The boys' break grows up...
From bushcraft skills to a driving a classic car, the boys-only break has moved on from the traditional booze-soaked affair.
'The Hangover', 'The World's End', 'The Stag' ... male bonding has been a rich seam to mine in Hollywood. And closer to home, a group of guys has rarely needed an excuse to ditch the daily grind and man up on a boys-only weekend.
From adrenaline-pumping adventure to getting back to nature, there's certainly no shortage of bonding weekends for the boys.
Alcohol may not necessarily make weekends better ... but it sure does help. Brewery Hops of Ireland offer a whirlwind, five-day brewery tour that explores the best of Irish craft beers, taking in cultural and heritage sites along the way. Hit a host of rising stars and seasoned favourites: O'Haras in Carlow (059 972 0509, carlowbrewing.com), the Dungarvan Brewing Company in Waterford (058 24000, dungarvanbrewing company.com), the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork City (021 421 0130, franciscanwellbrewery.com), The Galway Hooker in Oranmore (galwayhooker.ie), the White Gypsy in Templemore, Co Tipperary (0504 56572, whitegypsy.ie), and Kinnegar Brewing in Co Donegal (074 915 8874, kinnegarbrewing.ie).
If going to the four corners of the country in pursuit of the perfect pint sounds a bit too much like hard work however, there is an alternative. Check out some of Ireland's best-loved gastro-pubs instead, where the craft beers flow constantly. Try L Mulligan Grocer in Stoneybatter, Dublin (01 670 9889, lmulligangrocer.com), Harte's Bar and Grill in Market Square, Kildare Town (045 533 557, hartesbar.ie) and The Cornstore Restaurant and Wine Bar in Cork City (021 427 4777, cornstorecork.com).
For something a little more kinetic, mingle with the pros at the Irish Open in the luxurious Fota Island Resort in East Cork, (June 19–22). A midsummer weekend of glitz, glamour and sporting action is there for the taking. Among the homegrown heroes tipped to triumph on the green are Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, who will be hoping to outscore last year's winner Paul Casey.
East Cork is sure to become something of a Mecca for celebrity fans over the weekend. Il Divo, Tom Jones and Imelda May will be bringing the noise with a host of open air concerts over the weekend, too. Yet for serious star-spotting opportunities, make haste to the Pro Am Day (June 18) where faces from the world of entertainment will pit their putting skills against the pros. Tickets for this event start from only €10; see irishopen.ie for more information.
Those with a taste for adrenalin-pumping action, heart-stopping finishes and an electric atmosphere could do worse than take in a horse festival this summer. In Kildare, The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival at The Curragh will be in full swing from June 29–July 1.
Mingle with the celebs in the champagne tent as the world's finest thoroughbreds compete for one of the ultimate prizes in Irish sport. See curragh.ie for the lowdown.
Way out west, on the outskirts of Galway City at Ballybrit, the Galway Races Summer Festival kicks off on July 28 (until August 3, see galwayraces.com for information). As racing fans know all too well, the City of the Tribes comes alive during this week. There are great trad sessions aplenty to be enjoyed too: try An Pucan (11 Forster Street, off Eyre Square, 091 561 528), Taafes Pub (19-20 Shop Street, 091 564 066) and the famous Roisin Dubh (Lower Dominick Street, Galway, 091 586 540, roisindubh.net).
Alternatively, take to the beach on a guys' getaway for some invigorating action. Chase a few waves on Ireland's shoreline at one of our many top surfing locations, including Strandhill in Co Sligo, Bundoran in Co Donegal, Tramore in Co Waterford and Lahinch in Co Clare. For the uninitiated, there are plenty of surf schools only too happy to put visitors through their paces: try the Tramore Surf School (tramoresurfschool.com, 051 391 011) or the Bundoran Surf Company (071 984 1968, bundoransurfco.com).
Prefer action on dry land? There's always blo-karting (sailing on the beach in a three-wheeled cart in a sail). TurfnSurf in Bundoran (071 984 10091, turfnsurf.ie) do blo-karting sessions on Tullan Strand and Rossnowlagh, while the Freedom Surf School in Tramore, Co Waterford (051 386 773, freedomsurfschool.com) offer something similar.
Paragliding is a novel way of seeing the country from above. Down in spectacular West Cork, Eireventure Paragliding School in Bantry (027 51567) offers a one-day paragliding course, as do Midland Paragliding in Cashel, Co Tipperary (086 223 2955). Training is conducted on gentle nursery slopes, practising take offs and low hops: ideal for beginners.
Those with a thirst for something a little more high-octane can try their hand at skydiving instead. Skydive Ireland operates from three different locations in Ireland: Galway Airport at Carnmore, Sligo Airport at Strandhill and Waterford Airport. See skydiveireland.ie or call 056 780 0900 for the (not so) lowdown.
What man wouldn't jump at the chance to zoom around the countryside in a convertible classic car, or a cool vintage motorcycle? Classic Car Hire in Killybegs, Donegal (classiccarhire.ie, 087 205 2853) will supply a cool TR6, an irresistible MGB roadster, or a stylish Mercedes 350SL to budding manracers. In the capital meanwhile, Courtyard Classic Car Hire in Balbriggan (courtyardclassiccars.com, 086 365 8445) has classic cars on offer. RetroVentures (retroventuresireland.com) based in Adare, Co Limerick, will help motoheads rev it up with an adventure bike – try their Classic Triumph or Royal Enfield.
The Bear Grylls experience is still big news this summer, and honing up on those all-important bush skills is a great way to while away a boys' weekend. There's something rather appealing about knowing your way around the great, and often unforgiving, outdoors. Brush up on ancient outdoorsy skills such as knife craft, shelter building, fire-lighting and woodcraft. Bushcraft Ireland (bushcraftireland.com) offers basic and advanced two-day courses for individuals, groups and families 40 minutes from Dublin.
Over in Leitrim, similarly action-packed breaks are on offer at the Lough Allen Adventure Centre. Metrosexuals who bring picnic hampers, champers and luxury campers to the Electric Picnic need not apply. Find out more at loughallenadventure.com or on 071 96 43292.
Road trips are the bedrock of the blokey bonding experience, and the Wild Atlantic Way driving route is freshly open and waiting to be discovered. The magical 2,500km route stretches from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal to Kinsale in Co Cork.
The route isn't without its many charms: on Tory Island meet the King of Tory, painter Pastai Dan Mac Ruaidhri, whose royal duties include meeting visitors on the quayside.
Soak in a bath of hot Atlantic seawater at the Voya Seaweed Baths in Strandhill, Co Sligo (voyaseaweedbaths.com). Hire a bike with Mannion Cycles in Clifden in Connemara and cycle across the Blanket Bog, a mosaic of tiny islands and bog roads (clifdenbikes.com). Or sea-kayak beneath the caves in the old head of Kinsale in Cork (kinsaleoutdoors.com).
In Dublin, meanwhile, the sporting events come thick and fast this summer. Looking for something a little different from the usual match day? US college football comes to Dublin for the Croke Park Classic on August 30 (see crokepark.ie for info). UCF (University of Central Florida) Knights square off against Penn State with thousands of American visitors expected to be in town for the game.
Fitness enthusiasts who might want to get a little closer to the sporting action can try the Dingle Adventure Race on June 17 (dingleadventurerace.com, 087 419 0318), which will certainly separate the men from the boys. Entrants pit themselves against each other in a series of gruelling tasks that sees them hiking, running and kayaking through the stunning Kerry countryside.
The Garden of Ireland is the stunning backdrop for the Wicklow Adventure Race on July 12. At Lough Dan, run over Scarr Mountain, cycle the Sally gap and kayak across the lough itself (a mini-WAR is also on offer for those who can't stomach the full course).
See wicklowadventurerace.com for the details.
In Limerick, the Headless Horseman Adventure Race (July 12, hhar.ie) isn't taking too many prisoners, either: give their 78km course a go, or try their still fairly gruelling 22km option instead.
For more ideas on weekend breaks, log onto discoverireland.ie