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The child-free zone


Anna and Des Cannon with their children. Photo: Martin Maher

Anna and Des Cannon with their children. Photo: Martin Maher

Anna and Des Cannon with their children. Photo: Martin Maher

Anna and Des Cannon with their children. Photo: Martin Maher


Anna and Des Cannon with their children. Photo: Martin Maher

You're out for a romantic meal with your partner when the baby at the next table won't stop wailing. Do you: A. Tut loudly, but do nothing, or B. Go over and politely ask the parents to do something about the din?

London diner Clive Merrifield chose the latter -- and ended up with 16 stitches and a "four-inch ragged scar" as a result.

The 45-year-old company director was on a date with his girlfriend at 10pm when he approached the parents of a seven-month-old who had been crying for half an hour to suggest the baby should be in bed.

Instead, dad Billy West (20) smashed a wine bottle over his head -- and was this week jailed for two years and five months for the attack.

While few could quibble with the outcome of the case, the incident has divided parents about appropriate places to take little people.

Earlier this year, no-frills airline Ryanair announced the introduction of 'child-free' flights from October.

And though it turned out to be an April Fool's joke, other businesses here have begun to embrace the concept with a straight face.

From restaurants to cinemas and spa hotels, now you can dodge other people's little darlings at designated sprog-free spots across the country.

Naturally, it's led to accusations of parental apartheid -- but to the child-free (and frazzled mums and dads) among us, it's music to the ears.

At Tipperary guesthouse The Old Convent, shell-likes are perfectly safe after owners Christine and Dermot Gannon implemented a strict over-12's policy.

"It can be a touchy topic," admits boss Christine, "but when we set up our business, we decided that you can't be everything to everybody.

"So many hotels around the country cater for families, while very few specifically cater for adults.

"We specialise in romantic and gourmet getaways for grown-ups and in order to do that properly, we had to have a strict 'no children' policy.

"Our adults-only rule has actually proved very popular with guests," she adds. "Many of them have children of their own, so the last thing they want is to be disturbed by other people's children when they're trying to get some much-needed rest.

"Occasionally, people call to try and book in with children -- but mostly they're just disappointed rather than annoyed when they find they can't."

With a ban on those not yet old enough to vote, award-winning Monart Destination Spa in Wexford and Temple Country Retreat and Spa in Westmeath are also popular with adults who've overdosed on Jedward or Twilight.

Meanwhile, Irish tour operators, including Classic Resorts, Falcon and Topflight, offer a range of luxury adults-only escapes for those seeking a week in the sun without being bothered by ankle-biters.

And in response to complaints over irritating teens, Vue Cinema in Liffey Valley introduced adults-only screenings of some films classed 12A or 15A at a surcharge of €1.50.

"Businesses should have the right to target such niche markets as empty-nesters, childless couples and business travellers by offering a child-free environment," says Susan Moore, co-author of Child-Free Zones: Why More People are Choosing Not to be Parents. "A 'family restaurant' is clearly not targeted at childless couples or singles, so why not have restaurants that cater especially for them too?

"It's not about banning children from public spaces -- it's about offering age-appropriate and safe environments for both adults and kids. Often, it's parents who make the most use of 'adults only' B&Bs, resorts or restaurants."

But mum-of-three Siobhan O'Neill- White, who's currently expecting her fourth child, reckons Ireland should be getting more family-friendly -- not less.

"In Ireland, restaurants and hotels need to become more accepting of children and provide more activities and entertainment for them," says Siobhan, editor of Mumstown.ie.

"Having a couple of spas or restaurants around the country where you can't bring the children is one thing -- but as a mum of three, I wouldn't agree with child-free flights.

"However, I think it's okay for parents to escape without the kids sometimes.

"Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I went on a weekend away to Farnham Estate in Cavan -- where children are not allowed in the pool area -- and it was lovely. We all need a little break every now and then."

Irish Independent