Saturday 16 December 2017

18 of the best places to visit with children - as chosen by Irish parents

 

Achill island
Achill island
Birr Castle
Kilmore Quay
The Heron Gallery
Howth, Co Dublin
Colorful painted houses in Cobh. Cobh was one of last ports of call of Titanic.
Blasket Islands
Glenlo Abbey

Last week, as part of our annual series on the best of Ireland, Brendan O'Connor put out the call to readers for the best places to go with children. Here is a sample of your best suggestions.

*Achill Island

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Achill island

Triona McConkey, Co Dublin

Our boys' love of crystals took us on a hunt for amethyst in Achill. We found lots of amethyst in the hills but most of all we found ourselves as a family. It's a natural playground for busy kids. Waves to surf, beaches to comb, mountains to climb and enough fresh air to knock even the busiest of kids out as night falls. Achill builds resilience and a mighty regard for nature in our children.

If they need pizza, there's always one to be found at Pure Magic. The Valley House Hostel make the best frites in Ireland - you can dine wearing your wetsuit and it's a dog-friendly place for those with four-legged kids. Nightlife for kids is a good old-fashioned carnival of bumper cars and candy floss. Achill enables and establishes kids' independence in a wild and wonderful way.

 

* Altamont Gardens in Co Carlow

Sally McDonald, Co Carlow

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Altamont House and Gardens

It's a wonderful place to bring children of all ages - and it is free (apart from a €2 car parking fee). There is a forest walk, a beautiful lake with all kinds of wildlife around it, a river, follies, trails to explore, even peacocks walking around the grounds. You can happily spend a day in Altamont - bring a picnic or have a welcome cup of tea or coffee and cakes in the lovely seasonal cafe inside the walled garden. The Forge restaurant is across the main road for a more substantial meal.

No matter what time of the year one goes to Altamont, there are always new sights - snowdrop week, bluebells, roses, rhododendrons, Children love the changes and seeing so much wildlife up close, climbing trees and boulders - it is heaven for kids! The old house is being restored in the near future, which will add to the charm.

 

* Birr Castle in Co Offaly

Maria Gallagher, Tullamore, Co Offaly

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Birr Castle

I would strongly suggest a visit to Birr Castle in Co Offaly for kids. There's a huge tree house, bouncy pillow and sand pits as well as the gardens to explore. Our children love rolling down hills there too. Old clothes are definitely recommended! There is a cafe just before the entrance but lots of picnic tables inside, and the kids love a good picnic. A great day in the outdoors, kids are always tired out after it and it's great for their imaginations too.

 

* Lough Gur, Co Limerick

Karen Murnane, Co Limerick

A GREAT free thing to do near us is to visit Lough Gur and Grange Stone Circle. While you do have to pay to do the tour at the visitor centre, there are lovely walks around the lake and you can climb Knock Fennel if you're energetic enough! It is free to visit the stone circle.

As I am from Kerry, we recently visited Killarney. I know you asked for free things to do but I have to mention Killarney High Ropes. My four were entertained for two hours! We followed this with a trip to the gardens at Muckross House (free) and walked along the lakeside to Torc Waterfall (also free). At the other end of the national park, near the cathedral in Killarney town, there is a gorgeous playground and along the walking route, there are outdoor exercise machines. So much to do and very little cost!

 

*Great Blasket Island, Co Kerry

Mary Lavery Carrig, Tarbert, Co Kerry

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Great Blasket Island, as photographed from the air by Raymond Fogarty of Aircam Ireland.

* If you want your kids to hold amazing memories and hear them beg you to bring them back again and again, then take a trip to the Great Blasket Island, off the west Kerry coast.

Once your kids are up on their own two feet, then this is a mighty destination. They will experience the wildest and widest open spaces of the great outdoors; a magnificent boat journey to get them there, a series of rabbit tracks woven into the landscape that are ideal for the races and chases that go with childhood outings, ancient but manageable hills to climb, panoramic vistas north, south, east and west, seals that move up on to White Strand and a storied village ruin where a stoic community once lived. Your kids will ramble with you, endlessly and freely, their limbs striding as they traverse the island.

None of the usual technology and devices that often plague the quality of family life can disturb or distract because there is no wi-fi on this beautiful island. Neither is there any electricity. So the natural rhythms of family conversations and relationships are uninterrupted.

Do a day trip or, better still, stay overnight in the small hostel or come equipped with your tent. Either way, you won't regret it.

 

* The Heron Gallery and Cafe, Ahakista, Co Cork

Brigid Collins, Co Cork

 "Can we go to the magical place today?" I'm asked regularly. It was he, then three years old, who named it thus.

We happened upon this gem when touring the Sheep's Head peninsula one sunny summer's day. The Heron Gallery and Cafe owned by the talented artist and raku ceramicist Annabel Langrish never ceases to disappoint. The cafe and small gallery showcase Annabel's works. Cafe highlights include an array of home baked goodies (including Guinness chocolate cake) and light lunches that can be enjoyed on the terrace overlooking the garden. There's even a cute kids' table and chairs for tots.

But the real highlight is the magical garden beyond. There in the garden is where our then three-year-old made his escape into nature. Several sculptures are to be found, a driftwood area to one end of a water-lilied pond is the perfect place to sit and reflect. Climbing the path overlooking Dunmanus Bay is worthwhile. There is a young orchard of Irish heritage apples, a wildflower meadow, a shingle garden, and a fenced future forest area, home to the pet kunekune pigs - Fuschia, Fay and Fern - great fun at feeding time. We loved the raised goldfish pond under a rose and wisteria pergola. I'm told fairies live there! If the adults feel brave, try the barefoot path.

We visited recently and our now six-year-old enjoyed exploring with another three-year-old - his little sister. Pure magic indeed.

 

* Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford

Rita O'Brien, Lucan, Co Dublin

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Kilmore Quay

Where thatched cottages are straight out of a Jakers! cartoon, a Saltee Islands boat takes us to Puffin Rock and where we might spy Captain Hook on a boat in the marina.

On a walk along the pier, we discover seals popping up from the water - no, they haven't escaped from Dublin Zoo and, yes, Nemo and Dory could be in there, too. Real fishermen hoist real nets filled with thousands of real fish and we collect gigantic seashells along the quay.

Then, we're into the pirate ship-inspired playground overlooking the sea. Pirates can get really hungry after all that jumping, swinging, climbing and sliding, so we share portions of amazing chips from The Little Chipper across the road.

The tiny cove alongside the marina is perfect for a happy hour of sandcastle building while adults take turns to stroll to the beautifully poignant memorial dedicated to those whose lives were lost at sea.

Home via Mary Barry's, Kilmore, the most family-friendly gastropub in Ireland, with swings and bouncy castles and a guaranteed stress-free meal for all.

Finally, to bed, worn out and happy and ready for dreams. Bliss!

 

* Lough Boora Parklands in Co Offaly

Mary Dunican, Co Offaly

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Lisa Kavanagh at Lough Boora Parklands for the launch of the rebranding of Offaly's Tourism Strategy, which is expected to boost tourism figures and create some 700 jobs locally by 2020. Photo: Jeff Harvey

It offers something for everyone, with many walking routes, a wonderful way to get back in touch with nature. Boora is an ideal spot for a picnic but if you happen to forget your picnic, there is a cafe on site.

For the young train spotter, locomotives once used in the harvesting of peat have now been converted into characters from Thomas the Tank Engine.

A true highlight is Fairy Avenue where if you look carefully high up into the trees, the doors of numerous fairy homes can be seen. Along the avenue, there is a special wishing seat and worry plaque and even a bug hotel for the local creepy crawlies. Tired and happy children are the end result after a day at Lough Boora.

 

*  Drumboe, Co Donegal

Collette Bonnar, Stranorlar, Co Donegal

THE good Lord that made you, for sure he must know. He made heaven on earth when he made our Drumboe. Pile the bikes in the car boot, pack the picnic basket and head to this piece of heaven with the children this summer. The famous Woods of Drumboe nestle up a long avenue in Stranorlar and nudge their way towards their twin town of Ballybofey. Watch the kids play hide and seek in the great trunks of the ancient trees, and walk or cycle along the many scenic paths. Skim stones with the children on the gentle waters of the River Finn which meanders slowly by the edge of the woodland path. Watch the rabbits scarper, hear the children squeal with delight as they spot a squirrel, listen to the birds singing, pick wildflowers and finally flop down at that very welcome picnic table and enjoy the much needed break and picnic lunch.

 

* Waterford & Suir Valley Railway, Kilmeaden, Co Waterford

Ciara Carew, Co Waterford

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Kilmeaden Station, Waterford

Young children will love a trip on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway, based in Kilmeaden. It runs alongside beautiful countryside for 17km beside the River Suir. A magical experience all year round.

A short drive from Kilmeaden will take you to the Mahon Falls in the Comeragh Mountains, along the infamous 'magic road' (cars magically roll uphill). A great scenic spot, ideal for energetic children who like a spot of rock-hopping, it is also a great spot for lunch al fresco.

Older children may enjoy the challenge of Coumshingaun, a natural amphitheatre which also happens to be the finest example of a corrie lake in Europe. A real-life geography lesson.

If the children are still feeling lively, a great family activity would be to cycle a section of the Waterford Greenway. A great amenity and best of all, it's free, aside from the obligatory ice cream. Up The Deise!

 

* Ballycotton, Co Cork

Hazel Hennessy, Co Cork

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Ring of Cork: Colm's Island, with Ballycotton Lighthouse. Tours of the area are available from ballycottonlighthousetours.com.
 

Take the lighthouse tour at Ballycotton - children will love it! From putting on the bright orange life jackets to the trip on the boat to the island, it is a wonderful experience. The island is a very special place and you never know what you might see. In one week, we have seen seals up close and personal, a sun fish, gannets diving and, of course, the resident goats are always a big hit.

On the tour, not only do we have the boat trip but we climb up to the top of the island and then go right up the tower and out on to the balcony. I am lucky enough to be a guide and have just come in from a trip and it was absolutely spectacular today with visibility of up to 30 miles up and down the coast.

If you want a "wow" experience, this is the place to come. No matter how many times I visit, it still blows me away.

 

*Ardgillan Castle, Co Dublin

Anita Furey Mannion, Co Galway

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Ardgillan Castle

It has it all - a fantastic day out for all ages and a definite "must see" if travelling the Ancient East with your beloved canine. We visited on a misty Saturday in June with our nine- and 10-year-old girls and dog. The woodland walk is beautiful with loads of fairy doors scattered throughout. The girls were utterly enchanted. The rose gardens were in full bloom and we had the best game of tag in the maze garden. The open air playground, overlooking the sea, is enormous. After all that walking and running, we went to the absolute highlight of the summer so far, the dog cafe. This welcomes dogs to join their owners in front of the open fire. Home-made dog biscuits too! The staff couldn't have been more friendly and bubbly. Well worth a visit, rain, hail or shine.

 

*Oughterard, Co Galway

Johan Krijgsman, Toronto

We decided to take a family holiday in Ireland this year along with our daughter and grandchildren, aged eight and five. We stayed in self-catering accommodation in Galway and took delightful day trips from there.

The most memorable trip was to Oughterard. We walked the last few miles to see the Hill of Doon and were impressed by the wild flowers and the vistas. Closer to the village, the holiday and angling centre staff showed our grandchildren how to fish, and catch trout. After that, we were off to the Glengowla Mine to try some gold panning and explore underground with the knowledgeable and friendly staff. Watching a sheep dog in action, and sheep shearing, were added attractions.

The following day, we headed for Dog's Bay with a picnic. The scenic drive to Roundstone was breathtaking and no wandering sheep on the road were inconvenienced. On the beach and sand dunes at Gurteen Beach and Dog's Bay, we swam, played ball and walked for hours, enjoying the sunny day and meeting the Irish on vacation.

On the flight back to Canada, our grandchildren asked whether they could come back next weekend. Hope so.

 

River canoeing down the River Barrow to St Mullins

Martin O'Brien, St Mullins, Co Carlow

* I WAS one of those who spent the whole year planning the summer holiday out of Ireland - guaranteed sunshine, late nights, the wild life.

Year after year, we headed off to Spain or France, never giving Ireland a thought as the idea of spending two weeks freezing on a beach with ham sandwiches was just not going to happen.

Then I discovered river canoeing. Ireland opened up for us as we paddled down some amazing rivers, got a look into the old wealth of Ireland from the riverside, camped, stayed in B&Bs, visited villages that we never knew existed. Our favourite run was down the River Barrow to St Mullins, which has a tow path used by the draught horses that pulled the river barges in times gone by. We met fishermen and farmers, walkers and cyclists, all dying for a chat - where did you start out/where are you going? None of them had ever been down the river and you could see the wonder, the dream in their eyes... yes, one day, I will get in a boat.

The River Barrow towpath from Graiguenamanagh to St Mullins is one of the wonders of the world as it passes through lush green farmland, its water thundering over weirs, herons squealing past, and it's all for free. Passing by lime kilns, locks, weirs, and arriving in a land that was ravaged by the Vikings and there still sits proudly on the top of the hill a Norman motte and bailey castle.

It is great to see all the parents arriving in St Mullins, glowing from their day by the river, and the kids full of stories about their adventure, Bicycles line the walls, dogs lap from water bowls, Ahh, but they still want to know if there is wi-fi here.

 

* Balloughter bridge, Gorey, Co Wexford

Mary Browne, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Being a granny, it's a very important duty to give lasting and fun memories to your much loved grandchildren - and summer is the perfect opportunity. Bring four-year-old Hannah down the road in the car five minutes away to Balloughter bridge where two rivers meet. Climb down the gap and you can paddle together in the shallow river. Then you can go hand-in-hand under the bridge and wait for the local tractors and cars to trundle over your heads to the excited glee of Hannah. She can't wait to tell her mammy and daddy that a tractor drove over her head and it never hurt even a little! Bring a picnic and don't forget to include some of neighbour Sophie's fresh strawberries.

 

Titanic Experience in Cobh, Co Cork

Dr Rachel Daly, London

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Colorful painted houses in Cobh. Cobh was one of last ports of call of Titanic.

* The summer trip home with the girls who love Cork city - my home. Let's go east today to Cobh - what a surprise the Titanic Experience was.

We bought our tickets which gave us all a new fantasy persona: years later, our 10-year-old still remembers she was leaving to be a housemaid in New York. We were travelling third-class; little did we know we would have no hope. We look out at Roche's Point where the wonderful liner was anchored. I'm flooded with memories as my late father worked on Haulbowline Island in Irish Steel with the navy alongside.

My children were carried away in that world of 1912 and the new world of America ahead of them presented so well. We still talk about that lovely day three years ago which included ice cream and sweets and all Cobh has to offer

 

* Sneem, Co Kerry

Valerie Bradshaw, Co Wicklow

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Parknasilla in Co Kerry

As soon as school holidays start, we pack up the car - kids, dog, rain gear, beach gear, fishing rods, and head south! As our kids have now become teenagers, each year I fear they will decide that Sneem, Co Kerry, is no longer exciting enough - but no, we now head off with two cars - not only to accommodate our family - but to bring friends so they too can experience the joys.

I know I am back when I pass through Kenmare town and head out on the last stretch. Once I turn the corner and see beautiful Kenmare Bay's glistening waters and the amazing mountains all around, the tears well up; it gets me every time.

Crab catching from the oyster bed pier is a must - for all ages. Pack a picnic, bring a crab line and some bacon, and you will spend hours catching these little creatures. Drive five minutes to Parknasilla Hotel and pick up a kayak at the harbour. On a calm day, this is truly heaven - paddle around the bay and, if you are lucky enough, the curious seals will pop up to say hello. After the kayaking fun, the kids will have a ball launching themselves off the pier.

If fairies are magical to your little ones, then Sneem is where lots of these little folk hang out - look out for the signs and spend hours on fairy hunts, spotting magical little houses hidden among stunning walks and breathtaking scenery. Kids will never be bored and will walk miles without even noticing the distance.

Phoenix Park, Dublin

Eddie McGee, Dublin 7

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Leading by example: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Leo Varadkar out for a run

* Children are so full of imagination, curiosity and wonder. They marvel at what we take for granted. I try not to take where I live for granted. Easy to say when you live in a rambling mansion on the edge of a vast grassland where herds of wild animals roam. In the evenings, I sit out the back and hear the roar of a lion or the arguments of chimpanzees. My family from rural Ireland worry about me, but urban jungle or tropical jungle, life is risky and it ends in death. My four-year-old nephew was amazed when I told him all this in advance of his long-awaited visit. He rushed to school and announced that, on top of it all, his exotic artist uncle lives just two houses away from a friendly President. My nephew's visit lived up to all expectations. His uncle hadn't lied. A couple of houses down from mine we entered the wonderland of the Phoenix Park.

 

 

* Tell us about your best places to eat and win a prize

We want you to tell us why you think Ireland is a Great Little Country. We want your suggestions, tips and recommendations, and each week we will publish the best of them. This week we want you to tell us about your favourite places to eat.

Send your suggestions - and photos if you have them - to A Great Little Country, c/o Sunday Independent, 27/32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1 or email greatlittlecountry@independent.ie Deadline is Thursday, 3pm. Maximum length: 200 words. We will print as many as we can next week and there will be a prize for the one we consider the best: The prize will be two nights' accommodation at Glenlo Abbey Hotel & Golf Course, Galway, with breakfast each morning and dinner on one evening in the amazing Pullman Restaurant. www.glenloabbeyhotel.com.

* Terms and conditions: Booking is subject to availability. No cash alternative applies. Valid from August 2017-August 2018. Maximum two people sharing. The editor's decision is final.

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