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20 Best: Things to do this summer


Big Mama’s Garden… at The Temple House Festival, Co. Sligo

Big Mama’s Garden… at The Temple House Festival, Co. Sligo

Old-school shenanigans at Inistioge, Co Kilkenny

Old-school shenanigans at Inistioge, Co Kilkenny


Big Mama’s Garden… at The Temple House Festival, Co. Sligo

From treasure hunts to hearty treks, Pól Ó Conghaile picks his favourite ways to fill the long hazy days that lie ahead.

Tasty food trails in Co Cork

Queen Elizabeth's recent visit to the English Market showcased Cork City as the jewel in Ireland's culinary crown. Does it live up to the hype? You can find out yourself by downloading Cork Coastal Food Trails, a series of routes giving whistle-stop foodie tours of the best restaurants, markets, co-ops and shops in the county. East Cork, West Cork and Cork City all get dedicated maps -- with the latter, for example, ranging from restaurants such as Café Paradiso to brewery tours at Beamish & Crawford, and hidden gems such as Linehan's sweet shop to surprises including the Butter Exchange.

Details: discoverireland.ie/cork.

A big birthday at Dublin Zoo

Dublin Zoo celebrates its 180th anniversary this summer. To mark the changes since 1831, a series of historical trails are lined up for June 11-12.

Visitors will be treated to a mix of old Victorian buildings and old stories -- did you know, for instance, that during the Easter Rising, some of the animals had to be slaughtered to keep the lions and tigers fed?

While you're there, visit the new baby gorilla, still clutching cutely to its mother, Lena. August 17-18 are designated Young Zoologist days. There are plenty of playground stops along the way too.

Details: Tel: 01-474 8900; dublin zoo.ie. Family tickets from €43.50.

Old-school shenanigans at Inistioge, Co Kilkenny

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Fancy chucking stuff at adults locked in stocks? What about wellie-throwing? You can take a spin down a giant inflatable slide, if you like. Or perhaps you'd prefer to guess the weight of the lamb or watch a Viking battle?

These events, and more, are lined up for this weekend's Inistioge Summer Festival. The River Nore forms the backdrop for an action-packed family festival in one of Ireland's prettiest villages, with the majority of the old-school events taking place tomorrow on the GAA pitch.

Details: June 4-5; €7 for adults, children free. See Facebook.com/ InistiogeSummerFestival.

In Bloom at the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Bord Bia's annual garden, food and family festival is underway at the Phoenix Park. The festival shines a spotlight on Ireland's horticulture and food industry, but there's a lot more to it than show-gardens and a food village.

Visitors under 16 go free, and the Children's Zone includes Gondwanaland (a haven for dinosaur enthusiasts), storytelling, craft workshops and a Creative Kids Café.

Wildlife features include demos and activities from Birdwatch Ireland, the Irish Wildlife Trust and the Beekeepers Association, so there should be no shortage of, ahem, buzz.

Details: Runs until June 6; tickets cost from €15. See bloominthepark.com.

Kids' time in Co Kilkenny

Kilkenny is on a mission to attract families this summer, having just added a new Family Fun section to its tourism website. From petting snakes at Gowran's Reptile Zoo to watching glass blowers at work in Jerpoint, there's no shortage of options.

You don't have to touch the wallet, either -- kids can feed deer or enjoy a stroll at Jenkinstown woods, or what about watching livestock being sold at the hi-tech mart at Cillín Hill? Another place you'll catch thoroughbreds moving at lightening pace is Nolan Park, where the public can watch the Kilkenny hurlers train.

Details: See visitkilkenny.ie.

Catch some waves at Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal

When you think about surfing in Ireland, towns such as Lahinch and Bundoran spring to mind. By heading off the beaten track, however, beginners and advanced surfers alike can access some of the best waves in the country, and some of the least crowded, too.

Narosa Life is a surf school based out of Dunfanaghy providing lessons to all ages and abilities -- first-timers are especially welcome, and the weather doesn't matter (you'll be getting wet anyway). Family members who don't fancy gallons of cold Atlantic Ocean flushing through their wetsuit can try beach yoga classes. Details: A family of four can surf from €90. Tel: 086 883 1090; narosalife.com.

Hit the road at the Irish Festival of Speed, Co Limerick

This July, Ireland gets its first ever Festival of Speed. Celebrating the engine in all its forms, the festival promises a host of rally cars, motorbikes and racing machines at Adare Manor over the August Bank Holiday weekend, with highlights including a Formula 1 Jaguar R5 once driven by David Coulthard, a supercar paddock rammed with Ferraris, Maseratis and other top marques, sprint and track demonstrations and an aerobatic airplane display including one former RAF Harrier pilot flying an RV7 'flying cow' over the crowds. It'll drive petrolheads of all ages crazy.

Details: €15 (kids go free). See irishfestivalofspeed.com.

Hidden heritage gems in your own back yard

Ireland's heritage, a huge draw for overseas visitors, is often overlooked closer to home. Why not get out and do a bit of detective work on the heritage gems in your area? Many are free, OPW-run sites cost €3 or less, and all have surprising stories to tell.

Did you know that Trim Castle starred in the movie 'Braveheart'? Or that Dun Aonghusa is being eaten alive by coastal erosion?

Did you know that when the base of the Round Tower in Ardmore was excavated in the 1800s, two skeletons were found beneath it?

Your junior sleuths will soak up the info like sponges.

Details: See heritageireland.ie.

Get the ball rolling in Cobh, Co Cork

Imagine thousands of coloured balls cascading down one of Ireland's steepest streets. That's what happens every August Bank Holiday Monday in Cobh, when the Barrack Hill Ball Roll sees a sluice of small plastic balls released at the top of the 'Deck of Cards' for charity.

Onlookers can 'buy' one of the numbered balls, and the first four through a pipe at the bottom bag cash prizes.

It doesn't stop there, either -- the bank holiday also sees a crab fishing competition off the Cobh promenade, family treasure hunts, and a competition to roll even bigger balls back up the hill.

Details: August 1. Tel: 087 259 3850; visitcobh.com.

Festival fever in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Everyone knows that the Tall Ships sail into Waterford this summer. Less well-known is the fact that Dun Laoghaire is the only international stop on the Solitaire du Figaro yacht race.

This 3,390km race is undertaken by solo sailors, and Dun Laoghaire's council, harbour company and yacht club have joined forces to welcome them with Festival des Bateaux.

Fireworks, music, street entertainment and food are all planned for a festival village, the public will be able to access the boats, and there's a big send-off in the works for the departure to The Vendée on August 14.

Details: August 11-14. See dunlaoghaire.ie.

Fun at the Fleadh Cheoil, Co Cavan

Forget Rio -- the Fleadh Cheoil has enough sessions, marching bands, competitions, céilís, concerts and buskers to make it one of the biggest showcases of Irish culture on the planet.

Returning to Cavan for a second consecutive year, the festival also includes a fun-filled family day planned for Con Smith Park in Cavan town. Music and dance demonstrations, workshops, musical entertainment, exhibitions, cookery demos, a food fair and open-air theatre are all planned for the free event.

Details: August 13-22. See fleadh2011cavan.ie.

Live in the past in Carlingford, Co Louth

If you can't travel abroad this summer, why not travel back in time? This August, a 'family' of time travellers are being selected to live in Taaffe's Castle for a week, exactly as they would have in medieval Carlingford.

If you think you have what it takes to join them in foraging for food, milking the family goat or herding geese through the old Norman town, get your application in to the email address below.

Or you could visit the Cooley Peninsula during the week of August 21-28 to see how they're getting along.

There will also be a medieval village to the fore of the castle, with tradesmen and craft workers demonstrating medieval skills and crafts.

Details: August 21-28. Email info@carlingford.ie.

Hunt for treasure in Dungannon Park, Co Tyrone

There's a rumour doing the rounds in South Tyrone. Apparently, a local fisherman has hooked an old treasure map in Stillwater Lake -- a map with clues leading to a stash of treasure hidden in an old vault in Dungannon Park.

A copy of the map can be collected at reception in the park, and visitors can set off from there, following clues devised by Treasure Trails.

If you do manage to locate the spot marked with an 'X' and are successful in uncovering the treasure, you get the chance to enter an online competition.

Details: Free. See treasuretrails. co.uk.

Work it like Willy Wonka in Tullow, Co Carlow

Summer is a time for getting outdoors, but it's always handy to have an all-weather alternative on standby as insurance against the odd shower of rain, hail or snow.

If that alternative involves copious amounts of chocolate, all the better.

The Chocolate Garden of Ireland is a chocolate and ice-cream factory outside Tullow, and it's running regular workshops throughout the summer. They cover the basics of cocoa growing, include a demo and offer the chance to make and take home your own unique design, along with the mould. It's a Good Food Ireland member, too.

Details: €12pp. Tel: 059 648 1999; chocolategarden.ie.

Trek the reeks in Killarney, Co Kerry

Tour buses are the default mode of transport during peak season in Killarney, so why not escape the crowds by taking to the hills on two feet?

Throughout the summer, Kerry's most experienced walking group, Walk Killarney, is running bi-weekly Saturday outings dubbed 'A Day on the Reeks'. The full-day adventures are geared towards regular hill walkers who have prior experience, and take in Ireland's highest mountain on their route around McGillycuddy Reeks.

If your calves aren't quite up to Carrauntoohil, the 2011 programme has plenty of lower-level outings from €10pp too.

Details: €30; to September 17. Tel: 1850 566 466; killarney.ie.

Build a raft at Ballyhass Lakes, Co Cork

Ever feel the urge to cobble together a few old barrels, pipes and planks, bind everything together with a load of rope and launch it as a raft?

If so, you're a prime candidate for this raft-building course near Mallow, which instructs groups of participants in the art of building and paddling their very own designs.

Okay, you have to earn the components to build the raft by completing a series of adventure challenges. And once you've built the thing, you're probably going to fall off it into a quarry lake. But you're going to have a lot of fun in the process.

Details: Half-day courses from €30pp. Tel: 022 27773; ballyhasslakes.ie.

Junior travellers at Immrama, Co Waterford

Immrama, Waterford's summer travel writing festival, takes place next weekend in Lismore. As well as fascinating tales from stellar names (Rolf Potts, Sara Wheeler and Conor O'Clery among them), this year's festival is going all-out to attract younger travellers.

Kids can compete for literary awards, participate in poetry workshops or pop along to a free Family Fun Sunday, which includes entertainment from the Wobbly Circus, stilt-walking, face-painting, music, dance and storytelling from 2pm in the Millennium Park. Fringe events include kayaking along the River Blackwater.

Details: June 9-12. Tel: 058 53803; lismoreimmrama.com.

On yer bike on the Great Western Greenway, Co Mayo

The Great Western Greenway is an absolute brainwave. Resurrecting the abandoned narrow-gauge railway route that once connected Newport and Achill, the trail takes cyclists and walkers under the Nephin Beg Mountains and past old stone-arched bridges Bronze Age forts. Mulranny Park Hotel and several local producers have just launched a 'gourmet greenway' tie-in, and the final route sections will open this month, making the 42km route the longest off-road cycling experience in Ireland.

Details: Free. See discoverireland.ie/ greatwesterngreenway.

Old-school shenanigans at Inistioge, Co Kilkenny

Fancy chucking stuff at adults locked in stocks? What about wellie-throwing? You can take a spin down a giant inflatable slide, if you like. Or perhaps you’d prefer to guess the weight of the lamb or watch a Viking battle? These events, and more, are lined up for this weekend’s Inistioge Summer Festival. The River Nore forms the backdrop for an action-packed family festival in one of Ireland’s prettiest villages, with the majority of the old-school events taking place tomorrow on the GAA pitch. Details: June 4-5; €7 for adults, children free. See Facebook.com/ InistiogeSummerFestival.

Big Mama’s Garden… at The Temple House Festival, Co. Sligo

Music festivals typically don’t do kids. The Temple House Festival is not your typical music festival, however. As well as a line-up featuring Ash, Stereo MCs and Lisa Hannigan, the mysterious Big Mama has sneaked into the walled garden and planted a magical plot for young festival-goers and their families. Kids will be able to catch shows in the Glitter Bug Theatre, dance, juggle or make music in the Bee Hive, get creative in the potting shed or kick back in the lazy beds. Watch out for the silly sports day, make kites and animal masks… the activities are as diverse as the line-up. Details: June 10-12; templehousefestival. com; day tickets cost €50 (two kids go free).

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