Who needs jungle gyms, pet farms or an endless list of mid-term break activities to occupy the kids this week, when you have a ghost ship washed up on the Cork Coastline. This bizarre story of a phantom ship coming ashore as a result of a great storm is the stuff of legends and has captured the imaginations of my kids. The tale of the ghost ship has made headlines throughout the world and how lucky are we that it is on our door step just in time for mid-term break. So this morning, while Craig was having a heated debate with the kids about heading outside and away from screens, he had an idea, bundled the kids into the cars with hiking boots and jackets and headed off in search of the ghost ship.
So where is the ghost ship in Ballycotton?
They walked along the cliff walk from Ballyandreen Beach and viewed the ship from afar. The kids were so excited on their little adventure that they walk along hilly terrain without complaint. Viewing the ship from afar they were mesmerised by the site of this old battered ship on the rocks bringing the legend to life. Once back on the beach they were too excited to go home and splashed and played about the rock pools on this cold February morning as if it was a balmy July afternoon.
While it is too dangerous to get anywhere close to the vessel, the fact that is marooned in this position out of reach only serves to romanticise the mystery that shrouds it further. So please do not go anywhere near the vessel or put you and your family in harm’s way, leaving it be the bit harmless fun it is. However, that said, if you are looking for something to do with the kids this mid-term. I can highly recommend the hike if the weather is fine just put on wellies and old clothes as it is mucky and beware it can be windy. It is not suitable for buggies or toddlers on foot. It is completely free and how likely are they every going to encounter a phantom ship again. We have had such great discussions about the latter over the last few days that I know this will be a memory that they will recall forever.
Children’s Afternoon Tea for a Special Celebration
Children’s Afternoon Tea Cork
My first baby turned 12 last weekend and we wanted to mark this special occasion with a few close friends so we were delighted to take Vienna Woods up on their offer of their Children’s Afternoon Tea. Twelve is a difficult age to find an activity that they will enjoy with a group and it was only while there that I realised how perfect this activity was for both Saoirse and I. So we got all dressed up in our glad rags and headed off to Vienna Woods on Saturday evening to enjoy this much raved about Children’s Afternoon Tea in Cork. We were pleasantly surprised to enter our own little private area dressed beautifully for afternoon tea with balloons and all. We were greeted by a most enthusiastic and friendly waiter who could not do enough for us. He had great banter with the children so much his character added to the whole experience.
The hot chocolate was served in beautiful china to the children’s delight and when their afternoon tea platters were served they were too excited to know where to start. The wonderful thing about afternoon tea is you have plenty of time to eat, chat, take a break and eat again. While the ham sandwiches were lovely it was the nutella sandwiches that went down a treat as this is something they never get a home. For Saoirse and I, as coeliac, we were really spoilt for choice with gorgeous sandwiches on fresh bread, scones and plenty of sweet treats (not just your usual brownie selection….)
It was a wonderful opportunity just to relax, chill out and enjoy the chat around the table. We left or little threenager at home and had a real girlie evening (bar Thomas, who by the way enjoyed it as much as the girls) with some friends. As Saoirse moves into a new chapter in her life it made me realise that this is not a time for mourning my little baby but a new and exciting era where we can both enjoy such evenings together as opposed to me watching her from the table of a jungle gym or standing under a tree as she climbs.
The only phone in the room was mine and it quickly disappeared so I could join in the giggles and sample all the delicious treats. Now that is saying alot for an activity for this age. We all had such fun and after I explained the history of afternoon tea in the luxurious surroundings they felt very grand indeed! I had mentioned afternoon tea to Saoirse before and she was not too bother but now she wants to know when we can go again.
Afternoon Tea is really more an experience than just a meal and Vienna Woods have all the ingredients for a really sumptuous and special day out and I would say tops my list for Children’s Afternoon Tea in Cork.
Cork on Ice is one of our favourite family Christmas traditions and while we normally go on 27th December this year we went a little later just after new year and I must say it was much more enjoyable as the crowd was smaller and it was more relaxed. In particular the beginner area was much quieter which is very important if you are nervous with the smallies like me.
This year was Lonán’s first time taking to the ice and as Frozen mega fan she was all excited. They had cute little skates for her age (aged 3) which were very safe and allowed her to walk as normal on the ice. While she had fun, she only lasted about half an hour before giving up for the all important hot chocolate and tempting crepes.
The older ones (10,11) loved flying around the larger rink and it’s amazing to see how confident they are on the ice after the annual visit over the last few years. The time slot was 50 mins which is a perfect amount of time as they were just getting tired. The new location of centre park road is very central and the parking is excellent. All in all a most enjoyable experience and we are hoping to return for saoirse’s birthday in a couple of weeks.
Review of Jack and The Beanstalk at The Everyman Palace
Review of Jack and The Beanstalk
This year The Everyman Palace propelled the well-loved fairytale of Jack and The Beanstalk into the 21st century with its vortex to another universe, star wars characters, a mad scientist and its many cultural and social references to The Young Offenders, Tick Toc, Corkonians and much more. We were delighted to be invited along to prepare a review of Jack and the beanstalk from our family experience.
While the performance has plenty of laughs, it’s main strengths lies in the special effects. These captured the imagination in particular of the younger ones with beans growing from a well to a large beanstalk, a fantastic giant and a large lovable Corkonian Goose. If you have smaller children, this is the panto for you. The Everyman Palace claim to be Cork’s Favourite Panto and throughout the performance you will always be reminded that this is a panto produced and performed by proud Corkonians for Corkonians.
It was full of all your usual Panto traditions while cleverly embracing the 21st century. Overall Jack and the Beanstalk is a fun-for-all show with plenty of entertaining mayhem, musical numbers and a lot of positive energy. The favourite saying in our house at the moment is “Give me Peace, Love and Chakras.
Panto Cork Opera House 2019 – Peter Pan
Panto Cork Opera House 2019
It is that most wonderful time of the year again and Panto always kick starts our celebrations in this house as it is ideal for a night out during the cold winter days to come. Following on from the box office record breaking successful Aladdin last year in The Cork Opera House we eagerly awaited Peter Pan, Panto Cork Opera House 2019 and we were not disappointed.
While the traditional story of the adventures of a boy who never grew up, Wendy, Tinkerbell and of course captain hook was apparent, the original storyline and its characters were merely embodied in one-line gags. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so much. Nanny Nellie was outstanding and Smee, Captain Hook’s Sidekick, certainly gave her a run for her money. During the sing off between Captain Hook and Nanny Nellie, I managed to take a breath to notice many of the audience wiping tears from their eyes!
Featuring jokes involving local characters and political reference in the tradition of the pantomime society to entertain the adults, there were also many social and musical jokes especially for the younger audience and my ten year old boy was falling out of his chair at times in laughter. In today’s world of screens and technology it was a wonderful to see him enjoy such an art performed and staged as its professional best and I know I will have an eager panto buddy for many years to come.
The special effects and set really brought the show to life. While Peter Pan and the Darling Children flew over the London skyline, Nanny Nellie took to the skies in a car with spectacular impact. From the choreography, to the singing, to costuming and stage setting, the show was mesmerising. It was truly a brilliant production. Alot of dates before Christmas are sold out but the team at The Cork Opera House have confirmed that there are many dates still available in January so don’t miss out, it could be the best €27.50 (Family Pass €90-€120) you’ll spend on any kind of fun this Christmas.
Top Holiday Destinations in Ireland – Kenmare, Co. Kerry
Top Holiday Destinations in Ireland
“Escape the Living” is the tagline used by Kenmare town to describe itself and I cannot think of words more apt to describe it as there is a holiday atmosphere in Kenmare 24/7, 365 days a year. There is a buzz whatever the weather and you will find art, culture, a unique charm and our true Irish heritage around every corner. It was the first town to be awarded Heritage Town of Ireland and its natural beauty is inherent in that the north of Kenmare is home to Killarney’s National Park while the town itself is nestled into the beautiful Kenmare Bay.
Kenmare is one of my Top Holiday Destinations in Ireland for many years now so I was thrilled when The Kenmare Bay Hotel invited me to write a review on their holiday lodges that are very popular with families. We stayed here a few years ago in the hotel so we knew we would not be disappointed.
Family Friendly Accommodation
The Kenmare Bay Hotel is located at the edge of Kenmare town. There is a path that will take you directly to town and it is very safe for the kids. I would suggest leaving your car at the hotel as this is only a short walk (approx. 5 mins) and it can be hard to find parking in Kenmare town itself.
The Kenmare Bay Hotel have family rooms in the hotel but on this occasion we stayed in The Lodges and went self-catering. The lodges themselves are gorgeous and had all the comfort and luxury of a hotel room but with the added space and convenience of self-catering. I was really impressed with the kitchen as we had everything from coffee machine to American style freezer and even kiddie cutlery and plates etc. The picnic table in the patio area was perfect for dining outdoors and the beck garden was enclosed and very secure.
We were in a two bedroom lodge, so the three kids were in one bedroom. The two older ones were in a large double split into twins, and Lonán was on a pull out couch. They were thrilled to find they had a TV in their room as we don’t have this at home and it was a real novelty as well as the ensuite bathroom. Our own bedrooms was also very spacious and the décor was fabulous. The living and kitchen area is huge and the sitting area was lovely and cosy to relax in, in the evenings with a glass of wine.
Family Friendly Activities
Our favourite feature of The Kenmare Bay Hotel was the swimming pool as this is where you will really notice the family welcome. We must of went here four or five times during our visit and each time the pool staff were supervising and would bring out toys (watering cans, ducks, balls) noodles, dive sticks and even inflatables. There was a small slide and goal posts so it is a great pool to play in. The baby pool was very big and the main pool was extra-large with plenty of room for everyone. When the pool did get very busy I noticed the life guards would take their seat on their perch so it was clear to see safety was paramount. The box of arm bands for those who forgot their own was a thoughtful facility as it can very easily happen and be quite frustrating to have to buy a new pair when you have a perfectly good pair at home. If there was an award for the best family friendly hotel swimming pool The Kenmare Bay Hotel would win it hands down for me.
Other family friendly facilities onsite include an excellent outdoor playground that is enclosed and very secure. The playground equipment was very modern and there was something to suit all ages with plenty of seating. Guests can also make use of the playroom on the second floor but this would be more for younger children and toddlers.
The kids club is located in a purpose built room with cooking facilities, perfect for their regular baking classes. My two signed up for this and Saoirse was delighted as they offer gluten free flour for coeliac as standard so she got to make brownies too. What impressed me here the most was how knowledgeable they were about gluten free which put Saoirse and I at great ease. They also had a craft to make in this session. The crafts were fun and interesting with the team members guiding the children through every stage. It was almost like an art class. In the evening they tend to do a messy craft alongside the activity assigned. It is easy to see that this kids club is well planned out with full time staff offering a real quality kids club experience rather than just a standard babysitting service.
Family Friendly Activities Nearby in the Top Holiday Destinations in Ireland
With plenty to do onsite and the town to explore you won’t have time for much else but if you do get an opportunity to head out I would recommend taking a drive to enjoy some of the amazing scenery in and around Kenmare.
The drive to Killarney is gorgeous and along this road you will find Kissane Sheep Farm, a Large Mountain Sheep Farm. The Farm is situated in The Killarney National Park. The famous panorama of Moll’s Gap is in the middle of the land, overlooking the farm and its animals. You can visit the Farm, see Sheep Dog Demonstrations & during the summer to also see the Sheep Shearing Demonstration. In the spring time there is an opportunity to see the many baby lambs that will be born on the Farm. Since they are a busy working farm they only open to the public for demonstration purposes so just check times and dates before you strike off.
Kenmare is home to a true hidden gem, Gleninchaquin Park. Gleninchaquin Park is a park like no other in that it provides breath-taking landscapes and scenery. There are streams with log bridges, mountain paths with carved steps, through rock passages, along glens and lakes to higher altitude. Not to mention the spectacular rock face waterfall. While it is a magnificent day out for a walking enthusiast it is also a magical place for families as there is plenty for the kids to see and if you are lucky like we were the last time we visited we bottle fed some baby lambs. This is a perfect picnic spot and there is even a BBQ area. The kids will love the freedom as well as the interaction with livestock every now and again. I discovered this place many years ago and I am raving about it ever since. The views are so amazing they will even silence the children.
On this visit I discovered another hidden gem on the road from Kenmare to Kilgarvan, The Kilgarvan Motor Museum. We saw a sign post and followed it not expecting to discover a large shed that housed the most impressive private collection of vintage cars.
Craig and Thomas are passionate about cars and were blown away at the sheer quality as well as quantity of vintage cars. There must have been 60 or more cars on show from Model TT’s to Porsche and everything in between including American Cars.
While the collection was impressive enough, the owner, John really made the visit for us. He was extremely knowledgeable and engaged in an in depth discussion for over an hour about the cars and their history. Thomas was enthralled, Craig was in his element and even I learned a thing or two.
The photographs and memorabilia of including that of the last Cork Grand Prix in 1938 is what caught my eye and again John offered great insights into this. Many of the cars had a story to tell including a Rolls Royce that was used in world war two and the body work had to be replaced due to bullet holes as a result of a skirmish.
Craig promised Thomas that he will take them back on a day trip over the winter and I don’t know if it is more for himself than Thomas. Follow the signpost from Kilgarvan, it is about 2 miles outside the town. For more information Click Here!
Dining at The Kenmare Bay Hotel
On our first evening we dined in the hotel itself in their restaurant not only because it is easy after the journey down and unpacking but also it is very family friendly. I was delighted to see the kids play corner that had been there on a previous visit, a facility I have yet to see repeated. It is a neat little corner tucked away in the restaurant with plenty of toys, games and books to suit every child. I loved that families are placed around the immediate area of the play area and couples and other guests without children and further away so you do not feel you are disrupting anyone.
The children menu was very well thought out with Buzz Light-year and Frozen themed food options to name just a few. Lonán’s Olaf the Snowman dessert went down a treat so much so that she looks for it in every restaurant since.
It was easy to see that the waiting staff were very family friendly and patient with children not only from our own service but I noticed when they brought menus to a table they also brought age appropriate toys for babies and toddlers that would not make their own way to the play area without even being asked.
The following morning, we went up to the hotel for breakfast and we were delighted to be able to have a relaxed breakfast in peace. Lonán ate a big breakfast quickly and without complaining on the promise that she could run off and play. Now we could enjoy a nice long coffee. I must say if you have babies or toddlers this is the perfect restaurant to reintroduce you to the world of dining out. However, my older two picked up books and other bits to play with at the table also.
Kenmare really is a foodie town with plenty of eateries of every style to choose from. On our second evening we decided to walk into town with the kids to wander around the shops, go for dinner and walk back to the hotel after a little glass of wine or two. We came across the The Lime Tree Restaurant on a previous visit as the building is gorgeous and it sits in such a picturesque setting in the town itself so we were excited to try it out. We must have spent 10 minutes pottering and watching the chef picking herbs in the garden before we went in.
The kids were in such a relaxed form after the walk and wander around the shops so we could enjoy the gorgeous décor and sumptuous surroundings. There was something to look at in every nook and cranny and the restoration of this building was something to behold. We knew at this stage that the food would not disappoint. That and the fact the restaurant filled up very fast.
A lot of the ingredients are locally sourced and very well presented. The choices for the children were excellent and as coeliac, Saoirse and I were spoiled for choice. The food was superb and probably one of the best dinners out for some time. I enjoyed the house wine so much that I took the name down to try again.
We were too full for dessert but had to try it as we knew it would be excellent and they had Gluten Free Apple Crumble which is a rarity. It was worth the pain even if I could not finish it.
We were slow to leave as we were enjoying the relaxed surroundings and atmosphere and could have easily sat here for the night. The Lime Tree Restaurant certainly makes it to my top ten family friendly restaurants in Ireland. When you are self-catering it is nice to splash out on one really nice dinner and this restaurant is a special treat.
The only downside I would have is that the playroom was a bit small and could do with a little seating area for parents to enjoy a coffee and paper while the kids potter and may be toys for older children.
The lodges of The Kenmare Bay Hotel offer all the luxury and comfort you would desire in a hotel break with the convenience of space, privacy and self-catering. Kenmare town, a world class destination coupled with the family orientated swimming pool, kids club and playground of The Kenmare Bay Hotel makes the perfect partnership for a fantastic family break and worthy of the accolade of Top Holiday Destinations in Ireland.
An Eco-Friendly Family Retreat in the Slieve Aughty Mountains of Co. Galway
Eco Friendly Holidays Ireland
In recent years we have seen a noticeable shift in thinking, not only from accommodation providers, but from tourists seeking Eco Friendly Holidays in Ireland, looking to lower their carbon footprint and this sustainable travel movement has piqued my interest as well as the growing desire amongst many families to seek a restful retreat whereby we can connect with nature and enjoy all the benefits of healthy living.
With this in mind and the fact that I always love to find something unique that suits our sense of adventure, I was thrilled when we were offered to stay in The Slieve Aughty Centre for a few nights in order to write this review. It is a welcome respite from the daily activities, school runs, matches, schedules, appointments, homework, internet, tablets never mind their busy social lives!
Nestled in 2,000 acres of state owned forestry in County Galway, minutes from the main Portumna to Loughrea Road, The Slieve Aughty Centre is the perfect place for those looking to combine eco-friendly with luxury leading the way in Eco Friendly Holidays Ireland.
Family Friendly Accommodation
The purpose built sustainable boutique-style hotel is beautifully decorated and offers elegant comfort in their 9 large rooms, 7 of which have access to the shared balcony with stunning views of the forest, gardens and fields as well as eco lodges, glamping and camping options.
The family room we stayed in was the largest family room I have stayed in to date and had a large double and three more single beds spaced out across the room with plenty of storage and even room for a cot and a seating area. In keeping with their Eco ethos and policies, there are no televisions in the rooms and Wi-Fi access is only available in public areas. This did not bother us in the slightest as we were rarely in the room but always drawn outdoors even into the late evenings. They have a coffee/tea station in the bar which all guests are welcome to use throughout the day as they do not have this facility in the room.
The eco lodges themselves have a real enchanted fairy tale feel as a result of the quaint cosy décor, ladders, stoves and loft spaces. Each have their own outside eating area as well as kitchen and seating area indoors. The Chalet De Florence can accommodate a family of six as it has a double cosy room in the loft, and two sets of bunk beds in the room downstairs with room for a cot also.
The huts offer a cosy glamping experience and are suitable for families of three and four and again they have a Hansel and Gretel feel. The playground hut is just off the playground and could be magical if you have a little toddler that likes to play all day. Each of the huts have a small kitchenette area and again outside seating.
If you have your own tent they have an area for campers and also while we were there, they were very open to campers pitching up in other areas like the organic kitchen garden and the formal garden area.
For campers, while they do not offer electrical sites their toilet and shower facilities were superb as I often used them while we chilled for hours outdoors.
Family Friendly Activities
You can get a real sense that this is a family run centre and that a lot of thought and effort has been put into welcoming families. Everything from the playground, games room to the arts and craft room offer a rustic, natural and traditional feel. The arts rooms is exquisitely equipped with a huge array of materials and crafts to inspire. It is housed in an old farm building and the décor has maintained this feel. There have an open garage with outdoor kiddie tractors, carts, trailers and buggies where Thomas spent most of his days moving from one item to the next. All the play areas are housed around the main stables where all day long the daily duties of this working farm took place so I found myself sitting, reading my book on the wooden veranda, pausing to watch the world go by as the children moved through these activities at their ease. Now that’s what I call a retreat.
The Slieve Aughty Centre is also an award winning equestrian centre and horses are an integral part of daily life. On our first morning the children enjoyed a pony ride down to the enchanted forest. As if the pony ride was not excitement enough, they stopped at the enchanted forest along the way. All levels of riders are catered for and because our children were beginners they were guided so it is very safe.
The Enchanted Forest is the reason I first discovered the Slieve Aughty Centre as many of our followers spoke of this magical woodlands with the most detailed and beautiful fairy trail in such natural landscape. This is no man made fairy village but definitely an original habitats with historic origins. It was truly magical. Lonán was so in awe she barely came down from our arms. Even Thomas was quite taken and loved the discovery and playful element of it all. Alongside the fairies live witches, trolls and gnomes as well streams, wishing trees and much much more. Before we departed that day each of the kids received an Enchanted Forest Pack including a forest map, wishing tree hanger and fairy dust so we could make our wishes and blow our fairy dust along the way. You can visit the centre and enjoy this activity as a daily guest on its own for €5 per person and €10 for a pony ride to the gate.
For lunch we enjoyed a picnic, but again, this was no ordinary picnic. The Three Towers Organic Restaurant prepared a most delightful gluten free picnic packed full of organic produce and plenty of goodness from the organic kitchen garden. Our donkey companion, John Willy, then took us on a stroll along another woodland trail through the forest and to the donkey picnic field so we could enjoy our picnic deep in the countryside yet only a 30 minute walk from the centre. You can go back at this stage or follow some more trails through the forest with the maps provided depending on what suits you best. The food was delicious and so much so that the children devoured some very healthy ingredients that I am sure would normally think twice about. This activity was probably the highlight of our summer as the children really enjoyed walking with the donkey and I must say I adored the peace of it all.
Other activities on site included cycling, nature trails and walking trails but to be honest we were so chilled at this stage that we were happy to sit back and just enjoy the centre for the remainder of our stay. Walkers can enjoy glorious trails right from the front door. You can wander up and down to the enchanted forest and through the organic kitchen gardens as much as you want. We did this a few more times over the stay when the children became restless as you would never tire of the enchanted forest and each time we visited we always seemed to discover something new.
Family Friendly Activities Nearby
While there is plenty to keep us occupied in the centre we did head out to explore further once or twice. Portumna was only a 20 mins drive, there was a small shop and petrol station approx. 5 mins drive away and Loughrea town is about a 15 mins drive. The lake in Loughrea is very popular for swimming on a warm day and Turoe Pet Farm is about a 20 mins drive away. Turoe Pet Farm boosts Europe’s largest indoor bouncy castle and my two older ones adored it. It is exceptionally clean as open farms go and plenty to do both inside and out even working as a rainy day activity with the bouncy castle alone. Each child received a bag of animal food on arrival so they could feed the animals as they go and the animals were well trained to spot that bag a mile away, making his way to it delighting the children. Furthermore they offer plenty of gluten free hot meals for kids.
The Irish Workhouse Centre, Heritage Council Winner 2017, 2018 & 2019, is located in Portunmna which we had planned to visit but we were just two busy chilling out at the centre and decided to leave it for another trip. However, if you do have time it is meant to be good for the older kids.
Dining at Slieve Aughty Centre
The Three Towers Organic Restaurant is one of two organic certified restaurants in Ireland and the only one in the west of Ireland. They use certified organic ingredients and a special effort is made to ensure the use of local suppliers, as well as ingredients from their own certified organic garden. With creativity and a passion for organic food, their aim is to offer delicious, healthy meals using only natural and organic ingredients.
Both breakfast and evening meal is buffet style with plenty of choice and the gluten free porridge in the morning was so delicious that I finally converted Saoirse to a porridge eater after 11 years. Each morning I enjoyed avocado and fresh tomatoes from the garden with gorgeous local cheese and it made a welcome change to the usual fry up that is offered in hotels. The children enjoyed eggs and organic chocolate spread on toast.
Lucky for us we were staying on a Friday night which is Pizza Night at The Three Towers Restaurant. A wide array of pizza toppings were laid out around the outdoor pizza oven and we each were provided with a pizza base (including gluten free) so we could make our own pizza ready to cook in the stone oven. This was my favourite night as the children loved it. The atmosphere was so relaxing yet party like in the outdoor seating area and the pizzas were delicious. Locals, guests and team members of the Slieve Aughty Centre spread out to enjoy the feast in a friendly relaxed setting where friends and strangers chatted amicably. We stayed here for the evening enjoying a few glasses of wine and craft beers as the children pottered about. The restaurant was full this evening and it is only a testimony to their fabulous food and setting as most were locals who are lucky enough to have such a wonderful experience on their own doorstep. For those of you with a large appetite you will be please to know that you can go up for seconds however very few required it. The pizza night costs €12 per adult and €6 per child and it will be a long time before I see value like this again.
On our first day we stopped in Portumna on the way to Slieve Aughty and enjoyed an Indian in Modena Restaurant in the town itself. It had excellent choices for Coeliacs and a lovely kids menu. While Thomas opted for a burger, Saoirse and Lonán enjoyed a gorgeous Indian curry. As Indian food fans both Craig and I loved it and could thoroughly recommend it.
On another day, when we visited Loughrea, we popped into Maggie May’s for a bite to eat. They have seating downstairs in the bar or restaurant style seating upstairs. I must say it was a very relaxed option for a bite to eat with plenty of lovely choices for the kids. Most importantly our food didn’t disappoint.
Downsides is one of my normal blog headings but this time I struggled to find one. All I can say is that is it’s really a holiday for those who enjoy the outdoors and a laid back feel. Children potter amongst the activities provided and make their own fun and if you are looking for fast food you won’t find it here (even though we have one fussy eater and got on fine).
The honesty shop and honesty book in the bar, where you write in what you helped yourself to, provides an idea for how they perceive their patrons. We were not customers, patrons or even your usual guests but rather “a family visitor” if there is such a term. It’s a magical place to holiday with kids, surrounded by picturesque views and wandering wildlife, where gazing at the stars around the fire pit is as stressful as it gets.
As a certified Ecotourism provider, its green credentials include: More than 1 acre of vegetables and fruits are sourced on the property, grown without pesticide or herbicide, additional fruits and vegetables, cheese and free-range eggs are locally sourced and organic (when possible), more than 90% of purchased products are certified organic, food waste is composted, the main building is a beautiful example of functional, comfortable sustainability in practice with lots of windows for natural lighting, low flow taps and toilets, efficient lighting features, puraflo peat filtration wastewater system, and eco-foam insulation, biomass burning boiler for heating, the centre uses only 24 wheelie bins per year and plans to decrease waste generation annually, eco-friendly cleaners are used for all cleaning and clothes washing, washing is air dried 95% of the time, rainwater is collected for use in the stables and garden and wastewater is treated with a natural puraflo peat moss treatment system.
So as you can see from the above efforts long before eco-tourism and reducing our carbon footprint became trendy, The Slieve Aughty Centre were leading the way in Eco Friendly Holidays in Ireland and today are prime example for us all. This place is certainly people, nature, community and environment before profit without scrimping on any of the luxury and standards that we all desire from a family holiday.To find out more click here!
A Family Break in Dublin
Dublin is a fantastic city for a family breaks because like many cities there is so much to do but Dublin City is unique in that it offers a lot for families in a small geographically area. Our children love the hustle and bustle of this busy capital and look forward to a trip every so often. We have not been in a couple of years so with the opening of the new and exciting Explorium, National Sports and Science Centre, we decided to head off.
I have previously stayed in The Castleknock Hotel amongst others and decided to return here for a number of reasons, namely location, service, facilities and most importantly the family rooms. The hotel is located in Castleknock just off the M50 and very easy to find following google maps. We prefer a hotel on the fringes of the city centre for parking and it is easier to find your way around. The rooms sizes and prices are also always more favourable. It’s not as if we need to be close to the nightlife these days so The Castleknock is more convenient for our needs as a family. It’s location in relation to some of Dublin’s main family attractions is perfect. Go back onto the M50 and go north to Tayto Park (approx 25 mins) or head south the Imaginosity (approx 20 mins), Explorium (approx 25 mins) and Dundrum Shopping Centre (approx 25 mins). Fort Lucan is only a 7 minute drive while Dublin Zoo is only a 10 minute drive as Castleknock is situated just behind Phoenix’s Park. You will actually enter the back of the Phoenix Park thus avoiding the city centre.
In fact Phoenix Park is so close that we took a walk here on our first evening to stretch the legs and the kids were excited to spot Mr. D’s pad. We found a gorgeous restaurant/pub called Hole in The Wall just outside one of the side gates (Blackhorse Avenue Gate). It has such charming decor, outside seating and plenty of space for families. The children’s options were excellent. Saoirse got the kid’s chicken curry and rice and I was sorry I did not get it myself even though my salmon dish was divine. Thomas got battered fish and chip which was a half portion of the adults option and Craig was very pleased with his steak. It is a very relaxed place for kids and very reasonable as the kids got a drink and dessert all for €10.
When we returned to The Castleknock Hotel we were not surprised to see quite and few families around the lobby area having a drink or some food as it really is one of Dublin’s top child friendly hotels. You can see evidence of how they pride themselves on being family friendly throughout the hotel. From the table at reception with directions to all the top family attractions, offers of board games for the rooms, to the table with sun cream and hand wipes at the door to the outdoor area. However, it is the facilities such as the swimming pool and the playground which make you feel really welcome as a family. The pool area is beautiful and there are two little pools for the small ones but best of all it was a very warm pool so much so that you would notice it.
There is a large seating area just off the bar and restaurant and the playground sits adjacent to it. This was perfect for dining as the kids could play while we were waiting for our food and after dinner we squeezed in a little glass of wine while they were busy playing. It’s a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee after breakfast in the morning also!
With any family break I always feel that the room size is most important as if it’s too small you can get somewhat claustrophobic. The Castleknock Hotel prides themselves on their family rooms and their rooms have recently undergone a refurbishment. They are an excellent size and they have options for up to 5 in one room very comfortably or interconnecting rooms which we had. The decor is very stylish, there is no scrimping on luxury for size.
The kids received goodie bags on arrival so they felt extra special and in that were our passes to Dublin Zoo as they were included in the package we were booked under. They also have a summer package including Tayto park passes. The goodie bags are handy for taking with you on your day out as they included little treats and water.
We were very excited to check out Explorium and were not disappointed. The National Science and Sports centre contains more than 300 exhibits spanning 110,000 sq ft near Sandyford. Our top favourites were the G-force anti-gravity loop where Craig was harnessed into a bicycle and rotated 360 degrees on a circular track, the lightning room where we learned how it is made and saw a lightning show and Movie world where Saoirse got to try out to try out the different tricks and techniques that can be used to craft a piece of video content. In the Senses exhibit, visitors will be able to test their sensory abilities compared to animals with extraordinary abilities, exploring bio-electricity, magneto-reception and thermos-reception. In the sports area you can try scaling dizzy heights with climbing, caving in Ireland’s longest indoor cave, experience a formula one race and so much more. They even had a section for little ones with dress up area, make and do, sensory area, climbing, outdoor play area and again many exhibits where they learn through play. There is something for everyone but a day is not enough as they are wrecked after a few hours and our two were keen to get back to the pool in The Castleknock Hotel. I have promised them I will bring them back soon as there is more they want to try out. A family ticket for two adults and two children is €70 for the science centre and well worth it. The climbing or caving is €15 but I would keep this for another day as there is so much to do in the science centre alone.
While we have been to Dublin Zoo a couple times already, the kids were insisting on going again as they love Dublin Zoo even though we go to Fota Wildlife Park regularly. There is always something new to see here and the animals never disappoint especially the Sea Lions and Gorillas. This time around we planned our day in accordance with the talks as our older two are of an age where they learning about conservation and love to ask questions making for a very interesting day. All the zoo keepers gave interesting age appropriate talks and answered every questions with great patience.
As coeliacs we are limited in options for dining in Dublin Zoo and we were in the mood for something more substantial so we had our lunch in The Phoenix Park Cafe just around the corner from the zoo. The Phoenix Park Cafe is really a hidden gem for families. I love it. Here you will find an array of healthy and vibrant salads, freshly baked quiches gorgeous organic coffee roasted in Wicklow. Cakes and slices are baked fresh everyday, and there are plenty of freshly made gluten free options too. What a treat! The outdoor seating area is the courtyard of what seems to be the renovated farm buildings of Ashford Castle and now the visitor centre. It is truly unique.
Right next door is one of Dublin’s largest and in my opinion best playgrounds as well as the old walled Victorian gardens. You could even make a second day in Phoenix Park by renting bikes at the front gate of the park, cycling around and discovering Farmleigh, Áras an Uachtaráin, the resident deer and this area (Ashtown Castle visitor centre).
Back at our hotel we were also very well taken care of in terms of dining as both coeliacs and a family. There are two restaurants, Earth & Vine, their signature restaurant and 22 Bar & Restaurant for casual dining. The Lobby is the hotel patisserie while the Lime Tree Bar is the main bar. We choose the Earth & Vine Restaurant which has been recently refurbished and awarded ‘Best Place to Eat’ for two consecutive years at the Fingal Dublin Business Excellence Awards. The surroundings were very sumptuous and the food only divine. They even had gluten free pizzas for the kids. There is no questioning their credentials as Dublin’s top child friendly hotels with the pancake machine at breakfast causing great excitement in our party and each morning they cooked a gluten free Irish breakfast for Saoirse and I so there was no cross contamination and with gluten free sausages and puddings we were truly spoilt!!
After all that fun we were sad to leave our room at The Castleknock Hotel and Dublin because as usual there was so much more we could have done but we are looking forward to returning sometime soon. I could not fault it as the service was excellent and the welcome we received as a family was very genuine which is why I feel it is one Dublin’s top child friendly hotels. Click the above names to find out more!
Nature Trails at Fota House & Gardens
The gardens at Fota House are truly a hidden gem here in Cork and one of my favourite family fun activities in Cork. They are beautifully preserved (cared for by the OPW) and offer adventure, escape and tranquillity around almost every corner. There are many walkways and trails to discover and you could spend hours lost in amongst the trees, languishing in the open areas or exploring the formal and Victorian walled gardens. All of this is free and there is only a charge of €3 for the car park.
Family Fun Activities in Cork
However, should you wish to add a bit more fun to your day you can buy one of their trail packs for €4 each. They have two to suit both young and older children. We had great fun following the map as children always love map reading and leading the way. While our three were running along, working out which way to go at each juncture, stopping to find little titbits and clues as per the instructions, Craig and I wandered along at our own pace, chatting and enjoying the surroundings. Pure Bliss!!!
We stopped on route at the giant’s chairs for a picnic before continuing along the trail and discovering the Victorian walled gardens, the shed with old tools and the formal gardens. The children were extremely curious and enjoyed the few hours we spent wandering along. I really do think it was the nature trail and activity pack that added that element of structure and fun to our afternoon.
We spent the next hour rolling down the grass hills, playing ball and generally chilling out in the open area just behind the house. As family fun activities in Cork go this one got big thumbs up from me and I am looking forward to trying out their house tour as I believe they have one geared towards children coming shortly!
Glamping in The Garden of Ireland
Best Family Glamping Holidays
Wicklow is known as the ‘Garden of Ireland’ as it boasts many gorgeous grand houses with sumptuous formal gardens such as Kilruddery, Russborough, Avondale and Powers court as well as been home to Ireland’s largest National Parks and the only one located in the east of the country.
I have been keen to explore this part of Ireland for some time now and when I came across Clissmann Horse Drawn Caravans I thought what better way to immerse ourselves in these surroundings but on one of the best Family Glamping Holidays. You have the option to take the horse drawn caravans out on 3, 5, 7 day trips or stay put in their farm a few minutes walk from the Vale of Clara Nature Reserve and we choose just to do that and really switch off!
This is really a holiday about turning off all screens, chilling out in your wellies and getting in touch with nature however we soon discovered it was about we got to spend time enjoying each other’s company too in a way that you often don’t on other holidays that are action packed!!
Family Accommodation in Clissmann Horse Drawn Caravans
The glamping accommodation are beautifully restored gypsy caravans and the attention to detail was superb. The bright colours both inside and out made for a playful and almost nostalgic atmosphere whereby I was remenicing on Wanderly wagon and the kids felt the whole excursion was one big cabby house play.
We had all the usual mod cons for cooking and dining including little luxuries like the all-important coffee plunger but we also had the option of the campers kitchen that was well equipped if we did not want to cook in. There is no electricity in the caravans but we did have gas for cooking and lights. We were provided with a cooler box for refrigeration and we could replenish the freezer packs daily but again there was also the option of fridges in the common areas. There even have laundry facilities for those of you that would be organised enough to wash before you go home.
There were two indoor common rooms for eating and relaxing as well as a play area with both indoors and outdoor toys. For those of you who need some connectivity they also provide free WIFI in these areas. The shower facilities were fresh and contemporary and in keeping with the simple natural feel of the place. All in all I could not fault the common areas and facilities on offer.
Things to at Clissmann Horse Drawn Caravan’s Farm
You are in a very secluded part of the country and in all directions there is countryside to explore. Just a few minutes walk would take you off the farm to the Vale of Clara Nature Reserve which is a 550 acres forest of native Irish trees with three sign-posted loop walks taking in the Avonmore River, the picture-postcard Clara Vale church and hump-back Bridge, the most idyllic setting for a picnic and dipping your toes in the river.
You are encouraged from once you arrive to visit to donkeys and take them treats and they are very sociable animals and love to meet little ones. To do so you will have to take a little walk along the farm and you can even buy special treats at the reception for this. There are many horses around the farm and again we found such neighbours very friendly and curious. In fact on one occasion we had the opportunity to walk through a field of older retired horses and the children were in their element at being so close but yet it was very safe as they were such docile creatures.
We built a campfire most evenings as this was an extremely exciting adventure for our little ones and the best part was spending the afternoon roaming the nearby forests and fields to gather wood. This activity often took a few hours and you would be surprised how far they walk when on a mission. Craig and I loved these hours as we rambled along after the troops. When we finally built our campfire in the evenings we would sit out and be joined by neighbours. It was the perfect way to end any day.
Family Things to Do in Rathdrum and Surrounds.
For such a remote and scenic location you would not believe how close you are to so many attractions and activities. That is if you want to head out for a day. To be honest for research purposes we dragged both ourselves and the kids out only for the bear minimum as we were all enjoying the chill out.
Clara Lara Park is only a 6 mins drive away and Greenan Maze and Farm 30 mins away. However, you want to keep in the nature theme try out Squirrel’s Scramble, an adventure tree park that offers fun for all the family at Killruddery House and Gardens. Glendolough is only 15 mins away and is not only free but well worth an explore. The village of Rathdrum is minutes away and if you only want a short break it has a few shops, pubs and restaurant but the cherry on top is a most fantastic playground with an even better view of the valley.
We ventured out another day and discovered a place called Ballymurrin Farmsted, which is a 17th century quaker settlement and offers a unique insight to a difficulties experienced in Wicklow by Quakers. We have a passion for history so enjoyed the hour we spent here.
On another day we ventured into the town of Greystones which also boosts a fabulous playground, gorgeous shops and cafes. This drive was only 30 mins away. Mount Usher Gardens, with its Avoca Garden Café and Courtyard Shops is situated in the village of Ashford, just a 12 minute drive away and is a great morning or afternoon out also.
On our way home we stopped at Avoca Village (only 30 mins drive) to visit the home of the original weavers mill and have something to eat. The kids enjoyed a small free tour before we headed on route for home.
All in all you do not need to head out much but enjoy chilling out and if you do there is something to do in every directions in minutes!
Places to Eat in Rathdrum and Surrounding Areas
Rathdrum is only a ten minutes drive and here you will find a supermarket with all you need for a few days or Wicklow town is a 30 mins drive for a more extensive shop.
Make sure you plan at least one meal around the open fire some evening as the kids loved this and in particularly mingling with the other other children. A good simple way to do this is sit out by the fire and make using a small portable BBQ cook your meat before eating it around the fire.
Bates Restaurants in the nearby village of Rathdrum have coveted many awards over the years and you must venture out and about at some stage to enjoy a feast there. It is easy to see why they have won many awards and you will be surprised at how busy it is for such a quite village in the middle of the week. I would recommend you book in advance. Bates offer an excellent menu in a very atmospheric old stone building. The food was divine and the children loved to watch the kitchen from behind their high counter meticulously preparing our sumptuous meals. Everything here was about quality, locally sourced and the highest standards produce. The courtyard outside offers a haven after the meal where we could enjoy a final glass of wine while the children played and explored!
Further a field, only a 20 mins drive away is Glenmalure Lodge Restaurant. I can also highly recommend this place. Glenmalure Lodge Restaurant offers exceptional cuisine within an atmospheric old style bar. This is a busy spot and with its majestic views and gorgeous gardens along with the fantastic food it is easy to see why. Nessa had given us a tip to ask about the new baby deer up the back and when we did we were pleasantly surprised to be invited up to visit. Here a young deer rescued in the nearby national park after been abandoned by her mother was been cared for by the lodge owners and in particular by the two resident sheep dogs who were very protective of her. They are often asked to take in these rescues for a period of time before they are old enough and healthy enough to return to their national environment. They also have other animals in their sheds next to the lodge and it was such a pleasant way to end the meal.
I found it very hard to think of one but all I could suggest is a little playground but then you were in the middle of a most natural and scenic playground and Rathdrum Village is only mins away.
Make sure you bring warm PJs as it can get cool in the night but once you have these you are fine. I cannot recommend strongly enough that this is place is all about sitting back, chatting, chilling, laughing, picnics, campfires, wellies, donkeys, nature, adventures and best of all little rambles so don’t waste it! It is a thumps up from me as the best family glamping holidays in Ireland.
What the Kids Said about Clissmann Horse Drawn Caravans
“My favourite part was collecting wood to build the campfire and then having our dinner at the campfire” Saoirse