9 ways to have an active summer with your family
Get your family into the great outdoors to experience heart-lifting activities that keep everyone entertained and won’t break the bank
School’s almost out and with it comes the annual quest to keep the kids entertained. But with a bit of planning and a get-up-and-go attitude, there is a wealth of things to do all over the country.
HSE physical activity co-ordinator Colm Casey, who is based in Sligo, says the summer presents the perfect opportunity for families to get outdoors and get active. He says kids learn from their mum and dad and this is why building activities into your family routine is so important.
This doesn’t mean booking some expensive summer camp, he says. It can simply mean going to the local forest park or going to the beach and throwing a frisbee. The important point, he explains, is to build it into daily life.
“I’m talking about families participating together. It could be playing catch together,” he says.
Clodagh Armitage, HSE physical activity co-ordinator based in Tullamore, Co Offaly, says local authorities have invested heavily in playgrounds all over the country in recent years and these are perfect for getting your kids out and about.
She says research tells us that kids need less structured activity and more unstructured play, which has huge benefits for their physical and emotional development. “After dinner, get into the habit of going for a walk, go to the park or a local trail. There’s lot of information on getirelandactive.ie,” she says.
Into the Blue
Blueways are a network of multi-activity recreational trails, based on or alongside idyllic lakes, canals and rivers. They provide scenic routes into the heart of rural Ireland by canoe, bike or on foot and are perfect for families in need of chill-out activities. You can enjoy tranquil Blueway journeys, where the pace of life is slow, along glistening waters, softly fringed and abundant with nature.
The Shannon Blueway in Co Leitrim is a network of multi-activity recreational trails using canoes, bikes or on foot.
An exciting new development around Acres Lake is an iconic floating boardwalk known as “the snake in the lake”. It’s an easy walk with four separate trail heads for you to explore the wildlife and lush beauty of the area.
On beautiful Lough Ree, the second of the three major lakes on the river Shannon, you’ll find a water adventure like no other. Floating just off shore is Ireland’s largest inflatable water park, Baysports.
Spread over 1,400 sq metres, Baysports is an inflatable playground for both children and adults. Get ready to dive in, bounce around and make a splash. Wetsuits are available making it fun in all weather and there’s even a junior waterpark for four to six-year-olds.
You can also cycle or stroll the Barrow Way, meandering through history as you go. Begin your trip in the picturesque town of Graiguenamanagh inCo Kilkenny before stopping at St Mullin’s for coffee and a cake before walking back to the village. Or start at the other end in Vicarstown on the Barrow line of the Grand Canal and explore the historic towns and villages of Laois, Kildare and Carlow.
If you fancy something to get the heart rate up a little, you can try your hand at wakeboarding in Grand Canal Dock with Wakedock, Ireland’s first cable wakeboard park. The activity is suitable for children from age eight upwards.
• headintotheblue.org; wakedock.ie
Forest and woodland escapes
Whether you’re looking for a gentle forest ramble, or a challenging mountain hike, Coillte has 260 recreation sites around the country to choose from with over 3,000 kilometres of trails to travel.
Many forest parks host orienteering, zip-lining, nature watching, fishing, cycling and camping, as well as other activities. Lough Key Forest Park in Co Roscommon is a wonderland for nature lovers. There is much to explore in the park’s unique natural and historical features, from its 19th century parkland with majestic trees, follies, bridges and canals to the numerous walks and trails through the native woodlands, bog garden and forests. With over 1.5km of activities, including 900m of zip-lines, Zipit Lough Key provides an exhilarating and challenging outdoor activities.
You can also hire bikes, or head for the hills on an electric bike and explore the high-ways and by-ways of the area. Prices for activities at the park vary, while parking is ¤4.
A visit to Ards Forest Park in Co Donegal, meanwhile, will reward everyone at any time of the year. The 480-hectare park includes a variety of habitats, among the sand dunes, beaches, salt marshes, salt water lakes, rock face and, of course, coniferous and deciduous woodlands. And, of course, the Dublin Mountains are but a short hop from the capital’s city centre. Tibradden Wood offers great views of Dublin and there’s a zip-line for those after a pulse-quickening experience.
• coillte.ie; loughkey.ie
Try a triathlon
Much of the huge growth in this sport recently can be attributed to an increase in female triathletes, but also in junior participants.
Triathlon Ireland sees adult and junior participation going hand in hand, as very often kids get into triathlon through watching their mum or dad race. While 10 years ago children might have just come along to watch, these days they can participate, and most major events have both adults and kids races on the same day — 51 of the 93 triathlon clubs around the country now have junior sections with fully-qualified coaches and kids-only training, with an emphasis on fun and participation.
Children’s triathlons are quite short and kids as young as six years old can take part. For the youngest kids, the swim will take place in waist-deep water, the cycle and running take place on closed roads or on grass, and there are plenty adults on hand to help.
Dozens of events for younger and older children are taking place throughout the country this summer. The largest event is the Barilla Youth Festival in Loughrea, Co Galway, on August 5. Hundreds of young triathletes aged from six to 16 will take part, with an adults race later on the same day.
Lough Boora Discovery Park, which is run by Bord na Mona, is an ideal destination for a family outdoor activity adventure. Located in West Offaly close to the towns of Tullamore, Birr, Athlone and Ballinasloe, it has a wide range of walking and cycling looped pathways.
As well as an outdoor sculpture park, many picnic areas and fishing lakes, there is an outdoor fairy trail through the woods for younger children. Entry to the park is free and bikes can be hired on-site. There is a €4 car parking charge for the day.
Meanwhile, Castlecomer Discovery Park in Co Kilkenny is set on 80 acres of stunning woodland and lakes. It offers a range of adventure activities, including tree top walks, a zip-line and high ropes challenge, climbing walls, boating, archery, adventure playgrounds, woodland café and orienteering.
At the hub of the site, there is the Irish Mining Museum, craft village and spaces for educational activities. Charges apply for the various activities and parking is ¤4.
• discoverypark.ie; loughboora.com
Great National Parks
Connemara is one of six national parks and the rugged and wild landscape of the Derrygimlagh bog near Clifden is especially captivating. The park features 2,957 hectares of mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands and forests. Admission is free. More information is available from the visitor centre near Letterfrack Village.
Meanwhile, Killarney National Park in Co Kerry offers summer camps for children aged from seven to 12 years old during July and August. There will be bug hunts, den building, as well as nature arts and crafts.
At Glenveagh National Park in Co Donegal, the wilderness setting of the castle placed within the exposed granite mountain-scape of central Donegal creates an unforgettable impression. With trails and walks and beautiful gardens to explore, Glenveagh will keep families coming back for more.
There’s an incredible diversity of animal life along our shoreline and the Sea Synergy and Activity Centre at Waterville, Co Kerry, is the perfect destination for nature lovers. There are shore rambles with expert guides, snorkelling courses and even a guided night beach walk.Family fun is synonymous with sea and sand and there is an abundance of glorious Atlantic beaches to make your own, including Ballymastocker in Co Donegal and secluded Mullaghroe at Belmullet, Co Mayo.
In Dublin, Killiney beach and Velvet Strand in Portmarnock are among the favourites for city dwellers. Run, walk, build sandcastles and don’t forget your picnic.
Families are flocking to the 46km, free, off-road Waterford Greenway, which stretches from the edge of Waterford city right down through the Comeragh Mountains and the Copper Coast and into Dungarvan. The beauty of this greenway is that you can dip in and out, loop back at any stage and take it in sections and enjoy a very different, free experience on any given day.
Families are free to bring along their own bikes — or they can hire bikes from the many hire hubs along the route. There are several free car parks and entry and access points.
Trail Kilkenny’s first ever Outdoor Festival runs from July 2 to 15 and features plenty of free activities for all the family to enjoy — including guided walks, cycling tours and canoeing.
Meanwhile, Groove Festival in Wicklow’s Killruddery House & Gardens is another great weekend-long family festival, taking place on August 19 and 20. There will be a toddler zone, outdoor activities, puppet shows, magic and science shows, face painting, a petting zoo, zorbing on the lake, kids’ yoga, archery and a climbing wall. Kids 12 and under go free.
The Botanic Gardens in Dublin’s Glasnevin have drop-by activities in the education garden for children on Sundays at 11am to 12pm, and 3pm to 4pm. From July, this will take place on Tuesdays.They will also have pond dipping, which is free but has to be booked in advance, on July 7 and August 11. Keep an eye on the garden’s website for lots of activities in August during heritage week and the tomatoes festival.
Health & Living