Family Journeys in Ireland
The Ireland I fell in love with over a decade ago, before I had children, is a country that has continued to call me back, inviting me to bring the kids and explore the magic that lies shimmering on the surface.
When families visit Ireland they often try to “see it all” instead of focusing on a single area for a few days and seeing it well. When I coach families planning their first trip to Ireland, I recommend a slower pace to discover those hidden bits of Ireland that so many miss in the rush of trying to do too much.
Here are some great places to start:
The Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland
The Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland is one of the most dramatic and spellbinding spots in the small country. The Antrim Coast Road is a narrow single carriageway and can be a bit unnerving for those unused to rural Ireland driving. But the prize for your bravery is incredible adventure and views that must be seen to be believed.
Visit the Giant’s Causeway before you make the decision on how they were formed. Will you believe the scientists who say that the miles of octagonal pillars were the result of an underwater volcano or will you side with the Irish folk tale which tells of Finn McCool building a walkway to Scotland?
The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which connects the main land to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. Though a much more sturdy bridge than the fishermen originally used, the crossing is not for the faint of heart (or the very young), as the bridge sways with every footfall and bit of wind.
Also along this route are the beautiful Glens of Antrim, Glenarm Castle in the spectacular Glenarm Forest, the seaside resort town of Ballycastle and the medieval ruins of Dunluce Castle.
And, of course, the route begins –or ends, depending on which way your drive- in Belfast, where the Titanic was built.
Ballyhoura in Ireland’s “Sunny Southwest”
A relatively “unknown” region to many of Ireland’s tourists, Ballyhoura Country covers much of County Limerick and the northern part of County Cork.
Settle in at The Old Bank B&B in Bruff, where the rooms are spacious and you can get family rooms connected with inner doors. From here it is only a few minutes to Lough Gur where incredible history and Irish legends await.
Lough Gur has produced so many archeological discoveries from Bronze Age offerings to megalithic tombs. Ireland’s largest stone circle lies here, as well as smaller circles, standing stones, ring forts and even the entrance to faerie land.
Irish culture is strong here and Rambling Houses can be found throughout the area offering traditional music, dancing and storytelling. Be sure to stop in the small villages as they are filled with history of their own.
The Ballyhoura region offers plenty of outdoor activities and is popular with hill walkers and mountain bikers. You can rent bikes in Kilmallock for a few hours ride. For more adventure visit the Outdoor Activity Center at the Blackwater Castle Estate for kayaking, archery, zorbing, zip line and laser clay pigeon shooting.
For a more relaxing- and adorable walk- visit the Donkey Sanctuary where hundreds of rescued donkeys spend their days. Many of these sweet faced animals arrived sorely neglected and quite ill. After being carefully nursed back to health they wander the fields enjoying the fresh grass and socializing with visitors.
A terrific memento of your visit is an adoption packet; for €20 you can adopt one of the fuzzy beasties for a year and support the sanctuary.
County Offaly in the Center of Ireland
The center of Ireland is often overlooked as so many visitors come for the scenic coastal views. Once called “Kings County”, Offaly is the heart of Ireland, offering families a beautiful mix of art, science, history and culture. Consider staying at Ardmore House in Kinnitty as the hostess, Christine, is a wealth of information on activities and history.
The Slieve Bloom Mountains extend across the county and offer numerous hikes and shorter loop walks, which are perfect for families. To the northwest of the Slieve Blooms are the Lough Boora Parklands. Once a large peat mining area, the land has been reclaimed and is now filled with trails for walking and cycling as well as larger-than-life art installments that share the story of the land through the artists’ eyes. Bring some bits of bread to feed the duck and geese at Boora Lake or enjoy bird watching at Tumduff Mór or Tumduff Beag.
The monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise once stood at the busiest crossroads in Ireland. Founded by St. Ciarán in 548, the site soon became a major center of religion, education, trade, and political influence. Visitors today will see three High Crosses, including the Cross of the Scriptures which was carved from a single piece of sandstone. Also on the grounds are two round towers, 6 temples, a Cathedral and the Romanesque Nuns’ Church.
For those with a more scientific mind, Birr Castle Demense must be visited. In in 1840’s the Third Earl Rosse designed and built what would be the world’s largest telescope for over 70 years. From its very first use many discoveries of space were made. In the Science Centre you can explore the many scientific advances made by the Earls of Rosse and their families in the areas of engineering, astronomy, botany and early photography. Exit the Science Centre and explore the demense (pronounced “domain”) where you can view the Great Telescope, the Formal Gardens and hidden waterfalls in the midst of acres of beautifully landscaped and natural parklands.
If your family enjoys the mysteries of the unexplained, a visit to Leap Castle, said to be the most haunted in Ireland, should be planned. From a gristly murder in the chapel of a priest to the bodies found in the hidden dungeon, Leap Castle’s history is enough to make you believe in ghosts.
The Cliffs of Moher- Ireland’s Most Popular Attraction
I don’t know that an article of family adventures in Ireland could be complete without a mention of the Cliffs of Moher. Long one of Ireland’s most popular tourist sites, the cliffs still attract nearly a million people each year.
For this adventure stay at Harbour View B&B in Doolin, just a few miles north of the Cliffs of Moher. From Doolin you can plan a boat ride to view the Cliffs from a completely different angle than most visitors- from the bottom up!
Or plan a day trip to the Aran Islands where it’s likely you’ll hear more Irish than English and see very few cars as you stroll along roads lined by stone fences and look out over the ocean.
Doolin also makes a wonderful base for touring the Burren, a land so far different from the green of Ireland that you’ll wonder how people survived here to build the massive megalithic structures like Poulnabrone Dolmon and the over 70 other portal tombs that are scattered throughout the area.
Jody Halsted is a family travel authority with a mad passion for Ireland. A frequent visitor to the country, she loves nothing more than exploring the country with her husband and two daughters. Jody recently published a series of Ireland vacation planning tips at her site Ireland With Kids. Jody also plans Ireland itineraries and provides Ireland travel coaching. Get inspired by the Ireland Family Vacations Pinterest boards or follow Jody on Twitter @IrelandFamTrvl.
Photo credit: Jody Halsted at IrelandWithKids.com