Don't think of mid-term breaks as mere respite from the school run. With everyone freed up from the daily grind, use the week that's in it to create some lasting family memories. We're now officially into the first tentative weeks of spring, so there's no better time to explore some of Ireland's iconic spots as a family.
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Robust exercise, fresh air, the great outdoors and a spectacular view by way of a reward – what's not to like about mountain climbing?
Mayo's Croagh Patrick, or the Reek as it's known to locals, is on many a person's bucket list, so why not finally tackle it? Westport is packed with family-friendly amenities and is a surfing hotspot to boot.
At the Pirate Adventure Park at Westport House (westporthouse.ie, 098 277-66), enjoy pedal boating, a pirates' swinging ship, plunge log flume rides, bouncy castles and pedalo boats on the lake.
In nearby Louisburgh, families can explore Ireland's rich and complex history at the Famine Museum and Grainne Uaile Centre (clewbaytrail.com, 098 66341). There's a picturesque Famine walk along the Doo Lough Valley, while the Grainne Uaile Centre focuses on the life and times of the legendary pirate queen Grace O'Malley.
Westport is also the kick-off point for the Great Western Greenway (greenway.ie), which offers stunning views all along the route to Achill. Combine a walking or cycling break with some great local food and culture on a guided tour.
In Kerry, Macgillycuddy's Reeks are also awaiting mid-term visitors. Hidden Ireland Adventures (hiddenireland adventures.com, 087 221 4002) offers a bewildering array of bracing outdoor pursuits for those keen on exploring the southwest. Try an archaeology/history tour of Skellig Michael, hiking in the Reeks or canoeing on the Lakes of Killarney.
Those with a thirst for learning about the past can head to the magnificent Muckross House (muckross-house.ie, 064 667-0144) in Killarney National Park, where on the traditional farms visitors can get a taste of what rural life was like way back when. Take a family jaunt in a traditional jarvey and then jump on the ferry out to the monastic remains of Inisfallen Island.
Rock The Boat
Sailing breaks are a novel way to get out and enjoy Ireland's spectacular coastline. Find your sea legs in the sheltered waters of Bantry Bay with lessons at West Cork Sailing and Powerboating Centre (west corksailing.com, email info@westcork sailing.com).
There you can complete intensive yachtmaster training, take a cruising course, charter a skippered yacht or simply paddle around the harbour in a kayak or a canoe.
On dry land, explore rich historical and archaeological sites including the Kilnaruane Stone, the Kealkil Stone Circle and the Breenymore Megaliths near Bantry.
Louth, Ireland's smallest county, is also big on water-based activities. At the Carlingford Adventure Centre (carling fordadventure.com, call 042 937 3100) you can learn to windsurf, followed by lots of other family-friendly amenities including laser combat and high ropes. And the truly hardy among you can even try zorbing (that's rolling around in a giant inflatable ball to the rest of us).
Dublin Zoo (dublinzoo.ie, 01 474 8900) is one of the country's most visited attractions, and it's easy to see why. Relax in the Meerkat restaurant or the new all-weather play forest, or take a trip over to the gorilla compound and welcome the newest addition, baby Kafi. Teens, meanwhile, can go behind the scenes and see what the life of a zookeeper is like. Family tickets cost from €45.50 (certain activities extra).
Capital dwellers are already keenly aware of the Viking Splash Tours (they're the ones that give pedestrians a fright as they're walking down Dame Street), but this mid-term break might just be the time to finally try the tour itself on for size (vikingsplash.com or call 01 707 6000). Get on board an authentic Second World War vehicle that treks across the city and then goes into the Liffey (tours depart regularly from St Stephen's Green).
Attractions in the city centre are plentiful, from the National Museum in Kildare Street (museum.ie, 01 677 7444) and the Science Gallery in Pearse Street (dublin. sciencegallery.com, 01 896-4091), to the National Wax Museum in Foster Place (waxmuseumplus.ie, 01 671 8373) and the fantastic Little Museum of Dublin in St Stephen's Green (little museum.ie, 01 661 1000). Children will also find much to love on the jam-packed schedule at The Ark, Dublin's foremost cultural centre for youngsters (theark.ie, 01 670 7788).
Farther out from the bustle of the city centre, Imaginosity in Sandyford is an interactive creative space designed specifically for children under nine. From daily story time and teddy bears' picnics, to art classes and science workshops, Imaginosity (imaginosity.ie, 01 217 6130) is a hub of fun for any child eager to learn. Early booking is predictably advised during mid-term break.
On Yer Bike
With the Giro d'Italia Grande Partenza descending on Ireland in May, the country is set to experience serious cycling fever. Get a head start by heading to Galway, which is replete with great country roads ripe for exploration.
The 40km cycle trail from Galway city to Spiddal, which takes in the quaint village of Moycullen, is well worth the effort. On this stretch, cyclists are rewarded with the breathtaking sight of the Cliffs of Moher across Galway Bay. And on a clear day, the Aran Islands will appear on the horizon just before you head down into Spiddal village.
While in Galway, take the family to the Galway Atlantaquaria at Seapoint Promenade (national aquarium.ie, 091 585100), home to 170 fascinating sea and freshwater species. Where else in the west will you get the chance to hold starfish or spiny spider crabs in the palm of your hand?
In Co Offaly, the Pilgrim's Road from Ballycumber to Clonmacnoise has a clearly marked cycle route where cyclists can visit early Christian monastic sites. Hire bikes in Lough Boora Parklands (lough booraparklands.com, 057 934 5978), which has two brilliant new cycle paths offering up to 14km of scenic routes. There, eagle-eyed cyclists will find large-scale sculptures made from industrial materials taken from the bog, including old trains, rail line and timber.
Birr Castle Demesne, which is at Rosse Row (birrcastle.com, 057 912 0336), with its magnificent gardens, science centre and outdoor telescope is also worth a go.
Blast from the Past
Just because school's out shouldn't mean that learning is parked for mid-term. Wicklow Historic Gaol at Kilmantin Hill (wick lowshistoricgaol.com, 0404 61599) has long been renowned for bringing to life tales of crime, cruelty, exile and misery.
Learn about the harshness of prison life in the 18th century, the drama of the 1798 rebellion and the cruelty of the transportation ships and hopes of a new life in Australia. Everyone will enjoy the original gaol dungeon, which is open again for the first time in more than 100 years. Call for details of ticketed events.
Nearby, the folks at Wicklow Boat Hire (wicklowboathire.ie, 0404 66955) can take you around the picturesque coastline of Wicklow, as well as up close and personal with local seal colonies. If you want to make it a weekend to remember in the Garden of Ireland, stay at the Wicklow Head Lighthouse, a Landmark Trust Property (irishlandmark.com).
History buffs will also find much to love in Meath's Boyne Valley. Trips to Newgrange (newgrange.com) aren't just for the winter solstice, while the adjacent Hill of Tara offers views that, on a good day, stretch over a quarter of the country. Trim Castle is a stone's throw away too, and offers tours all year round (meath.ie).
Job done on the learning front, take the whole family to the Funtasia fun park in Bettystown (funtasia.ie, 041 989 8000), where revellers of all ages can scale walls, skim high ropes or don skates for the roller disco.
In Roscommon, Lough Key offers countless opportunities to embrace the great outdoors. Lough Key Forest & Activity Park (loughkey.ie, 071 967 3122) will keep the entire family entertained for hours, while adults can explore the park and estate's many natural and historical gems.
Carrick-on-Shannon, which is only a short distance from Lough Key, is another great child-friendly option. Thanks to Electric Bike Trails (electricbiketrails.com, 071 962 3609), families can explore the historic miners' paths in the hills around Arigna and enjoy an afternoon to remember in the old mine itself.
For more ideas for mid-term breaks, see discoverireland.ie