Saturday 24 February 2018

20 spring days out

The Ardara 'Cup of Tae' festival, Co Donegal
Sensory dining at the Westin Hotel, Dublin

Pol O Conghaile

Don't let those rare sunny days pass you by - Pól Ó Conghaile has ideas for family days out around the country, from dog-walking to a puppet festival

Waterford Festival of Food

Food in all its glory will be celebrated at Waterford's annual festival of culinary events, music and film. Staged this year around a medieval theme, the festival sees Derry Clarke, Neven Maguire and Catherine Fulvio joining local foodie legends in demonstrations at Dungarvan Town Hall. Other highlights include a fun-and-buns workshop, a 'Crude Food' trail in Colligan Wood, and a seaweed seminar at Clonea Beach. A recipe for success, then.

Details: The Waterford Festival of Food (058 21104; waterford runs from April 16-18. Tickets price vary, but many events are free.

The Da Vinci Experience, Killaloe, Co Clare

Secret societies, hidden messages, puzzles and a race against time. No, we’re not talking about the creation of Nama, but a weekend of Dan Brown-inspired derring-do in Killaloe. Organised by the Lakeside Hotel, the Da Vinci Experience is a cross between a treasure hunt and an activity weekend, with teams working together to put a smile on Mona Lisa’s face, or face their Last Supper.

Details: The Lakeside Hotel (061 376122; has this two-night package, including two nights’ B&B and one dinner, for €155pps. It is available to groups of 20-plus.

Cape Clear Walking- Talking Festival, Cork

Cape Clear, the west Cork Gaelteacht island, is renowned for its storytelling festivals. It’s also a pretty smashing place to walk.

This festival brings the two together, presenting an opportunity to explore the hidden parts of the island with local guides — and some quality conversation. Wild flowers, exotic birds and even the odd whale could be on the cards, and the festival also sees the launch of Cape Clear’s first looped walk — a four-hour circuit along the southern cliffs and a goat farm.

Details: Registration for the Cape Clear Walking-Talking Festival (028 41923; walkingtalking. info) costs €5, and individual events cost €5pp. The festival runs from April 30-May 2.

Thoroughbred Trail Weekends, Co Kildare

Some 80,000 tourists come to Ireland for its horse racing every year. Only a privileged few get to go behind the scenes, however — one reason why Thoroughbred Trails, a joint venture between Fáilte Ireland and Horse Racing Ireland, catch the eye.

The weekends includes two nights’ B&B, a tour of the Curragh, an outing to John Oxx’s trainer’s yard and an afternoon's racing and lunch. You’ll also nab a 10pc discount voucher for Kildare Village Outlet and the Irish National Stud.

Details: The next Thoroughbred Trail Weekend (01-497 2003; step) is in May 21-23. Costs range from €214-€365pp, depending on the choice of hotel.

Geaglum Cottage, Co Fermanagh

The phrase ‘hidden gem’ has long since been hijacked by PR companies and tourist boards. Geaglum, a small two-bed cottage set near the shores of Upper Lough Erne, makes a case for its return. Outside, it’s straight from a John Hinde postcard — a white thatched cottage with a pleasing red door and an old-world gypsy caravan alongside.

Inside, the attention to detail continues with iron beds, peat fires, cowboy-print cushions and knitted hot-water bottle covers. Small but beautiful.

Details: Two-night breaks at Geaglum Cottage can be had from £169/€187pp. Bookings can be made through Under the Thatch (0044 123 985 1410; under

Loughcrew Gardens, Co Meath

You’ ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve passed through the looking glass at Loughcrew Gardens in county Meath. The gardens feature an Alice in Wonderland theme, with sculptures of Alice, the Mad Hatter and their guests spotted throughout the rockeries and lawns. Continue on to explore the walking trails, playground and a new adventure course that includes the longest zip-wire in Ireland (130m). End up in the coffee shop, and you’ ll be smiling like a Cheshire Cat.

Details: Access to Loughcrew Gardens (049 854 1356; loughcrew. com) costs €8/€4.50. A half-day package at the adventure course costs €30/€20, with a minimum group size of six people.

Kavanagh Poetry Weekend, Monaghan

“They said, That I was bounded by the whitethorn hedges, Of the little farm and did not know the world,” wrote Patrick Kavanagh. “But I knew that love’s doorway to life, Is the same doorway everywhere.” The Monaghan man’s memory dominates the landscape around Inniskeen, and this annual festival celebrates that. After a hard day’s writing, evenings are reserved for the wink-and-elbow language of delight.

Details: The Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Weekend (042 937 8560; runs from April 17-18. The course, which includes three workshops, costs €100.

Bush Craft, Lough Neagh, Co Armagh

Fancy letting your inner Ray Mears loose for a day? Head to Lough Neagh this spring, where you can spend a day learning essential survival skills. The day sparks off at Kinnego Marina, Oxford Island, where participants fuel up before heading off to forage around the lake shores with survival expert Peter McVeigh. Learn how to source drinking water, build shelters and cook up a storm with the booty from your foraging.

Details: Bush Craft days at Lough Neagh (0044 283 832 7573; discovernorthernireland. com) take place in spring and summer. Sample price on an overnight canoe package is £60/€68pp.

The National Dog Walk

Thousands of dog owners will be walking their four-legged friends for charity this Monday, as the National Dog Walk kicks off countrywide. A partnership between The Carers’ Association and Petmania pet stores, the walk aims to raise funds for family carers and celebrate the companionship of dogs in family life. The outing, launched by Marty Whelan, takes place in Carlow, Drogheda, Dublin, Kilkenny, Limerick, Navan, Portlaoise, Tralee, Tullamore, Waterford and Wexford.

Details: The National Dog Walk departs from Petmania stores at 2pm this Easter Monday, April 5. Information packs are available in stores or at

The Ardara ‘Cup of Tae’ Festival, Co Donegal

The best gifts come in the smallest parcels, and so it is with this tiny Irish music festival. Taking place every spring since 2000, the festival puts a particular focus on the fiddle and includes classes, recitals, sessions and fireplace evenings, where stories will be shared about legendary Donegal fiddler John ‘Simi’ Doherty. Despite its awesome scenery Donegal can be surprisingly empty in spring, so head up now and you can hit the whole county with your fiddle stick.

Details: The Ardara ‘Cup of Tae’ Festival (087 242 4590; runs from April 30-May 2. Musical entertainment is free, other events vary (the fireside evening costs €15)

Slieve Bloom Walking Festival, Co Offaly

Think of Ireland’s great walking trails and Offaly may not be the first place to come to mind. Cowen Country is home to the Slieve Blooms, however, and one of the best walking festivals around. Kicking off on April 30, the event includes three days of ambling along beech-lined roads, thick forests, fresh glens, sparkling waterfalls and waymarked ways. At this time of year, Knockbarron Wood is carpeted with bluebells — and a trad session in Kinnitty Castle should help soothe the calves.

Details: Registration for the Slieve Bloom Walking Festival (086 278 9147; slievebloom. ie) costs €20. The Ardmore Country House B&B (057 913 7009; has a weekend package for €120pp.

Sensory Dining at the Westin Hotel, Dublin

Sight is the sense we most rely on, so what better way to spice up an evening out than to deprive you of it entirely? That’s the pitch for Sensory Dining at the Westin Hotel’s Exchange Restaurant. The experience starts with diners donning blindfolds, heightening their awareness of taste, texture and smell. From there, a host will guide them through the various dishes. You’ll be challenged to distinguish and identify the flavours of the food, and to not soil your shirt.

Details: Sensory Dining at The Exchange Restaurant (01-645 1000; takes place in the Westin Hotel at 7pm on April 22; €60 per person.

Atlantic Film Trails

New Zealand made hay from The Lord of the Rings. Tunisia still dines out on Star Wars. Isn’t it high time Ireland’s west coast got its own film trail? Well, now it has. From Dancing at Lughnasa (Glenties) to Moby Dick (Youghal), the trail is a surprisingly rich journey though an innately cinematic landscape. The Quiet Man (Cong), Ryan’s Daughter (Dingle) and Michael Collins (Béal na mBláth) are just some of the locations evoking movie magic and paddywhackery.

Details: Download the Atlantic Film Trail route, developed by Fáilte Ireland with Irish Film Board and Ordnance Survey Ireland, from

Decoy Country Cottages, Co Meath

Perhaps it’s our newly reformed ways. Perhaps it’s their inherent modesty. Whatever the reason, we seem to have rediscovered cottages in Ireland. Decoy, a collection of eight cottages located close to the Boyne Valley, is a good bet if you’re looking to convene family or friends in a self-catering oasis. Feather duvets, Belfast sinks, free Wi-Fi and a welcome pack await guests indoors, and parents will appreciate the playground and baby gear on site. Not to mention the free massage.

Details: Decoy Country Cottages (046 902 6960; decoycountry is offering two nights’ luxury accommodation, a threecourse dinner and a full body massage for €150pps.

Connemara Marathon, Co Galway

Martyrdom knows no bounds. How else to account for a halfmarathon, a full marathon and an ‘ultra marathon’ (a thightrembling 39.3 miles/63.2km) in Connemara? All three take place on one day this April, when road-racing nuts convene amidst the west of Ireland’s finest mountains, lakes and wayfaring sheep. The course, which attracts a huge international following, winds around the Twelve Pins, Killary Lough and the Maamturks — the post-race parties take a more social route around Oughterard and Clifden.

Details: The Connemara Marathon (connemarathon. com) takes place on April 11. The races are now sold out, except for some charity places, but spectactors can still enjoy the views and celebrations.

Westport House, Co Mayo

Stuck for something to do with your buccaneers this spring? Why not take them to Westport House, former home of Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley? And don’t worry, it’s not all stuffy chandeliers and ‘don’t touch’ signs. The Pirate Adventure Park includes a flume ride, bouncy castle and indoor soft play, as well as pitch ’n’ putt, tennis and fishing.

Older visitors can check back in the summer, when Killary Adventure brings its high-octane experience to the party.

Details: Westport House (098 27766; is open daily until April 11, when it reverts to weekend opening. Entry costs €12/€6.50.

Dublin Puppet Festival

The recent death of Eugene Lambert adds an extra resonance to the Dublin Puppet Festival, an event founded in 1991 when the city was European Capital of Culture.

The festival is moving this year from the Lambert Theatre in Monkstown to the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, where the finest practitioners of ventriloquism, slapstick, circus and cabaret will be holding court with all-age shows.

Look out too for an open-air street theatre weekend in Wolfe Tone Park — Wanderly Wagon is the centrepiece. Details: The Dublin Puppet Festival (01-442 9010; runs from April 19-25. Events vary in cost, but the street theatre weekend is free.

In Handel’s Day, Dublin

Handel’s Messiah premiered in Temple Bar in 1742 — a pretty good excuse for a knees-up. After last year’s 250th celebrations (of Handel’s death), this year sees a tighter, day-long programme geared towards connecting the people and places of Handel’s time.

Expect talks, workshops and walking tours with the inimitable Pat Liddy, as well as the usual choral gymnastics courtesy of the Our Lady’s Choral Society, who will serenade Fish-amble Street with the Hallelujah Chorus at 1pm.

Details: In Handel’s Day (01-677 2255; takes place on April 13. All events are free, but some need to be booked.

Ballinderry Park, Co Galway

Five years ago, Susie and George Gossip found the beautiful Georgian Ballinderry Park, lonely and abandoned, and rescued it from advanced dereliction.

Now, with the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at NUI Maynooth they are planning a weekend designed to inject new life into it.

Based around field trips to country houses in several counties, participants will pick through stables, follies, gates and lodges, before returning to Ballinderry for a slap-up dinner.

Details: Ballinderry Park (090 968 6796; is running this field trip weekend in May. It costs €425pp, including two nights’ B&B and all meals.

One City, One Book, Dublin

James Joyce captured Dublin in a single book. This project aims to get Dublin reading a single book: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

One City, One Book is an initiative of Dublin City Public Libraries, and includes a lengthy programme of talks, screenings, theatre and events running in April. There’s even a self-portrait workshop led by Beth O’Halloran at the Hugh Lane.

Just don’t store the results in the attic…

Details: One City, One Book ( takes place during April. Most events are free, but require advance booking. Film and theatre costs vary.

Irish Independent

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