Days out in Ireland
Make the sambos, roll up the blanket and pack the basket... here's Fran Power's list of Ireland's Top 30 picnic spots.
For landscape variety - and a choice of isolated beaches - it's hard to beat Ards Forest Park on 480 hectares of salt marsh, saltwater lake and woodland stretched along Donegal's Sheep Haven Point. Trails suited to buggy riders or hikers take you past umpteen spots to unwrap the sangers, but one of the best leads along the edge of Binngorm Point with views out across Sheep Haven Bay.
Where: Sheep Haven Bay, Creeslough, Co Donegal, (074) 912-1139; coillteoutdoors.ie
Stock up: The Green Man in Dunfanaghy
Shelter at: Choose the largest oak…
Less well-known than Newgrange but no less fascinating, Loughcrew's neolithic tombs are aligned to the spring and autumn solstice. Clamber to the top of the steep grassy, sheep-covered hill, shake out the rug and chow down while drinking in the views across mountains of countryside.
Where: Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Co Meath (off season key from Loughcrew Gardens café); heritageireland.ie.
Stock up: Definitely worth detouring to Sheridan's Cheesemongers at Kells; Supervalu at Oldcastle.
Shelter at: Loughcrew Gardens Café; loughcrew.com.
With dramatic views of Mweelrea Mountain looming across the deep gash of Killary fjord, this two- to three-hour hike along the southern side of the drowned valley follows an old famine road. Then you break away to climb up and over Salrock Pass for a spectacular curtain-raiser to your picnic with views of Inishbofin, Inishturk and Clare Island spread out before you. Post-nap, descend and walk back along the road to the harbour.
Where: Start at Rosroe Pier, Killary Harbour, walk back along the road 100 metres to take the first left onto a grassy road. There's guided walks from Walk Connemara, 087 629 1659; walkconnemara.com.
Stock up: Avoca in Letterfrack; avoca.com.
Shelter at: Jump onboard Killary Fjord Boat Cruises; killaryfjord.com.
Connemara offers so many picnic possibilities but one favourite is to shoulder the backpack for an hour-long climb to the top of Errisbeg mountain. Find a crag and set out your goodies, then digest as you ponder on the wind-on-wave patterns down on Dog's Bay and Gurteen Strand, two back-to-back crescent-shaped beaches.
Where: Take the N59 from Clifden to Roundstone and park at the roadside at the base of Errisbeg.
Stock up: The Connemara Hamper; connemarahamper.com.
Shelter at: Drive to Roundstone for a pint and crab claws at O'Dowds; odowdsseafoodbar.com.
Twice a day the sea rushes up a narrow tidal channel into Lough Hyne, making it a rare marine habitat for plants and animals. Its shoreline is peppered with holy wells and ruins and also happens to be spectacularly beautiful. Pack your sanguidges and take a brisk walk through the forest up Knockomagh Hill for some picnic action with knockout views. Then reward yourself with a swim... or a sea-kayaking trip with Atlantic Sea Kayaking (above).
Where: Skibbereen, Co Cork.
Stock up: Fields of Skibbereen or Skib's Farmers' Market, Saturday mornings and Wednesday.
Shelter at: Skibbereen Heritage Centre; skibbereenheritage.com.
Nothing makes quite such a romantic backdrop to your picnic as a waterfall. Powerscourt in Wicklow is stunning, but have you visited Gleninchaquin just off the Wild Atlantic Way in Kerry? Afterwards, climb past a deep black lake in a coombe and on to the head of the falls for spectacular views of the Reeks.
Where: Halfway between Kenmare and Lauragh off the R571, along a narrow winding road; gleninchaquinpark.com.
Stock up: Jam in Kenmare; jam.ie.
Shelter at: The reception area on the estate where you can dry off by the fire.
Explore Lough Boora Discovery Park in Co Offaly, a cutaway bog that Bord na Móna has preserved as a nature sanctuary decorated with sculpture, punctuated with picnic spots and laced with 22km of tracks. Cycle through clouds of bog cotton, spotting butterflies, rare birds and, of course, the ideal hamper haven. Bike hire €5 per hour.
Where: Boora, Co Offaly, (057) 934-0010; loughboora.com.
Stock up: O'Connor's Grocery in Tullamore.
Shelter at: Take a tour of Birr Castle and Science Centre, and dry off at the Courtyard Café; birrcastle.com.
The fact that Kilfane, a heritage garden, is only open for two months a year focuses the picnicker's mind. Come July, it's time to load up the cooler and make for this small but pristine romantic era garden with waterfall, cottage orné and riverside walks.
Where: Kilfane, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, (056) 24558; kilfane.com.
Stock up: Stop off at Thomastown to pick out your own fresh or smoked fish at Goatsbridge Trout Farm, (call 086 818 8340; goatsbridgetrout.ie) and truffles at The Truffle Fairy, (087 286 2634; trufflefairy.com).
Shelter: at Browse the gallery or view the glassblowers at work at Jerpoint Glass; jerpointglass.com.
History, legend and splendiferous views make good appetisers. Try a four-hour hike up to one of the country's finest corrie lakes with icy deep waters and tales of a serpent and caves that once sheltered an outlaw. It's a strenuous stretch up to the Comeragh plateau but worth it for restorative views of the Comeraghs and Knockmealdowns beyond.
Where: Coumshingaun Lake Walk, Kilclooney Woods, Co Waterford (dungarvantourism.com) or hire a guide with muddybootsguidedwalking.com.
Stock up: Kilmacthomas farmers' market on a Thursday morning.
Shelter at: Hanora's Cottage for a second picnic (booking advised; hanorascottage.com).
Chances are you've climbed the Burren's most renowned peak, Mullaghmore, and gazed out over the limestone flags. So if you've still a bit of puff in the lungs, aim for the Lough Avalla Farm Loop, a two-and-a-half hour walk through a working farm, to a lakeshore, past standing stones, a holy well, and up to a stone cairn with plenty of spots for pathside picnickers.
Where: Mullaghmore Cross, Burren National Park, Co Clare; irishtrails.ie.
Stock up: Ennis Gourmet; ennisgourmet.com.
Shelter at: Not just a perfumery but a lovely teashop, The Burren Perfumery (above); burrenperfumery.com.
Forage for your picnic by bike on the Mourne Foods & Films Cycle tour. Dracula Untold, Game of Thrones and many other screen productions were shot in lovely Shimna Valley, but it is also home to artisan hand-churned butter-makers, ice cream and cookie producers, and an oysters and mussels farm. Bike along Tollymore Forest and down to the sea with stop-offs for tasting your ingredients as you go.
Where: Take a complimentary shuttle bus to the tour start point at Spelga Dam in the heart of the Mourne Mountains. £30pp includes bike.
Stock up: Take your pick of the artisan producers.
Shelter at: Enniskeen Country House Hotel, Bryansford, Newcastle, Co Down, (048) 4372-3933 or visit enniskeenhotel.c.o.uk.
Take the pain out of a pilgrimage with trip to the more southerly Lough Derg and a stroll through leafy Castlelough forest, a former deerpark, with picnic basket in hand. Head to the shores of the lough and choose from one of many potential beauty spots to dandle your toes in the water and watch the cruisers go by.
Where: Portroe, Co Tipperary.
Stock up: Country Choice, (067) 32596, at Nenagh or Limerick's Saturday Milk Market.
Shelter at: Goosers (goosers.eu) in Killaloe (above) or Larkins (larkins.ie) in Garrykennedy.
On the 150th anniversary of Yeats's birth, an alfresco nosh-up beneath the shadow of Ben Bulben in Sligo (poetry optional) makes for a fitting genuflection to the great man. Best views of the weird beak of rock are from Ben Bulben forest walk. Bag a bench on the 4km-route, then visit his grave at nearby Drumcliffe graveyard.
Where: Ben Bulben Looped Walk, Gortarowey Car Park, Drumcliffe, Co Sligo; coillteoutdoors.ie.
Stock up: Kate's Kitchen (kateskitchen.ie) in Sligo town.
Shelter at: Drumcliffe Teahouse and Craft Shop (drumcliffeteahouse.ie) by the graveyard.
On a sunny day in the city, pick up your amuse bouche at Green Bench Café on Montague Street and step into the cool grassy Iveagh Gardens behind Harcourt Street, where you can kick off your shoes and lounge on the grass. You might even hear some live music or theatre.
Where 2 Clonmel Street, Dublin 2; heritageireland.ie.
Stock up Green Bench Café (greenbenchcafe.com) on Montague Street.
Shelter at Either run for cover under the copse of trees or Cake Café (above, thecakecafe.ie) for a hot brew.
Glaciers are responsible for the maze of islands and lakes along Lough Oughter. But the island on which Clough Oughter Castle sits was man-made back in the 13th century. Now the castle is in ruins, but the island stands firm and makes a feast for the eyes.
Where: Follow the signs from the N2 between Cavan and Belturbet.
Stock up: The Olde Post Inn, (047) 55555; theoldepostinn.com.
Shelter at: Underground with a boat trip through Marble Arch Caves; marblearchcavesgeopark.com.
Pretty towpaths lend themselves well to picnickery - shady trees, romantically ruined lock-keeper's cottages, and gently waving reeds are calming to gaze at. One such place is just 5km from pretty Borris at Clashganny Lock. Roll up the togs, the water's lovely for a dip.
Where: Borris, Co Carlow.
Stock up: Askea market in Carlow town on Friday mornings.
Shelter at: Borris House, seat of the MacMurroughs; (059) 977-1884; borrishouse.com.
Come over all Downton with a trip to magnificent Emo Court, designed by James Gandon for the Earls of Portarlington back in the 1790s. It fell into disrepair but was restored in the 1960s and has fine formal lawns, a 20 acre man-made lake, blooming gardens and so many potential picnic spots. Now where's Carson got to?
Where: Emo, Co Laois, (057) 862-6573; heritageireland.ie.
Stock up: McCormack's Delicatessen Portlaoise, (057) 862-2151.
Shelter at: Take the guided tour of the house, or retire to Mooney's bar in Monasterevin, (045) 525-360.
Curracloe has stretches of sandy shore that call to picnickers, but venture just behind the beach to Raven Nature Reserve where dunes and evergreen forest provide a sanctuary for birds and wildlife and an observation tower make a heaven for kids. Then take the looped walk to the tip of Raven Point spit through the wood and back again via the beach.
Where: Raven Point, Kitestown, Crossabeg, Curracloe, Co Wexford, (053) 912-0967.
Stock up: Kate's Farm Shop (086 172 7116) in Wexford town.
Shelter at: It's just a shower, embrace it with a lesson from Surf Shack on Curracloe beach (surfshackireland.com).
Yeats had an eye for natural beauty - his poem The Stolen Child was inspired by the lovely 15m-high Glencar Waterfall in Leitrim. Picnic near its base, and let the kids run off energy in the playground.
Where: Glencar, Co Leitrim, (071) 61201.
Stock up: Manorhamilton, but leave room for hot chocolate and marshmallow at the Tea Shed.
Shelter at: Parke's Castle on the shore of Lough Gill, (071) 916-4149; heritageireland.ie.
Set off into the wilderness of Ballycroy National Park with your knapsack on your back. You can walk for hours without seeing another human, though you'll spot birds of prey, rare butterflies and flora, and maybe even an otter. Cushion yourself on the soft heather with a view of the Nephin Begs and break out the lemonade.
Where: Ballycroy National Park, Ballycroy, Co Mayo, (098) 49888; ballycroynationalpark.ie.
Stock up: Kelly's butchers in Newport for meat; the Blue Bicycle Café for slices of carrot cake.
Shelter at: The Visitor Centre in the park which also has a café.
Back in the 18th century the Romantic movement expressed itself in landscape gardening with the ferme orné, a life-size toy farm, with specimen breeds, dairy (Marie Antoinette liked to dress as a dairymaid), follies, statuary and carefully framed views of nature. The only surviving one in Europe is at Larchill in Co Kildare and makes for a classic day out. Bonus? Picnickers can stay on after 2pm closing time.
Where: Larchill, Kilcock, Co Kildare, (01) 628-7354; larchill.ie.
Stock up: Black Forest Bakery in Kilcock, (01) 628-7835.
Shelter at: Larchill tearooms opens for special events - you can step inside if there's a downpour.
Sometimes a picnic spot isn't just about the views - at Newcastle Woods you can pump up the adrenaline before feasting. The woods flank both sides of the River Inny, a fantastic place to learn kayak skills, shoot the rapids and dry off riverside with a Scotch egg and hang sanguidge.
Where: Newcastle Wood, Newcastle Bridge, Ballymahon, Co Longford, coillteoutdoors.ie; kayak hire Outdoor Discovery Adventure Company, (090) 640-0111; outdoordiscovery.ie.
Stock up: Three Jolly Pigeons in Goldsmith's deserted village, (090) 648-5162.
Shelter at: Corlea Trackway in Kenagh and see the ancient bog road (above, heritageireland.ie).
Island-hopping is always a magic way to spend the day. At Devenish in Co Fermanagh you can combine a beaut of an island with layers of monastic ruins dating back to the 6th century. Take a ferry trip from Enniskillen and swim, laze or explore.
Where: Devenish Island, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Boats from Erne Tours, Round 'O' Jetty, Brook Park, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, (048) 6632-2882; ernetours.com or rent your own at Manor House Country Hotel (manorhousecountryhotel.com).
Stock up: Snacks and drinks onboard, otherwise Enniskillen.
Shelter at: Public toilets on Devenish for downpours, otherwise pack that brolly.
Leave the crowds behind at the lakeside and climb 110 steps to the viewing point above Lough Gur. For company you'll have views of Knockadoon's neolithic remains, Knockfennell where the king of the fairies lives, Gearoid Island where the ruins of a 15th century castle crumble away. The soundtrack? The tune of 46 species of songbird.
Where Bruff, Co Limerick, (061) 385386; loughgur.com.
Stock up The Old Bakehouse (bakehouse.ie) at Bruff - if it's good enough for Kim and Kanye's honeymoon hamper.
Shelter at The Heritage Centre onsite.
Lace up the hiking boots, fill the thermos, this is going to be a rewarding day's hike. Day two of the 127km Wicklow Way is a stunner - as you emerge from Crone Wood above Powerscourt Waterfall, a valley with Djouce mountain at its head lies before you. Eat down in the valley by the Dargle River, then decide whether you will climb the east shoulder of Djouce for a peek at magical Lough Tay and a pint at the Roundwood Inn or retrace your tracks to Crone Wood.
Where: Crone Wood, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow; coillteoutdoors.ie; wicklowway.com; irishtrails.ie.
Stock up: Kennedy's of Enniskerry (kennedysofenniskerry.com).
Shelter at: Weatherproof gear at the ready? Make for Roundwood Inn; (01) 281-8107.
Cycle along Carlingford's 6km greenway which runs along the old railway line by the lough, north to Omeath. Along the way, paths lead down to the shore so tuck the togs in the basket too, or hold off for the wee man-made sandy beach at Omeath.
Where Carlingford Tourism office; carlingfordandcooleypeninsula.ie. Rent bikes From On Yer Bike (onyerbike.ie).
Stock up: Packed lunch from Ruby Ellen's Tearooms (rubyellenstearooms.com) in Carlingford.
Shelter at: Make like the clappers for Café Rosa (087 761 6123) in Omeath.
For sheer drama, Binevenagh is the place to park the hamper. A short walk through forest leads to a brisk climb to the summit of steep cliffs formed by molten lava that stretch for six miles across the Magilligan peninsula. On a clear day, you can gaze out to Scotland, Lough Foyle and Co Donegal.
Where: Binevenagh, Limavady, Co Derry; walkni.com.
Stock up: Norman Hunter & Sons deli in Limavady (048) 7776-2665 for goodies, Hunters Bakery Café, (048) 7772-2411, for bread.
Shelter at: Take the tour at Hezlett House (nationaltrust.org.uk).
Re-enact a scene from Jonathan Swift's life at one of Westmeath's most-loved lakes. Lough Ennell is the spot where the satirist is said to have sat in a boat and thought how small folk on the shore looked. No prizes for guessing the outcome. Yep, Gulliver's Travels. You can hire a boat, or even swim out.
Where: Jonathan Swift Park, Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath. Boat hire Lilliput Boat Hire at Jonathan Swift Park (087 649 2866; lilliputboathire.com) - booking essential.
Stock up: Red Earth, Mullingar; redearthireland.com.
Shelter at: Nearby Belvedere House for a tour or stop off at the café; (above, belvedere-house.ie).
All of Rossmore Park is a giant playground, chock-full of the sort of gentle grassy hills that kids adore to roll down again and again. After that, check out the 3,000-year-old tombs, the castle ruins, one of the five lakes or the pet cemetery … Picnic? On the shore of Priestfield Lake.
Where: Rossmore Forest Park, Monaghan, Co Monaghan, coillteoutdoors.ie.
Stock up: The Friday morning farmers' market.
Shelter at: Visit Tommy Bowe's rugby shirts from the Triple Slam at Monaghan County Museum (monaghan.ie/museum).
Tucked away on a peninsula jutting from the shore of Lough Ree is a deserted medieval village called Rindoon. Once a busy medieval town, it is now a shaggy series of ruins and stone walls with hospital, church, windmill, harbour and three towers just begging for explorers and young historians to come prospecting.
Where: Rindoon, Rinnegan, Lecarrow, Co Roscommon.
Stock up: Loaves and Fishes in Athlone, (090) 647-8450.
Shelter at: Knockcroghery's The Spotty Teacup or watch an old duidín being made at the Claypipe Centre; oghamwish.com.
For more information on accommodation, places to eat, or family outings in Ireland, see discoverireland.ie. This article has been updated since its first publication.