Saturday 21 April 2018

50 free family days out around the country this summer

It doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to entertain the whole family this summer

The Tullamore Show
The Tullamore Show
Blackrock Castle Observatory
Altamont Gardens
First impressions: The six-foot-long Edmontosaurus at the Ulster Museum in Belfast
Durrow Scarecrow Festival
Donkey Day

Jamie Ball

While it might not take as much money as it once did to have a summer littered with fresh, original, and stimulating family firsts, the trade-off is this: you must get off the couch and make it happen.

Yes, you! Don't let the grass grow under your feet this summer: Ireland is small, and life is short.

Think about how us Irish devour the countries we visit around the world; how so many of us have seen the nether regions of New Zealand or the back-end of Oz, but yet have never experienced many of the sights and activities less than an hour or two from home. If you find yourself saying, in response to any of the below, "Sure I can do that any time", take a moment now and commit: "That time is now."

And before you come up with some wiggle room excuses about the weather, call to mind what Billy Connolly once said about the matter: there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.

And no matter what your budget, tastes, location, family size or age range, there is plenty in the following 50 choices to help you make great memories this summer.


1 Kilbarrack Fire Station Open Day, Co Dublin

The Dublin Fire Brigade's open day takes place on Saturday, July 8, and there will be demos from the firefighters along with paramedics on hand to teach attendees CPR, basic first aid, and how to use a defibrillator. Families can enjoy face painting and music with tea and cakes between 1pm and 4pm. The event is free, but donations to St Francis Hospice are welcome.

2 Bray Air Display, Co Wicklow

The Red Arrows at last year’s Bray Air Display

Ireland's biggest air show, the family-friendly show takes place over the weekend of July 22 and 23. Check out the F-18 jet from the Spanish Air Force, the UK's aerobatic Team Raven and the Catalina Flying Boat, among many other spectacles.

3 'Bone-reading' skills, Dublin

At the National Museum, Kildare Street, professional diggers will reveal the secrets behind their "bone-reading" skills at family workshops. They run every Wednesday (2-4pm) and Saturday (11.30am-1.30pm) through July and August.

4 Altamont Gardens, Co Carlow

Altamont Gardens

Known as the most romantic garden in Ireland, Altamont, near Tullow, is an enchanting blend of formal and informal gardens located on a 100-acre estate. There's a garden centre and tea rooms open during summer months.

5 'Music and Beautiful Beasts', Dublin

The Ark, the dedicated cultural centre for children in Temple Bar, is offering a free "Beautiful Beasts" exhibition of animal sculptures until August 27.

6 Durrow Scarecrow Festival, Co Laois

Durrow Scarecrow Festival

Scarecrows, music, bouncy castles, stalls and much more, from July 30-August 7.

7 Spire of Lloyd, Co Meath

A 30m-high inland lighthouse in Kells that was built to view the races, it offers magnificent views of the surrounding countryside as far as the Mourne Mountains. Open on selected dates during the summer. When there, check out the "Paupers Graveyard" in the community park below.

8 Design a birthday card, Dublin

At the Decorative Arts and History branch of the National Museum in Collins Barracks, children can drop in over the summer to design a birthday card in the family activity area, before touring the wonderful exhibits. Perfect for a rainy day.

9 Bray-Greystones cliff walk, Co Wicklow
The Cliff Walk in Bray is promoted in a new film.

Just over 6.2km long, the popular walk can take about 1.5 hours and has variable surface quality, suitable for (not too) young kids. Get the Dart there and back, and have a swim after.

10 National Botanic Gardens, Dublin

National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin

The gorgeous gardens contain the National Herbarium and several historic wrought iron glasshouses. Entrance is free, as are its exhibitions and kids' activities.

11 Wexford Lavender Farm

IN A FIELD OF HER OWN: Wexford Lavender Farm proprietor Moira Hart.

Ireland's first Lavender Farm has walks with routes to suit all abilities. Tuesday-Friday, it is free to visit, but extras not included!

12 Kilkenny Arts Festival

The Kilkenny Arts Festival takes place in August.

Secret gardens, pop-up concerts, theatre shows and workshops are just the beginning of the entertainment in the Marble City from August 11-20.

13 Tullamore Show, Co Offaly

The Tullamore Show

Ireland's largest one-day show attracts the best cattle, sheep, and equine breeders from all over the country, alongside entrants for its other 1,000-plus competitions on August 13.

14 Lough Boora Discovery Park, Co Offaly

With access for all ages and abilities, this amenity can be explored for its outdoor activities, impressive and original sculptures, biodiversity and historical Mesolithic site.

15 Corkagh Park Fairy Trails, Dublin

A wonderful place to visit with young children near Newlands Cross in west Dublin. Attractions include nature walks, playgrounds, pet farm, fishing lake and fairy trail through the magical Fairy Wood.

16 Iverk Show, Co Kilkenny

Founded in 1826, Ireland's oldest show takes place in Piltown on August 26. Dog shows, tug of war, bonny baby, baking, poultry, arts and crafts, as well as prize sheep, cattle and horses galore.

17 Glendalough, Co Wicklow

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Glendalough Upper Lake

For thousands of years people have been drawn to 'the valley of the two lakes', for its spectacular scenery, rich history, archaeology and abundant wildlife. Less than an hour from most parts of Dublin, Glendalough is a tried and tested gem for a summer family outing.


18 West Kerry Show

As if you needed another excuse to visit Dingle! This iconic agricultural show takes place on Sunday July 16 from 10am-6pm.

19 Foynes Airshow, Co Limerick

On Saturday July 22 from 1.30pm, the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum hosts its annual air show. Don't miss the 'Swedish Air Force historic flight' and the Irish Historic Flight Foundation flying Boeing Stearman and Chipmunk aircraft.

20 Summer of Space, Cork

With over 50 events at the Blackrock Castle Observatory and beyond, a selection of these astronomical delights, from family workshops to planetarium shows, are free of charge for space cadets of all ages.

21 Burren National Park, Co Clare

The Burren

Located in the south-eastern corner of the Burren, the park is about 1,500 hectares in size. This summer sees the recommencement of the free bus service until the end of August, operating from the information point in Corofin, seven days a week.

22 Waterford Greenway

Stretching 46km from Waterford City to Dungarvan, along what was once Ireland's most scenic rail route, the recently-opened greenway is a must for all fresh-air fiends.

23 Spraoi Festival, Waterford

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Young enthusiasts on Waterford Greenway. Picture: Patrick Browne

From August 4-6, check out some "spectacular, amazing, moving, funny and downright absurd street arts" at Spraoi. The parade explores the stories and images of the River Suir, from source to sea, on Sunday August 6 at 9.30pm.

24 Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve

One of only three gold-tier reserves in the world, it stretches from Kells to Valentia Island and on to Castlecove. With a landmass of 700sq km in total, many stunning astronomical sights can be seen with the naked eye.

25 The Copper Coast, Co Waterford

The coastline between Tramore and Dungarvan is an under-populated, stunning strip of sea stacks, hidden beaches and postcard-pretty villages. Don't miss the superb play park in Fenor.

26 Hunt Museum, Limerick

Aside from an hour or two about the gallery, check out their free summer interactive family tours and Creative Response Sessions, on Saturday July 15 and August 12, 11am-12pm & 1-2pm.

27 Templemore Park Fairy Trail, Co Tipperary

For the little fairy fanatic in your household, make the trip to Tipp.


28 Cruinniu na mBad, Co Galway

Held annually since 1979, Galway's Hooker Festival in Kinvara is always popular with kids. Whether they prefer watching the mighty boats or jumping about on a bouncy castle, there's lots on offer at this year's festival, taking place on August 19 and 20. Up to 100 Galway Hookers will gather in the bay, where families can enjoy boat races, live traditional music, barbecues and a tug of war, as well as learn about traditional sailing culture.

29 Deserted Village, Achill Island, Co Mayo

Walk through the deserted famine village on Achill Island, then climb to the Marconi station from which telegrams were sent and received across the Atlantic in the 1900s. Next stop, America! Run back down for a paddle in Keem bay, and keep your eyes peeled for a basking shark…

30 Donkey Day, Co Mayo

Donkey Day

On August 23, the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life near Castlebar will be celebrating Donkey Day, where families can meet the animals that once played a crucial part in Irish country life. Children can watch the farrier at work and learn about straw crafts too. Throughout the summer, the museum explores our Viking heritage in 'The Hoard and the Sword', an exhibition revealing how the Vikings lived, traded and battled.

31 Galway International Arts Festival

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Tiny Dancer, Lily-Mae Morrison, who is taking part in the Babor International Arts Festival for Children in Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes

From July 17-30, Galway sizzles with craic and pageantry. Check out 'The People Build' on Eyre Square (July 22 and 23), and the high-energy French display, 'Chariot of the Sea' on July 21.

32 Belleek Woods, Co Mayo

Situated along the banks of the River Moy, Belleek woods is a 1,000-acre serene, peaceful haven with up to 10km of natural forest pathways, largely along the river banks.

33 Connemara Pony Show, Co Galway

See the finest selection of the world's premier pony breed for sport and recreation at the Connemara Pony Festival, which runs from Wednesday to Friday, August 16-18 at The Showgrounds in Clifden.

34 Great Western Greenway, Co Mayo

Eamonn Burke with his supreme champion Drumbad Fletcher Moss at last week's Connemara Pony Show in Clifden

If you and the family haven't yet indulged in the celebrated 42km off-road walking and cycling trail, then the summer is yours. Stretching from Westport to Achill, it traverses some of the West of Ireland's most dramatic scenery.

35 Connemara National Park, Co Galway

Accessed near Letterfrack, the park (replete with playground and the famous Connemara ponies) is open year-round, with its visitor centre open March to November. If the kids are young, take the buggy-friendly 3km-trail of Lower Diamond Hill.

36 Portumna Forest Park, co Galway

About 1km from Portumna, enjoy a family walk on this forest trail that winds gently through trees to a viewing platform close to the shore. There are four looped trails in the park, ranging from 1-10km in length for walkers and cyclists.


37 Earagail Arts Festival, Co Donegal

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Donegal’s Earagail Arts Festival is a fun family event Picture: Declan Doherty

Until July 23, visit Malin for a lively, and mostly free, hooley of acrobats, ropewalkers, dancers and illusionists, among music and children shows.

38 Castle Archdale Country Park, Co Tyrone

Situated about 16km north west of Enniskillen, with about 230 acres along the shores of Lower Lough Erne, this country park is awash with historical features, like the monastic sites of Devenish and White Island.

39 Tollymore Forest Park, Co Down

Enjoy a pleasant drive through the Mountains of Mourne to reach this gem, located just outside Newcastle. Kids can negotiate the famous stepping stones, cross ancient bridges or have a blast at the Big Deer play area.

40 Gruffalo Trail, Belfast

Set in Belfast's Colin Glen Forest Park, the Gruffalo Trail allows you to follow the beloved beast's footsteps along a 1km trail to meet old fox, owl and snake, en route to an 8-foot-tall Gruffalo.

41 Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Co Armagh

Ellis and Davin Walsh in Slieve Gullion Forest Park outside Newry, Co Down.

Voted "family visitor attraction of the year" in the 2016 Ni4Kids Family Awards, Slieve Gullion is a must for day-trippers from Dublin or north Leinster. Check out their website and you will see why.

42 Ulster Museum, Belfast

First impressions: The six-foot-long Edmontosaurus at the Ulster Museum in Belfast

As Northern Ireland's treasure house of the past and present, the museum is home to a rich collection of art, history and natural sciences, while being free to all visitors. Come face to face with dinosaurs or just meet an Egyptian Mummy. Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm.

43 Armagh Planetarium
The Armagh Planetarium uses a state of the art 3D digital projector to recreate the night sky over the entire dome. Boasting a custom built sound system, a state-of-the-art LED lighting system and purpose-built reclining seating, immersing the audience in a truly amazing audio-visual interactive experience. During your visit you can even design, build and launch your own rocket and view the breathtaking sights of the night sky on one of the Planetarium’s regular 'telescope nights'.

Armagh Planetarium has a range of shows suitable for all the family, but a perfect introduction for your pre-schoolers are the free 'Little Yellow Shows', which still require pre-booking. Be warned: tickets must be collected 30 minutes before the show commences.

44 Muff Festival, Co Donegal

With competitions, street parades and pageantry, revel in this long weekend of family fun, sports, live music and dance in the northwest's famously named town. Saturday 5th-Sunday 6th August.


45 Free first Wednesdays

Free admission to almost 50 OPW (Office of Public Works) heritage sites nationwide, on the first Wednesday of each month. (Today and August 2). Arrive early as tickets are first come, first served.

46 National Heritage Week

One of the groups taking part in the walk around the East Avoca Mines during National Heritage Week.

This year's tag line is, "It's in Your Nature", and you better believe it. From August 19-27, it offers family concerts, nature walks and art workshops, to bat walks and eagle flying. Check out the 'Wild Child' events on August 23.

47 City Spectacular, Co Dublin and Co Cork

The Happy Pear Twins Steve and Dave with Dustin the Turkey at the City Specacular Launch.

Not exactly nationwide, but drama, dance workshops, science shows and international street performers are only the half of it at the Laya Healthcare City Spectacular. It's to be found on Merrion Square from July 7-9, before moving to Cork's Fitzgerald Park from July

48 Whale Watch Ireland

The annual all-island whale watch day, will be on Saturday August 26, 2-5pm. All watches will be free, guided and based on headlands or known vantage points in most coastal counties.

49 Coillte Forests

Ireland's biggest outdoor playground, with one million acres of forests, wild bogs, mountains, rivers and beaches, Coillte has over 200 free recreation sites, walking loops and mountain biking trails about the nation.

50 National Parks

All six of Ireland's National Parks are free to visit. Enjoy them this summer: they belong to you.

Irish Independent

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