Pol O' Conghaile picks his top pocket-friendly ways to keep the kids happy over half term.
On the cheap in Co Clare
Right now, the only thing certain for the home-holiday market is that price will drive every last staycation in 2011. Fair dues to the Shannon Region then, which has a raft of cost-saving goodies.
First, a short-breaks discount card chops 25pc off entry fees to 40 attractions, ranging from pet farms to surfing breaks and museums (with no blackout dates, either). Next, a special one-day ticket combines visits to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park and the Cliffs of Moher for a single discounted price (parking at the cliffs is included, too).
If you’ve still got time to kill after all that, pay a flying visit to the new Atlantic AirVenture Aviation Museum in Shannon — entry is free over mid-term.
Details: For the short-breaks discount card, visit shortbreaks ireland.ie. The Bunratty and Cliffs of Moher ticket is available from €12/€6.50 (shannonheritage. com). Trident Holiday Homes (01-201 8490; tridentholiday homes.ie) has a week in a threebed house in Killaloe from €270.
Art of entertainment in Wexford
On Saturdays, the Wexford Arts Centre runs a Little Artists’ Club (€7.50), teaching children to paint with charcoal, pastels, ink and anything else they’d care to make a mark with.
Next Tuesday, it has a parent and toddler workshop (€4 per family) where you can make prints from foam, vegetables and flowers. Finally, Secret Valley Adventure Farm in Clonroche (€6.50/€5.50) is open throughout mid-term, offering the chance to bottle-feed kid goats, ride a pony and test-drive its new indoor play centre.
Details: wexford.mykidstime.ie has a round-up of activities in Wexford. If you’re staying in the area, the Ferrycarrig Hotel (053 912 0999; ferrycarrighotel.ie) has mid-term breaks from €149 per night for two adults and up to two children, including a supervised kids’ club.
Five-star families at the Heritage, Co Laois
It’s a sign of just how much has changed in recent years that a family of four can stay at a fivestar hotel for just €120 a night.
That price is based on a threenight mid-term offer at the Heritage Resort in Killenard, with B&B, a family room and access to the pool, Wii room, cinema and 4km of walking tracks included. You can upgrade to interconnected rooms and tack on one afternoon tea, one family dinner and a spa experience for less than €75 extra per night too. Family-friendly attractions nearby include the Slieve Blooms, Emo Court and the Irish National Stud.
Details: The Heritage Hotel (057 864 5500; theheritage.com) has this three-night B&B offer from €180 per adult (up to two kids stay free). The connecting rooms offer costs €290 per adult.
The kids are all right, Co Cork
Last year, the Garryvoe Hotel added 40 bedrooms and a new leisure centre to its offering on Ballycotton Bay. Brave or foolhardy? Find out for yourself with a mid-term package featuring three nights’ B&B, one evening meal, a family ticket worth €44 to Fota Wildlife Park and free passes for Jungle World in Middleton.
The 5km Blue Flag beach is worth a walk and, a 45-minute drive into Cork City, you can join the funky ‘Be a Brainbox’ electronic circuit workshops at Blackrock Castle Observatory.
Details: Garryvoe Hotel (021 464 6718; garryvoehotel.com) has this offer from €265 per adult. Kids go free. The Be a Brainbox workshops (021 435 7917; bco.ie) cost €6.50 per child.
Look, listen and learn in Belfast
Northern Ireland can offer more than cheap shopping, you know. Belfast has buckets of family activities lined up for mid-term, starting tonight with the Ulster Orchestra’s performance of music from ‘Star Wars’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘ET’, ‘Jaws’ and ‘Superman’ at the Waterfront Hall (from £10/ €11.70).
At the Linen Hall Library, a free Charles Dickens exhibition includes first editions of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘David Copperfield’. Next Saturday, the W5 Interactive Discovery Centre has a Big Build Challenge, with Lego fans invited to compete in building a Lego house in the shortest possible time (€9.40/€6.95).
Details: Special accommodation offers from NITB’s Tourist Information Centre (Suffolk Street, D2; 1850 230 230) include two nights’ B&B plus one dinner at Belfast’s Ramada Encore for £64.50/€76, and at the Premier Inn Titanic Quarter from £84.50/ €99. See also discovernorthern ireland.com
Shop till you drop in Kilkenny
Tourists are keeping their credit cards close to their chests, but Kilkenny is working to change that by becoming the first county in Ireland to offer free personal shopping. Book the ‘Style in the City’ package at participating hotels (including Mount Juliet, the Ormonde and Hotel Kilkenny), and former model Karen Morrissey will take you on a twohour tour of the Marble City’s most browsable boutiques.
Dad and the kids can hit the playground at Kilkenny Castle while you tap the official city stylist for tips on bargain hunting and dressing to suit your shape.
Details: Hotel Kilkenny (1850 560 600; hotelkilkenny.ie) has two nights’ B&B and one dinner from €125pps midweek during mid-term. Kids, who can attend the kids’ club, cost €20 per night. Rates include the free ‘Style in the City’ package, which is available on a firstcome, first-served basis.
Dissect a squid at Galway Atlantaquaria
Why not plan for something indoors in case of bad weather? Galway Atlantaquaria is running one-day workshops aimed at teaching kids about the awesome array of animals on our planet and how they survive.
‘Fur, Feathers, Skin and Scales’ includes hands-on experiments, digital microscopes, visits to the aquarium and even — yuck — a squid dissection. At the end of the day, your budding Jacques or Jackie Cousteau will get a certificate and an educational goodie bag to take home to boot.
Details: Galway Atlantaquaria (091 585100; nationalaquarium. ie) workshops cost €35 for the first child and €30 for the second. They take place from 10am to 3pm on February 22 and 25.
Beautiful beasts at The Ark, Dublin
A building overflowing with crafted pets, mythical beasts, textile jellyfish and insects made from recycled materials? Welcome to ‘Crafted Creatures’ at The Ark, Temple Bar’s cultural centre for children. Part of the Year of Craft celebrations, the exhibition also includes mid-term workshops where little imaginations can fashion animals from plastic, clay, wire, fabric and rubber.
Get in there today if you can — the Natural History Museum is dropping in at 2pm with bearskins and other items from its stuffed collection.
Details: ‘Crafted Creatures’ runs at The Ark (01-670 7788; ark.ie; craftinireland.com) until March 27. The exhibition is free; midterm craft workshops cost €10/€8.
Be our guest at the Hawkswell Theatre, Sligo
Do you remember life before Disney — those magical years when little girls were content with generic teddies and xylophones? Then Disney pinged on to the radar, and suddenly everything is plastered with the oh-so-perfect mugs of Belle, Ariel, Aurora and Cinderella. If you can’t beat ’em, you can join ’em at Sligo Musical Society’s mid-term production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. After, grab some adult payback at ‘The Outsider’, a Jack B Yeats exhibition at the Model Gallery.
Details: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ runs from February 17-26 at the Hawkswell Theatre (071 916 1518; hawkswell.com; €18/€15). The Sligo Park Hotel (071 919 0400; sligopark.com) has two nights’ B&B plus one dinner from €99pps, including a free third night. Children stay for free
Get active at Delphi Mountain Resort, Co Mayo
Are your New Year’s resolutions ancient history already? Here’s a chance to revive them, with a healthy three-day family holiday at the Delphi Mountain Resort in Connemara.
Surfing, kayaking, abseiling, archery and cycling can be pitched at any levels, and, even if you take things very gently indeed, the mountain air will work its magic. After, soak your muscles in the organic-focus spa (Delphi’s seaweed baths use hand- harvested seaweed and local mountain water) and slake that outdoorsy appetite at the on-site restaurant.
Details: Delphi Mountain Resort (095 42208; delphimountain resort.com) has this three-night break, including two dinners and two lunches, from €649. A half-day of activities costs an extra €45pp, a full day costs €60pp, and the offer is valid until February 27.