Ireland’s coasts, rivers and lakes offer great opportunities for staycations. Catherine Murphy is awash with ideas
As lockdown rolls back, all sorts of staycation options have at last become possible. So this summer, why not test the waters of Ireland’s blue environment? Whether you want to dive in, paddle along or sit back and relax, our sea, rivers, lakes and canals offer lots of fun on the water, and all the trips featured here are Covid compliant.
1. Best for... Seafood
Where: Seaweed foraging kayak tours, Castlehaven Bay, Co Cork.
What: Maria and Jim Kennedy from Atlantic Sea Kayaking plan their monthly foraging trips around very low tides so that kelp and other seaweeds are exposed.
“It’s fun and different,” says Maria. “You can do the tour even if you’re an absolute kayaking beginner – no experience is needed to enjoy the spectacular views and clear waters of Castlehaven Bay.” Back on shore, Maria talks about seaweed’s medicinal and cooking uses and treats guests to a picnic using seaweed-based foods.
The package: The tour takes up to four hours, €75pp. Maria and Jim also offer multi-day packages including coastal walks, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) safaris and kayak tours from €375pp including B&B; atlanticseakayaking.com
2 Best for... Seal’s-eye views
Where: SUP tour to Ireland’s Eye, Howth, Co Dublin.
What: On calm summer evenings, Pure Magic love taking small groups out to Ireland’s Eye for SUP sunset tours. “You need some SUP experience but not a lot, as we go when conditions are very calm,” says Catherine Etienne. “We paddle for up to two hours in total and also spend time on the island watching the seals and birds, and admiring the views.”
The package: The SUP sunset tour costs €60pp, including board and equipment; puremagic.ie, For a real Howth treat, stay at the King Sitric and dine at its seafood restaurant. B&B from €160 per room; kingsitric.ie
3. best for... Budding biologists
Where: Seashore Safari, Waterville, Co Kerry.
What: There’s lots of seashore family fun on offer in Ballinskelligs Bay. At Seasynergy, Lucy Hunt and her team of marine biologists will take your children along rocky shores to search for sea creatures and on sea camps to teach them about the ocean and conservation. In the meantime, parents can enjoy a round of golf at Waterville’s Links course.
It’s right next to the Smuggler’s Inn, which is owned by Lucy’s brother Henry Hunt. Chef Henry also heads up its gourmet restaurant.
The package: Seashore safari, €12pp; seasynergy.org. Smuggler’s Inn family room from €145 B&B midweek;
4. Best for… Mindful dips
Where: Wild swimming, Tralee Bay, Co Kerry.
What: Armed with local knowledge, John and Michaela Edwards of Wild Water Adventures will take you to Kerry’s secret swimming spots – from the ocean to mountain lakes. Their full-day tour takes swimmers on an easy hike through a hidden valley to Loughaduin and the mythical surrounds of a lake island fort.
“You don’t have to be a big swimmer for our dips,” John says. “They’re about immersing yourself, and are mindful and meditative. You come out with your senses sharpened.”
The package: John and Michaela offer a range of bespoke swimming tours on wildwateradventures.ie. They have teamed up with some of the local hotels, including the family-run Grand Hotel in Tralee, which has just been refurbished and offers B&B from €65-75pp a night; grandhoteltralee.com.
5. Best for... Sailor vibes
Where: Live aboard with Dublin Under Sail, Dublin Bay.
What: Who needs the Caribbean when you can hop around Dublin’s coast on board a traditional tall ship? Extended family groups can hire the Brian Ború
for a unique experience, sailing around Dublin Bay and hopping between Howth, Dalkey and Dún Laoghaire.
The package: The Brian Ború costs €1,000 a night for 12 berths. You can also take a four-hour cruise, sailing through Dublin Port into Dublin Bay and along the coast, learning how to crew a tall ship, helping to raise the sails and even stepping on to the bowsprit (€60pp); dublinundersail.com
6. Best for... Diving right in
Where: Wreck dives with Aquaholics, Portstewart, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland.
What: Beginners can join “try a dive” sea sessions at Portstewart, while experienced divers can explore Spanish Armada and WWI wrecks off Rathlin Island, take sea safaris from Rathlin to Malin Head or explore caves below Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge with the Aquaholics team.
The package: The company has a five-star PADI rating and also offers self-catering accommodation at its dive lodge near Portstewart harbour. Two nights self-catered accommodation and two days diving from €195pp (based on four to nine diver occupancy), to €680 for a seven-night stay and seven days diving; aquaholics.co.uk
7. Best for.. Music lovers
Where: Music Under the Bridges, River Liffey, Dublin.
What: It’s the coolest gig in the city. Grab a sit-on-top kayak and paddle along the Liffey, stopping under iconic bridges to listen to local musicians and poets performing on stage boats. Both the acoustics and atmosphere are excellent, and you’ll get to hear performers such as songwriter Fin Divilly and poet John Cummins. No kayaking experience required. City Kayaking also does its best to accommodate wheelchair-users – that gets the thumbs up from us.
The package: The tour takes two hours, €39pp; citykayaking.com
8. Best for... Child disabilities
Where: Liquid Therapy, Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal offers free surfing lessons for children with a disability.
What: Devon man Tom Losey fell in love with Ireland and an Irish woman, and now shares the love with his brilliant Liquid Therapy project. He and an army of 60 volunteers offer free surf lessons to children who can’t access the sport via the mainstream. All lessons are free and inclusive – especially the sibling camp, where brothers and sisters can learn to surf alongside a sibling who has a physical or intellectual disability, offering parents some much-needed respite.
Tom trained with a Californian autism surfing organisation and is a qualified swim and surf coach, while Rossnowlagh beach is one of the most accessible in the country, with a beach wheelchair and water wheelchair; liquidtherapy.ie.
The package: Stay at the Sandhouse Hotel in a sea view family room (two adults, two children) from €199 a night B&B; sandhouse.ie
9. Best for... History Buffs
Where: Athy Boat Tour, Athy, Co Kildare.
What: Culture and heritage take centre stage on this two-hour barge trip that starts in Athy, follows the Barrow River and goes through the Ardreigh Lock. The barge crew work the lock just as it would have been done hundreds of years ago as malted barley was transported to the Guinness brewery.
“It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and get a new perspective of the area’s heritage,” says guide Ronan O’Reilly. This is a community initiative – bringing employment to an area that’s on the up, with the Shackleton Museum due to open on the Barrow Blueway next year.
The package: A two-hour tour costs €150 for six; athyboattours.com. Stay at Burtown House; from €150 a night for a studio apartment, or €60pp in a stableyard house, based on eight sharing; burtownhouse.ie
10. Best for... Glampers
Where: Killaloe, Co Clare on the Lough Derg Blueway.
What: Hire a boat via Emerald Star/Le Boat to cruise the Shannon or stay on dry land and explore the Lough Derg Blueway with different activities each day; discoverloughderg.ie. Book into Killaloe luxury pods, which are designed for couples, with a private hot tub overlooking the lake, and breakfast ingredients prepared by a local butcher.
Just 5km from Killaloe, it’s easy to hire a cruise or speed boat at the local marina, then relax in a peaceful heartlands setting and enjoy a chat with entertaining owner Ed Heffernan.
The package: Pods, €240 B&B year round; killaloeluxurypods.com