Wednesday 22 May 2019

Escape the Pope! 21 things to do outside Dublin this weekend - from Ireland's largest treehouse to last-minute hotel deals

From Ireland's highest waterfall to its largest treehouse, here are our Pontif-free suggestions for the weekend...

Birr Castle's tree house
Birr Castle's tree house
Carrickmacross Arts Festival
Benito’s Lobster Linguini . . . . all ready at the launch of this year's Dalkey Lobster Festival sponsored by FLAG (Fisheries Local Action Group) North East. Picture: Michael Chester
Trim Castle, Boyne Valley
A model of a city at the Cool Planet Experience at Powerscourt in Co. Wicklow. Photo: Damien Eagers
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

All roads seem to lead to the Phoenix Park this weekend... but what if you have no interest in the visit of Pope Francis?

What if you want to go in the opposite direction?

Some 500,000 punters may be expected for the pope's mass in Dublin and tens of thousands more will see him along the streets of the capital, and in Croke Park and in Knock, but that leaves at least four million others looking for something to do...

Here are 21 ideas to get you started... and not a pontiff in sight!

1. Climb Ireland's largest treehouse

Birr Castle is running summer castle tours until the end of August, but what makes this a great family day out are the 120 acres of gardens (watch out for the 500-year-old O'Carroll Oak), Science Centre, Great Telescope and... Ireland’s largest tree house (above). If the latter doesn't get the kids to down the devices, I don't know what will.

Details: From €9/€5;

2. Monaghan magic in Carrickmacross

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Carrickmacross Arts Festival

Beer garden. Music. Comedy. What more do you want? Callans of the Bridge is the oldest pub in Carrick, and it's bang in the middle of this weekend's arts festival. Kevin McAleer headlines comedy night (Friday), Kila and The Eskies take to the main stage on Saturday; and Ham Sandwich and Mundy lead the line-up on Sunday 26th. There's loads more too - from workshops, talks and seminars to quirky crafts, artisan food, open air cinema, poetry recitals, a play area for kids, trad music sessions and more.

Details: Tickets from €22; kids under 12 go free;

More: 10 great reasons to visit Monaghan

3. Bag a Blue Book Getaway

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Francis Brennan of the Park Hotel Kenmare

Last minute night away? A handful of Blue Book properties have late availability this Saturday night - including Hayfield Manor in Cork (B&B and dinner from €169pp), Galway's Glenlo Abbey (B&B plus dinner from €151pp), and Francis and John Brennan's Park Hotel Kenmare (B&B with a five-course tasting menu and scheduled tasting menus from €190pp).

Details: 01 676-9914;

4. Rock these slides on Lough Ree

Baysports is waterpark is just five minutes from Athlone, with a brilliant spread of waterslides including the 'tallest floating water slide in the world', according to Guinness World Records 2018. Bring a spare pair of socks (wetsuits can be rented) and, afterwards, pop into the Hodson Bay Hotel ( for refuelling.

Details: From €17/€12 per hour ;

More: Read our Irish Bucket List!

5. Save the planet in Wicklow

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A model of a city at the Cool Planet Experience at Powerscourt in Co. Wicklow. Photo: Damien Eagers

Cool Planet Experience is a new interactive climate discovery centre at Powerscourt Estate in Co. Wicklow. The message is stark, with hard-hitting images and narration leaving you in little doubt as to the side this endeavour takes, but the interactivity (quizzes, game shows, interactive sport inviting you to combat pollution) and its personal touches (you discover your own carbon footprint at the door) make a great family visit.

Details:; €9/€5/25.

6. Walk in a replica World War I trench

Ever wondered what it's like to walk through a World War I trench? Well you can, in Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan. This replica trench at the Cavan County Museum has been recreated in painstaking detail - complete with 6,000 sandbags. It claims to be the largest such replica open to the public in Ireland or the UK, and forms part of a wider WWI exhibition at Cavan County Museum.

Details: and

7. Bank holiday in Belfast

Titanic Belfast. Photo: Deposit

This weekend is a bank holiday in Belfast, and there's loads going on - including the NI Gin Festival (August 25, at The Four Winds), Belfast Mela the city's annual celebration of global cultures (August 26; Botanic Gardens), and your last chance to see the Game of Thrones Tapestry, which will be removed from the Ulster Museum after the weekend. And that's not even starting on Titanic Belfast or Ireland's highest bar, recently opened at the new Grand Central Hotel...

Details: See for more.

8. Hit the beach!

From the sprawling sands of Inchydoney island in West Cork to the breath-taking sea stacks of Whiterocks in Northern Ireland, the Irish coastline offers an embarrassment of rugged riches... and a beach for every kind of beachgoer. What about the desolate Dog's Bay in Connemara? Or the phone-signal-free-zone that is Silver Strand at Malin Beg, Co. Donegal? Now, if only we had the weather...

9. Go biking at Ballyhoura

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The mountain bike trails at Ballyhoura are celebrating 10 years this weekend, with an open morning at the bike centre - and a number of bikes available free of charge to try a taste of the skills trail or 6km trail (over-11s only). Register here before showing up, however! If you have your own bike (or are renting), there are tonnes of trails available, ranging in length from 5km to 50km.


10. See Ireland's highest waterfall in Sligo

At 150m, Devil’s Chimney is Ireland's highest waterfall... and stunning views are available for the short price of a 1.5km walk. This short video, produced by OMedia for Sligo Walks (, gives a tantalising little taster of the short but hilly trail... from Sligo, follow the N16 for Manorhamilton. After several kilometres the road weaves around a mountain to your right, and soon after that you take a left hand turn signposted for Glencar Waterfall.

Events in Sligo this weekend include the Warriors Festival (Strandhill, August 25-26), and the Castle Dargan hotel in Ballygawley has two nights B&B with dinner and a round of golf or mini-treatment from €139pp, from August 24 to 26th.


11. Cycle the Waterford Greenway

Whaddya mean, you haven't done the Waterford Greenway yet? This 46km off-road walking and cycling experience has been the talk of the town since it opened last year - and there's loads to see and do along the way, from Fairbrook House & Gardens to the Victorian railway tunnel. You can rent bikes, and they'll drop off and collect at various points along the way too. While you're in Ireland's oldest city, check out the open-air gallery that is the Waterford Walls festival of street art - it runs to Sunday, August 26.


Read more: 10 Waterford Greenway Tips

12. Hit up National Heritage Week

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Galway heritage bike trail

National Heritage Week runs to August 26, which means you still have a few days worth of events to explore. And with some 2,000 events running throughout the week, you really have no exuse... Sunday's offerings range from Achill Yawl Heritage Day (5-9pm) to traditional music sessions at Donegal's Glenveagh National Park and a 'Wild West End' tour of Galway with Brendan J. Hynes.

Details:; prices vary.

More: 100 great family days out in Ireland: Our county by county guide

13. Pamper yourself at Powerscourt

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Powerscourt Hotel's Mountain View Suite

Sunday nights offer some of the best hotel deals (doubly so given that many schools start back next week), and Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa has a 'Naturally Unexpected' package offering an overnight stay with 20pc off ESPA treatments, from €170pps.


14. Make a break for Ballycotton

The last lighthouse keeper left Ballycotton Island in 1992. Thanks to a brilliant guided tour, however, visitors today can scoot over to the rock, immerse themselves in its stories, and be back on the mainland within two hours. Ballycotton Island Lighthouse Tours (€20/€10pp) run seasonal trips, with tours of the keepers’ complex and stonking views over East Cork from the top of the lighthouse itself.


15. A taste of Donegal

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Ploughman's platter at Nancy's, Ardara, Co. Donegal. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Donegal's food festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, with cookery demos by Neven Maguire, Kevin Dundon, Catherine Fulvio and others alongside entertainment like gin masterclasses and fireworks over Donegal Bay. While you're there, check out the Donegal events on (it runs through Sunday).

Details:; €7/€1pp.

More: 12 brilliant burgers for a hot Irish summer

16. Clash of knights in Loughrea

Lougrea's Medieval Festival runs this weekend, with a stack of events lined up for knights and ladies of all shapes and sizes. Pick of the programme on Sunday is a 'Clash of Knights' featuring Medieval Armoured Combat Ireland (I never knew there even was such a thing). Watch knights battle it out - and learn about their training, armour and weapons - on the Fair Green from 1-5pm. Pack a medieval-sized appetite too - the festival is run with the support of Galway West of Ireland European Region of Gastronomy 2018.


More: The Irish family bucket list: 25 days out for every price point!

17. Follow Liam McCarthy to Limerick

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King John's Castle, Limerick

There's loads going on in Limerick... and not all of it hurling-related. Sunday sees the Limerick Show ( take over the city Racecourse... complete with food zone, retail village, dog show and family events. On Saturday night, the Coronas play live at King John's Castle (tickets €46 from and Limerick Writers Centre presents 'Bring your Limericks to Limerick 2018', a festival of writing workshops, competitions and storytelling.


More: Read our Top 10 things to do in Limerick

18. Walk on water in Leitrim

Did you know there's a Blueway on the river Shannon? What Waterways Ireland terms the country's first-ever "floating walkway" was unveiled recently... you'll find it at Acres Lake in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, as part of a 14km off-road trail connecting the town with Leitrim Village. Speaking of Blueways - the Taste of Lough Derg events series continues this weekend, with a BBQ festival in Killaloe and a biodiversity and bee-keeping walk on Brookfield Farm near Terryglass.


19. Staying Trim in Meath

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Trim Castle, Boyne Valley

Trim Salmon of Knowledge Festival takes place Sunday, August 26th. It's a free festival loaded with music and drama incorporating the mythical story of the Salmon of Knowledge, along with surprises like a pop-up Gaeltacht by Ráth Chairn Gaeltacht and a flash mob paying tribute to Dolores O’Riordan with The Cranberries' song Zombie. The festival is in partnership with the 10th annual celebrations of Race Around Ireland, and also a part of National Heritage Week and Discover Boyne Valley Flavours.


20. Dalkey Lobster Festival

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Benito’s Lobster Linguini . . . . all ready at the launch of this year's Dalkey Lobster Festival sponsored by FLAG (Fisheries Local Action Group) North East. Picture: Michael Chester

Yes, it's in Dublin. But it's just far south enough on the Dart to put space between yourself and the Phoenix Park... This year's Dalkey Lobster Festival returns over the weekend with Tom Doorley and friends hosting a series of educational food talks and cookery demonstrations on the main stage of the Lobster Village. Castle Street closes from noon to 6pm each day, and presenting chefs include Richard Corrigan, Derry Clarke and Domini Kemp. Watch out for some tasty gastronomic debates with critics like Weekend Magazine's Katy McGuinness, too.


21. Kayaking in Kenmare

Fancy a paddle? Star Outdoors in offers trips for all ages and abilities in Kenmare Bay - you can go with a guide or hire singles, doubles or Canadian canoes (as well as wetsuits) on-site. The icing on the cake is a waterpark with trampline, slide and inflatable 'thunder dome'. Yes, it's cold. But yes, you'll have a blast.

Details: Kayaking from €20 per hour;

Read more:

The Irish Bucket List: 30 things to do in Ireland before you die

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