Return ticket home - family holidays at home
For years we’ve been holidaying outside of Ireland, but as Sinéad O’Carroll finds out, there are some fabulous family-friendly destinations right here on our doorstep
Adventure, sport, history and culture – Ireland offers it all, with beautiful views to boot.
It seems a shame that we’ve spent so many years travelling to countries far and wide, without bringing our children to the wonderful destinations our own Emerald Isle has to offer.
With the demise of the Celtic Tiger came the rise of the domestic holiday. And, according to Orla Farrell of Failte Ireland, this country has many destinations to offer for a perfect family break.
“Ireland has a fabulous outdoor playground, which is free, and actually doesn’t need good weather,” she says of the island.
Explore the Wild West
Postcard-worthy scenery and rich cultural traditions bring visitors to Connemara in their droves. Families can sightsee their way through the wild landscapes from Galway Bay to Killary Harbour, taking in Twelve Bens, Lough Corrib and the stunning Inagh Valley.
Farrell says a popular option with families is to stay in self-catering accommodation, of which there is an abundance in the West. For a luxury break in a home-away-from-home, check out the Clifden Station House’s four-star self-catering options. Families enjoy the full use of the adjoining hotel’s leisure facilities, a babysitting service and the Railway Kids’ Club, which runs through July and August.
The region also boasts some of Ireland’s most beautiful white, sandy beaches. Your older children might enjoy a trek on horseback at low tide, organised by the Cleggan Beach Riding Centre (www.clegganridingcentre.com). This approved school provides horses and ponies suitable for all ages.
For some free fun, the whole family can head to Connemara National Park near Letterfrack in Galway, where there is a special summer programme of events for younger visitors. Attractions include exhibitions, nature trails, playgrounds, red deer, Connemara ponies and an audiovisual show.
Sunny south east
“The idea of a holiday has changed – before, parents believed they deserved a break, now they say they ‘need’ one,” says Farrell. “Families are looking for time to reconnect with each other.” Parents want to spend time with their children and create memories that will last forever.
“But one thing hasn’t changed, the sunny south east remains a popular destination,” Farrell says. “The bucket-and-spade element of Wexford and Waterford has kept its appeal.”
Worth a visit is one of the world’s oldest lighthouses, which stands on the end of Hook Head peninsula in Co Wexford. Organised tours teach families about how the keepers lived in the past.
“Such indoor activities allow for passing of knowledge in a fun way. Learning doesn’t have to be from a history lecture,” explains Farrell.
Dunmore East is also a perfect location for a day trip to check out the pretty scenery, have a family picnic and take a dip in the sea.
If the kids want some more adventure, however, check out Dunmore East Adventure Centre. Located in the harbour, the school offers loads of fun-filled activities including kayaking, windsurfing, archery, rock climbing and sailing.
Hungry? The town boasts numerous family-friendly restaurants for lunch and dinner, such as the Strand Inn where you can take in the seaside views while tucking into a delicious seafood pie.
Another day can be spent just 15 minutes down the road in Tramore, where more adventure is on offer.
Half the day can be spent learning about the flora and fauna of the sea, rock pools and sand dunes of the Back Strand during one of the T-Bay Surf and Eco Centre’s Eco Tours, while more fun can be had on the slides at Splashworld water park.
For some old-fashioned amusements, the fun park has roller coasters and bumper cars. Stay with the theme and have a cheap and cheerful – but tasty – meal of fish and chips while sitting on the pier.
The big city
“Sometimes we forget what a great place Dublin City is for a vacation,” Farrell says, reminding us that all the national museums are free and have great children’s programmes.
Dublin as a holiday location is also weather-proof and there is no shortage of things to do and see or places to eat and sleep.
For some traditional fare, check out the restaurants around the Temple Bar area or kids are always welcome at Captain America’s on Grafton Street.
Just around the corner, the little ones will enjoy a wander through St Stephen’s Green, where there are ducks to feed, as well as a playground.
A highlight of the holiday could be a trip to meet Dublin Zoo’s newest arrival, a baby boy gorilla, who was born on 31 March. The Phoenix Park attraction also is home to penguins, tigers, various reptiles and more.
Dublin City is walker-friendly and families can just soak up the atmosphere by visiting the striking grounds at Trinity College and Dublin Castle.
For some fun learning, explore medieval Dublin life at Dublinia, where adults and kids can see what life was like onboard a Viking warship, visit a Viking house and investigate their burial customs.
An official Visit Dublin app is now available on iTunes so visitors can plan their trips in advance.
Feel like you’ve explored everything Ireland has to offer? Think again!
“One relatively untapped source is to take a cruise on the Shannon,” travel expert Farrell reveals. “It’s a really good experience and one I would definitely recommend. “The route has lots of heritage sites, as well as walks and cycle routes.
“While on the water, families can fish and enjoy each others’ company.”
Silver Line Cruisers luxury boats come equipped with central heating, refrigerators, electric toilets, satellite television with DVD, hot showers and sun decks.
For more information, see silverlinecruisers.com.