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Kingdom of craic

But if you think that luxury hotels and a whole lot of family fun are worlds apart, you'd be wrong.

Sheen Falls Lodge -- commanding a view over the cascading Sheen waterfall -- has always been a little different, dedicated to top-notch service but offering activities for all the family.

While mum and dad can be pampered to their hearts' content, they can also get their hands dirty -- and learn a few new skills -- along with the kids. This year the hotel has teamed up with the people at nearby Eclipse Ireland to offer a family fun package taking in the great outdoors at a decent price.

This is the year of the staycation and Ireland's offering unrivalled value -- so you can live it up for a lot less.

So where does the mud come in? With Eclipse, families and groups are encouraged to bond in a series of team-building activities. Say what you will about a Costa holiday, but you're unlikely to get the chance to go surfboarding -- on land while being pulled along by a powerful quad bike. The man behind Eclipse, Athos Tsiopanin, a Cypriot who fell in love with Ireland and settled here, was inspirational enough to get me, my son and another family group to combine to make a raft and sail it around his man-made lake, overlooked by the stunning mountains of MacGillicuddy Reeks in Kerry.

The results? Laughable. Waist high in water, I strapped bits of wood, pipes and canoes together to make a boat that could take three adults and two kids all of 50 feet around the water. Within seconds, two dads were face-first into the lake, the mum was spinning around on a piece of wood and the kids shrieking with laughter.

But on a day when the sun was splitting through the odd cloud and Carrauntoohil was looking down on us, there was nowhere else in the world that I'd rather be.

If raft building (and tumbling into water) isn't your thing, you can learn archery in a morning or afternoon of lessons, go pony trekking, try to catch one of Athos's 500 brown trout in his man-made lake, go orienteering or learn how to build bridges and weave through electrified puzzles. There's something for everyone.

And the best thing? A sense of fulfilment -- and a long hot bath back in Sheen Falls, who'll pick you up after a day's events.

If you had to recommend a hotel to a first-timer from America or someone back in Dublin, it's the place you'd go for. The rooms are big -- American big -- with views to die for. Bang and Olufsen TVs, bathrooms that are bigger -- no kidding -- than some city apartments I've stayed in and service that makes you feel like a friend, not just a guest.

Even when it's busy, the hotel is big enough to feel unrushed. The pool area and gym never seem to get packed, and there's a good chance you'll have the Jacuzzi to yourself. You can be pampered in the intimate spa or hit the tennis court.

The Cascade Restaurant is renowned. Many of the staff are French, so it always boasts a continental air. If you get there for breakfast, try to bag a table near the windows.

The old summer home of the Marquis of Lansdowne, the hotel is set on 300 picturesque acres of beautiful countryside. If you want to explore, you're in luck as Kenmare is arguably Ireland's most beautiful and buzzing town. Florry Batt's pub is an old-fashioned bar where you can talk about the football with the locals (the owner is a true Kerryman -- his wife's Cork colours also adorn the walls). Across the road is the good-value Prego Italian restaurant, while Jam is one of the nicest delis/bakeries in the land for lunchtime grub.

Foregoing the foreign holiday? Treat yourself to a slice of Kerry life -- and dine and sleep like a VIP.