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Keeping the kids happy in Ireland

Kids. You bring them to a stunning landscape, gaze out at the mystic sunset and all they want to know is why there are no jet planes, lasers or unicorns flying across it.

Don’t worry, we’re way ahead of you. Ireland knows exactly how to impress little beady eyes, and how to tire out tiny pattering feet. We’ve sussed out some of the best places to amuse the little ones and soothe the parents.

Up in the trees

As a young ‘un myself in the 80s, I thought paddle boats were the height of sophistication. But now navigable routes have reached new heights, including a 300-metre-long tree canopy walk at Lough Key Forest Park, which stands 9m above woodland. The audio trail provides the park’s history, highlighting the flora and fauna before entering the 19th-century underground tunnels and finally reaching the top of the 5-storey Moylurg viewing tower.

If you’d rather keep your feet on solid ground, Lough Key’s outstanding County Roscommon location will make the entire day fairly easy on the eyes, so enjoy some old-fashioned sightseeing in the grounds, attempt Boda Burg (a 47-room obstacle course) and order the children to frolic in the playground, Adventure Kingdom.

The Aisling Project from Ballymun, Dublin said:

A magical place – we all love it – it was great fun. The staff was excellent to us. The children learned a lot about the history & love the Boda Borg – we’ll be back again!

To infinity and beyond

Planetariums are fantastic for aspiring astronauts whether they’re from the Buzz Aldrin or Buzz Lightyear space school. Armagh Planetarium has taken educational trips to another level with its Digital Theatre projecting images taken by the Hubble Telescope and creating a 3D space-age experience. Your space cadets might have played on astro-turf but surely they’ve never seen an Astro Park? Stroll among the (stainless steel) planets and keep walking to the top of the hill and you’ll have reached the outer edges of the Universe. Yes it’s that easy! And what future space explorer doesn’t want to launch his/her own rocket? It’s a basic physics lesson disguised in explosive fun.

So many museums…

One of my favourite museums is the Natural History Museum in Dublin city. It’s full of stuffed animals and dinosaurs – what’s not to like?

The National Decorative Arts and History Museum is at Collins Barracks, a former army base in Dublin 7. Mum of two, Emily O’ Sullivan, couldn’t recommend it more:

Dragging small children around museums can be a tough call, but the Heritage Trail at Collins Barracks fires their imagination and really gets them involved in the whole experience. You can pick up pens and a work sheet at the front desk, and off they go, trying to find the objects marked on the trail. Our little boy got a huge kick out of the Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition and enjoyed learning about the museum’s history as an army barracks – the pictures inside really bring it to life; our little girl, meanwhile, settled down to draw pictures of what she’d seen in the Activity Area. Best of all, the museum’s massive central square provides all the space they need to burn off some energy after all that culture!

This is only the beginning of museums and galleries suitable for junior learners. Whatever aspect of Irish culture and heritage, modern or historic, we’ve got a museum to cover it.

Maritime matters can be explored at the Titanic themed TITANICa, Titanic Belfast and Cobh Heritage Centre. Step back in time on New Ross’s Dunbrody Famine Ship, Dan O’Hara’s Heritage and History Centre, the Irish National Heritage Park and Wicklow’s Historic Gaol. Make sure to avail of free entry into all our National Museums too.

Ahaarr me hearties…

Captain Jack Sparrow is single-handedly responsible for reviving pirate love amongst the young and old. While the old must contend with Jonny Depp’s stellar performance, the young can indulge in some themed fun at Pirate Adventure Park in Westport. Inspired by Ireland’s very own, fearsome pirate queen, Grace O’ Malley, the park is laden with treats, including The Pirate Queen Swinging Ship. The Pirate’s Den isn’t as menacing as it sounds; think of it as a ball pit with soft furnishings. The dungeons may be a little scary but no more so than learning about Ms. O’ Malley’s dastardly deeds. This place is almost two attractions in one as it’s located in the grounds of the beautiful Westport House and Gardens: Grace O’ Malley’s ancestral home.

More outdoor adventures can be had at Fort Lucan; Tayto Park and The Jungle NI.

Some mountain madness

They’ve watched and/or read The Chronicles of Narnia right? Well how about marching them up the Mourne Mountains, the ones that inspired C.S. Lewis’s inner wardrobe world? Local walking guide Loretto Coyle provides “a family walk with a neolithic twist to the top of Slieve Gullion. There are great views from the top and an opportunity to see inside a Court Tomb.”

Or see the mountains from a completely unique mode of transport: mountain boarding. Children as young as seven can hop on a board and beginner’s lessons last two hours, giving them ample to time to learn the basics. Gary Parr from Surfin’ Dirt says “getting people, especially children, to leave after their session can be a problem, everyone wants more!”

And if this isn’t enough mountain mayhem try the Maize Maze at the foot of the Mournes. Eight feet of maize is the main draw but once you arrive you realize they’ve squeezed in go-karts, archery, laser clay, a petting zoo and a barrel train. What’s not to love?

Ireland is crammed with natural beauties to admire and explore such as the Giant’s Causeway, Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry. Or perhaps your children are castle crazy, can’t live without their bicycles or enjoy splashing about doing watersports.

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