Smart Consumer: Going out is the new staying in: how you and the family can enjoy free fun...
John Cradden says a day or night out in these straitened times need not cost and arm
When the recession began, staying in became the new going out as far as entertainment was concerned. Today, money is still tight, gig tickets are still an arm and a leg, and a cinema outing leaves little change from €10 per adult (never mind the popcorn).
But if cabin fever is already hitting fever pitch in your home, perhaps it's time to take a different approach.
If you know where to look, you can easily find a whole raft of free special events and festivals to check out, as well as ways to gain admission to your favourite haunts for a lot less than full price.
"The most important thing is not to assume that culture and entertainment has to be expensive," says Joerg Steegmueller, the man behind the Dublin Event Guide, a website and weekly email newsletter that lists only free events in the Dublin area.
Steegmueller started the free events guide in 2007 and is now hugely popular, with nearly 10,000 email newsletter subscribers. He still produces it in his spare time and has never missed a single deadline in the four years since he started.
"I list 80-100 free events every week and there are events available for all age groups, for all interests and in all parts of Dublin," he said.
He says the reward for the organisers of a free event is the response they get. "If a lot of people come they will be a lot happier to run another free event, than if only a few people are in the audience."
A free event also doesn't mean lesser quality than a paid one. "The quality of a free gig or festival is at least as good as the quality of a non-free event," says Steegmueller.
"Because free events are more accessible, it means that nobody is excluded based on financial ability and, especially during times of economic challenges, there is no need for people to stay at home or to miss out."
1 Okay, so how can I find out what's on that's free?
Besides the aforementioned Dublin Event Guide (see Dublineventguide.com), you could look up Enjoyfreetoday.com, a website of free events in Galway, while Corkentertainment.ie has a section on free events in Cork. Other websites listing some free events include Entertainment.ie and Whatsonin.ie
For culture, you should check out Culturefox.ie, a website run by the Arts Council and Failte Ireland that lists many free cultural events around the country.
On Facebook, there is a group entitled "Things to do in Dublin on the Dry" that includes all kinds of casual suggestions for free things to do, albeit just in Dublin.
2 When it comes to free events, are festivals the only serious gig in town?
No, says Steegmueller. Although some of his favourite free events include the Street Performance World Championship, the Dublin City Soul Festival and the Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures, he says there are many one-off events to watch out for that cater to all kinds of tastes.
One cool example was the 10 nights of free outdoor performances of 'Romeo & Juliet Unplugged' in Ranelagh Gardens and in Iveagh Gardens by Cracked Light Productions last month. It came about when the 2011 Ranelagh Arts Festival was cancelled. Rather than pack up and go home, the team decided to stage the performance for free in the nearby parks instead.
"The team was 30-strong and to get all of them to give months of their private life for rehearsals, preparation and then the performance is just brilliant," he said.
However, most free festivals tend to take place in the warmer months, but if you hurry, you can catch one of the last in Dublin, the Phizzfest community arts festival in Phibsborough from September 8-11.
Don't forget Culture Night on September 23, which hosts free events taking place in 30 towns, cities, counties and islands in Ireland; Open House an architectural festival in Dublin in October; and various Christmas markets. The Dublin Absolut Fringe Festival (from 10 September) as well as the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival (from September 29) also have a number of free events taking place.
Saving: €10-30 per gig/performance
3 What about art galleries, museums and places of historic interest?
The National Museums and the National Gallery are free, including the many events that it organises throughout the year. A visit to the Irish Museum of Modern Art will allow you to take in several free exhibitions as well as a guided tour of the Royal Hospital building and grounds (until Sept 4).
Earlier this year, the Government decided to offer free access on the first Wednesday of every month to most of the historic sites managed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) for the rest of this year, including places like the Rock of Cashel, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol and the Hill of Tara.
Saving: Up to €6 per adult for OPW sites
4 Okay, but what about the entertainment and events that are not free? How can I get in without paying the full price?
Again, if you know where to look, there is a whole variety of discounted and promotional offers there for the taking.
Becoming a member of Pigsback.com, for instance, has its benefits for the prudent popcorn muncher.
Almost every month, it hosts free preview screenings at selected venues for forthcoming releases, which so far this year have included One Day, Bridesmaids, and Pirates of the Caribbean 4.
It also offers daily 'mega deals' that enable members to get at least 50% off a variety of entertainment events, including theatre, Top Gear Live, and the O2 Summerjam.
If you are signed up to your local Tesco's Clubcard loyalty scheme, there are some entertainment offerings available free or discounted in return for points.
You can also keep a look out for online discount promotional codes from popular venues via their presences on Facebook or Twitter or by signing up to their emailing list, which you can then enter when booking tickets.
Saving: €10 on cinema, up to 50% off popular events