Bill Linnane: 'Who needs Easter camps when you have the OPW?'
And so we come to the Easter holidays, when we pause and reflect on the greatest martyr of all - the average parent. I would have written this column several weeks ago if I had known the Easter break was coming, but like most people I had no awareness of it until I noted my kids were at home all day and no truancy officer was knocking on the door to ask where they are.
No school holiday is as slippery as the Easter midterm, suddenly jumping out of the school year when we least expect it, like a panto villain. Oh no! It's the midterm break! Now I have to spend time with my children rather than forcing them on some poor teacher who thought their job would be more like Dead Poets Society and a lot less like The Shawshank Redemption. The Easter midterm is able to sneak up because it is based on the Paschal lunar calendar, because obviously a busy family will always have time to follow both the Gregorian and Julian calendars, despite the fact we can't remember to attend dental appointments.
But Easter is here now and we have to deal with it in the best way we can - by trying to farm out our children to some manner of activity camp. Naturally, there are people out there who do track the ebb and flow of the moon, because all the camps were booked up. Googling to no avail, you start to wonder if there is even a local terror cell that might be looking for recruits to bring on manoeuvres in the woods; but there were no options left, so we were stuck doing that most dreaded of tasks - entertaining our kids. So we turn to history. All of Ireland has been a battlefield at some point, so there are plenty of sites to visit where my kids can learn about decapitations, sieges and plague. Our most recent trip through Ireland's bloody past was at Cahir Castle, a sort of hipster outing for those of us who see the Rock of Cashel as too mainstream since the British queen visited it.
Cahir castle offers a full, immersive historical experience from the get-go by only accepting cash. Apparently, they are getting a card reader soon, but as the castle has been there since the 13th century, I could see why they might not have a sense of urgency about such matters. Our tour guide walked us through the castle's history, with plenty of gore-soaked facts to keep the kids engaged. Afterwards, we were free to roam the buildings, and this is where it became such a great day out. The site is like an MC Escher etching, all hidden corridors, machicolations, murder holes and winding stairs. Best of all, there was only one way in and one way out. So I could then let them go free range, scampering off into high towers, dungeons and battlements, safe in the knowledge that if Cahir Castle could survive centuries of attack, it would probably survive my children, and if one of them made a break for it I could just drop the portcullis.
In 1650, Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army - the original British stag party - arrived in Cahir, and sent a note requesting that the occupants, the Butlers, leave forthwith, which they duly did, only to retake it a little over a decade later. The Butlers know, as all parents do, that when you are outnumbered and facing your gaf getting wrecked, simply head out for a while.
It gives me a warm glow to find places like this, not because it instils a love and understanding of Irish history in young minds, but because it is both cheap (entry for us all was less than a tenner) and it tires them out, the main goals of any trip with kids. The park next to the castle even has a sword stuck in a stone, which they spent a good 20 minutes attempting to extract, as I sat back, sipping a coffee, saying, 'Oh you nearly had it there, give it another try and really put some effort into it now'. Everyone was asleep by 7pm that night. Who needs activity camps when you have the OPW?