Planning a holiday with the family in Ireland? PETER AND ANN FROST suggest thirteen lucky reasons why you and the family will love a holiday in the Emerald Isle.
There are a whole bunch of reasons for taking a holiday in Ireland. The main one is the beautiful countryside with mountains, lakes and miles of rugged coastline.
Another reason to try Ireland is the warmth of the greeting you are sure to get from the friendliest people in the world.
Add to that some great pubs, Mostly more than happy to welcome families for good food and often live music too. Evening entertainment is usually too late for children but many pubs offer traditional music sessions at lunchtime.
1. Victorian Monorail, Listowel, Kerry.
Unique. Yes really, the only Lartigue Monorail left in the world. Designed by a Frenchman, inspired by a camel saddle, created to cross the Sahara. It was actually built between Listowel and Ballybunion in boggy Kerry.
Today it’s the best big boy’s and girls train set in the world. You can often get a ride on the footplate and at the end of the line you hop out and help to turn the engine on the curious points that work like a turntable.
There is a little museum that tells the story of this real life Heath Robinson railway and some amazing pictures and film of the railway at its heyday.
2. Gap of Dunloe
This seven mile narrow mountain pass offers beauty to make you gasp. Every twist and turn opens up a new mountain pinnacle or a sparkling valley lake.
You can walk for free, but there are some steep climbs along the way on the narrow road. Many people chose to ride the Gap by bike, bring your own or hire one locally.
Best of all, though the most expensive option, is to do the journey by jaunting car – the Irish name for a four seater pony and trap.
The journey will take two or three hours depending on how often you stop to admire the view.
At the steepest parts you’ll want to get out to help the plucky ponies by lightening the load.
3. Fintown Railway.
The rattling railcars that ran over the narrow gauge railways of rural Ireland were like nothing else anywhere. Motorcars were rare in post-war Ireland and these cheap and cheerful means of transport were the life-blood of many country towns and villages.
Few are left but at Fintown in Donegal you can relive those heady days when organisations like the County Donegal Railway, and the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway ran on over 200 miles of track just in this part of Ireland.
The Fintown Railway runs for a few miles along a beautiful lakeside valley overlooking the clear and sparkling waters of Lough Finn.
4. Newgrange Neolithic Tombs
Ireland isn’t short of old buildings – some very old indeed, but at Newgrange you can actually walk into a Neolithic passage tomb five thousand years old.
This part of the BoyneValley is rich with Neolithic sites but at Newgrange one of the many passage tombs has been restored to how it would have looked when it was built five millennia ago.
That makes it much older than the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, even Stonehenge. Children and adults will marvel and tremble at the atmosphere in the ancient graves but they will talk about nothing else the whole holiday.
5. Westport House
Westport House is the west of Ireland’s biggest tourist attraction and with good reason. Some stately homes can bore kids (and adults) rigid but not this one. Don’t miss the dungeons with their stories of Grace O’Malley Ireland’s Pirate Queen.
Few houses have an exhibition on the history of the house and in the next room a hall of distorting mirrors. Whoever runs this place certainly has a great sense of fun.
There is a small zoo, a log flume and other rides, a train that runs round the grounds and elegant swan pedaloes on the lake.
Best of all you can stay on the campsite in the parkland around the house and walk to all the attractions.
6. The Quiet Man House
In 1951 Hollywood was looking for an archetypical pretty Irish Village to film the Latest John Wayne blockbuster The Quiet Man. They chose Cong in countyMayo and the locals have been talking about nothing else for nearly sixty years.
Our campsite showed the film in a tiny cinema every evening and once you have had a good look around the Quiet Man Museum in town the whole family can dress up in costumes from the film for some really special holiday snaps.
The village also has some fine woodland walks that lead to exciting caves open to brave visitors.
7. Slieve League Cliffs,
Slieve League on Donegal’s rocky and rugged coastline are the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Once you have your caravan on site you can drive your car up the steep and narrow road to the small car park almost on the top of the cliffs.
The views are amazing although at this height you will need to wrap up against the wind even on the warmest days.
Make sure you bring you binoculars for white tailed sea eagles are seen here as well as many other sea birds including the colourful puffin.
8. Killarney’s Lakes so fair
The lakes of Killarney really are as beautiful as you have heard and the best way to see them is from a small open boat. A Vintage bus collected us from our site and returned us to site late afternoon.
We took the open boat across the three lakes under the watchful eye of a local boatman who also showed us the best sites and told us stories of happenings on the lakes.
It’s a real adventure. At one point we had to get out while the boat was manhandled up a strongly flowing river joining two of the lakes.
You can return to Killarney by boat or take a pretty walk back. We decided to come home by Jaunting Car through the Gap of Dunloe.
9 Battle of the Boyne Visitors Centre, Donore, County Meath.
It’s a strange contradiction of history that the most important place for the Orangemen of Northern Ireland is the Battle of the Boyne site in the South while for devout Catholics all over the South their patron saint is buried north of the Border at Downpatrick.
The new museum of the Battle of the Boyne couldn’t have happened even a few years ago but in 2008 Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern invited Ian Paisley south to open the new and impressive Museum at Donore in countyMeath.
High tech exhibits tell the story of the battle and you can walk the actual battlefield site. There are fullsize dioramas showing uniforms and weapons of the time.
10. The Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, Co Wexford.
The ‘Coffin ships’ that left New Ross and many other Irish ports at the time of the famine changed the history of both Ireland and America.
One Irish emigrant who left New Ross in 1848 was Patrick Kennedy, great grandfather of President John F Kennedy.
You can go aboard the ship and discover what it must have been like on these ships. Ponder this; more than half of them were so old and rotten they failed to reach their destination at all.
Life below decks is accurately recreated and character actors bring the sad yet inspiring tales to life. Other exhibits tell you more about the Kennedy family and its Irish origins.
11. The Bog Railway, Clonmacnoise, County Offaly.
The Bog of Allen, one single peat bog, occupies an unbelievable sixth (15%) of the whole land area of Ireland. They still harvest the peat for fuel and horticultural use here.
At Clonmacnoise in countyOffaly a narrow gauge railway will trundle you miles out into the bog to discover a strange landscape that bounces beneath your feet and has curious sundew plants that catch and eat insects.
You can try your hand at hand cutting turfs and listen to he gory stories of the ancient human bodies that emerge from the peat.
Best of all you can enjoy bouncing on the soft and springy peat – its like jumping on the biggest mattress is the world.
12. Dolphins at Dingle. County Kerry
The pretty fishing port of Dingle has a most unusual resident and his name is Fungi. Fungi is a bottle-nosed dolphin that has lived in the waters around this part of Ireland since he arrived as a youngster in 1984.
Boats run by members of the Dingle Boatman’s Association run trips out to see Fungi and his fellow dolphins. These sea mammals are such a regular sight that if you don’t see a dolphin you don’t pay for your trip.
Most of the boats sail from the booking office at the end of the quay and some even offer a chance to hire a wet suit and swim with Fungi.
13. Blarney Castle. County Cork
Visitors flock to Blarney castle – a third of a million last year. There is so much to see and do in the castle and grounds. The main reason all of these visitors come however is to kiss the famous Blarney stone.
Kissing the stone say the people of Blarney, is guaranteed to give you the ‘gift of the gab’. Strangely they say it so convincingly that you might almost thinks they have kissed the stone themselves.
Getting to the stone takes effort. Climb the 30 metre and steep staircase to the ramparts – the views are fantastic. Then lean over backwards right out over the walls – for which you’ll need a good head for heights. Only then do you get to kiss the stone.
Job done, you’ll notice a new eloquence to your language and before you know it you will be writing features like this.
Versions of this article have appeared in a number of magazines.