tyrone Power and others gaze down from a gallery like stars in a firmament.
A firmament in Newbridge, Co Kildare. Then there’s the Museum of Style Icons upstairs. Moseying around, I stand inches from Dean Martin’s tuxedo, The Beatles’ suits from ‘Hard Day’s Night’, and Michael Jackson’s red vinyl shirt and black fedora, worn at his final public performance in the US, at the Apollo Theatre in 2002.
Most recently, Lady Diana’s wedding veils, and the chiffon blouse in her engagement portrait, were procured at auction in London. It’s a stunning collection, but my favourite item is the original disco ball from ‘Saturday Night Fever’. Now that’s flashy.
Details: Tel: 045 431301; newbridgesilverware.com
4 Spring foals at the Irish National Stud
Like horses? You’ll love the National Stud in spring. The first of this year’s bandy-legged foals began arriving in mid-January, and by now, they’re prancing around the nursery paddocks.
About 90pc of foals are born at night, I’m told, after which they stay in the foaling unit until they learn to suckle properly.
You can peek at them there, or watch them out to pasture with the mares — themselves grazing to replenish their supplies of milk. It’s a wonderful springtime sight.
The Irish National Stud is the only stud farm in Ireland open to the public, and as well as the sumptuous stallion boxes (nothing but the best for the sires), you can see vintage flat and national hunt races at the small but perfectly informative Irish Horse Museum. There’s more to the Stud than horses, of course — as Queen Elizabeth discovered on her visit last year. Spring sees the snowdrops and daffodils splashing about the paddocks and the cherry blossoms — which usually appear in mid-April — are head gardner Jim McCabe’s favourite.
Details: €12.50/€7. Tel: 045 521617; irish nationalstud.ie.
5 A bite of lunch at the Ballymore Inn
Ireland has great pubs, it also has great food. So why have we been so slow to put the two together?
The Ballymore Inn, in the little village of Ballymore Eustace, has been ahead of the curve for years.
Like Lisdoonvarna’s Wild Honey Inn or Dublin’s Exchequer, Barry and Georgina O’Sullivan’s gastropub not only serves a fine pint, but blooming good cooking too. Diners have two choices — an elegant restaurant with blazing fireplaces and burgundy bank seating, or the more casual Back Bar, decorated with pop-art images and photos of famous visitors, including Bono, Clint Eastwood and Larry Hagman.
My most recent meal was in the restaurant, where a value lunch menu has three courses for €20.50. My choice was risotto with green beans and wild Wexford mushrooms, covered in a bunch of rocket and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Details: Tel: 045 864 585; ballymoreinn.com
6 Along the banks of the Royal Canal
It’s wonderful how Ireland’s canals, the motorways of their day, have slinked so completely back into the countryside.
Once bustling with barges, lockkeepers and horses, today they seem more like the arteries of a forgotten Ireland, a vanishing industrial heritage. Walking the Royal Canal Way near Leixlip’s Louisa Bridge, I stumble across a Roman-style bath sunk into a terraced landscape above the Rye Valley.
Apparently, workmen excavating the canal in 1793 were surprised by a spray of warm water. That spray grew into Leixlip Spa, and crowds flocked from Dublin to take its waters. Today, a frog hops along its intricate brickwork.
The Dublin to Sligo train blasts by, rippling the waters. Sprawling estates and scrawls of graffiti anchor me in the 21st century, but further along the towpath comes Maynooth, with its 13th-century castle keep and leafy college. My final stop is the humpbacked bridge straddling Kilcock harbour. This 13.5km stretch of the Royal Canal Way takes about three-and-a-half hours to walk. But you can savour it in snippets too — plenty of walkers, joggers and buggy-pushers do. Details: waterwaysireland.org or discoverireland.ie/kildareguide
7 Hearty hospitality at Moate Lodge, Athy
The death of Irish B&Bs has been greatly exaggerated. Within minutes of arriving at Raymond and Mary Pelin’s Moate Lodge, I’m sitting in front of a blazing log fire, tucking into homemade apple pie (made with apples from the Pelin’s orchard), and chatting away like a long-lost cousin.
Raymond works the family’s beef and tillage farm, he tells me, before sharing his passions — rugby and the American Civil War. He was born in the house, Mary chips in. “He came early. They had to pull out a drawer from the dresser to put him in. They had no cot ready.” Upstairs, she shows me that very drawer, in an oak dresser. It’s one of dozens of antique pieces scattered around a Georgian farmhouse originally built for the Duke of Leinster.
The lace curtains and kitschy ornaments won’t appeal to everyone, but a good B&B all comes down to heart. As well as a traditional Irish breakfast, Mary can cook a four-course dinner for €20pp. She grows her own vegetables, and Irish stew is a speciality. “I’m a particular fan of her desserts,” Pauline Frommer (of Frommer’s Guides) revealed after a recent incognito visit. I doubt she’s the only one.
Details: B&B from €30pp. Tel: 059 862 6137; moatelodge.com.