Summer is finally upon us and while it is hard not to love long bright evenings, balmy breezes, picnics in sun-speckled parks and ice-creams on beaches kissed by warm waves (well, we can dream can’t we?), the days ahead are not without their challenges.
One of the biggest is keeping little and not so little ones suddenly freed from the shackles of school entertained without leaning to heavily on games consoles, phones or the telly.
It can be tough but it is possible. It will require a bit of commitment and a steely determination to get out of the house even if the storm clouds are gathering, but we are fortunate that we live in a smallish country so there are few places that are entirely out of reach, and there are a great many things to do.
Doing them doesn’t necessarily come at too high a cost financially as – for all our concerns about high prices and the cost of living crisis – Ireland is still well served with free and cheap ways to keep families entertained.
Planning is the key, as well as a willingness to be able to turn on a sixpence and completely upend your plans to do something outdoorsy if the weather gods are not smiling and you have to switch to something indoorsy instead.
Here are just some of the things you might consider to amuse yourself and those around you in the weeks ahead.
Parks, farms, gardens and walks
Overend Way, Dundrum, Dublin 14; adult €12, child €6.50 (under-threes free); airfield.ie
As urban farms go, you’ll struggle to top the 38-acre Airfield Estate, a hefty stone’s through from the Dundrum Town Centre. There is the farm and the animals, the gardens, the woodland and some excellent food to eat in and take away. Time your visit well and you will be able to collect eggs with the farm hands or take part in a story time. On weekends, watch the cows being milked (incidentally, make sure to buy some of the milk from the farm. It is not cheap but it is the best milk you will drink this year) along with talks about vintage cars and tours of the house. On weekends, there is a food market as well. The trail through the woods will enthral young children too.
Roscahill, Co Galway; from €7; brigitsgarden.ie
This is a jewel in the crown on the road from Galway City to Connemara. Your visit will take you through four gardens as part of a journey through the Celtic cycle of the seasons with each garden representing one of the Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa. There is also a sun trail and 11 acres of woodlands and meadows to explore as well as a Sustainability Zone with interactive renewable energy features and educational polytunnel. The kids’ discovery trail and the natural playground are also well worth exploring, while the cafe has some most excellent treats to eat.
Jewish Dublin Heritage Trail
Dublin 6 and environs; free; stratfordcollege.ie
A new interactive tour and map has been created by transition year students in Stratford College in Rathgar. It’s a lovely guide to a hidden part of Dublin and sounds like a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours in the capital. It will be even more pleasant if you finish your tour at Deli 613, the newly opened kosher deli in Rathmines. Specials include salt beef sandwiches, stuffed pitas, chicken soup with kneidlach (matzo balls), potato latkes and chopped liver, and there is also a range of Middle-Eastern dips such as harissa, hummus, amba and tahini. Hard copies of the map can be picked up in the Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green – which is also well worth a visit.
The Poolbeg Lighthouse Walk
It is one of the most familiar and unfamiliar places in Dublin. The red and white striped chimneys in Dublin 4 are one of the city’s most identifiable landmarks, but because of their somewhat remote location, they are very rarely seen close up. A walk to the Poolbeg Lighthouse along the Great South Wall will take you right past the chimneys and offer you a view of the city that is rarely seen. When it comes to this walk, timing is everything. Don’t do it on a cold, wet or windy day – it’s no fun – but on a warm summer’s evening as the sun is getting ready to set, it can be very special indeed. When deciding how far you want to walk you have options: starting on Pigeon House Road, you can finish the shorter route in under an hour, while starting on Sandymount Strand will take over two hours.
Wexford Lavender Farm
Inch, Gorey; free; wexfordlavenderfarm.com
Not only does this lavender farm smell as nice as you might expect, there are all manner of things to keep little ones amused spread over the four acres of heavily scented flowers. There is a playground, a quad barrel train ride, a wooden maze, woodland walk, outdoor snakes and ladders, balancing beams, plant sales and plenty more. Oh, and there is also a lovely looking cafe located in converted stables as well as a nice gift shop.
The Phoenix Park
Dublin; free; president.ie; phoenixparkbikes.com
Now, we are not going to mention Dublin Zoo because you already know it is there but there is a whole lot more to the lungs of Dublin city than that. Áras an Uachtaráin opens up for several free guided tours almost every Saturday organised by the Office of Public Works. There are free tours of the gardens too from the end of June until October. Remember, visitors must bring photo ID. There is also bike hire at the entrance to the park from €6. The bikes are suitable for most ages and trailers are on hand for really little ones. The bikes will allow you to almost forget you are in a city as you explore everything from the cricket creases and polo grounds to the Furry Glen and Farmleigh. The cafe at the visitor’s centre and the Victorian tea rooms will offer you sustenance as you go about your day.
National Bird of Prey Centre
Blessington, Co Wicklow; nationalbirdofpreycentre.ie
The National Bird of Prey Centre on the grounds of Russborough House is an outdoor educational facility where eagles, hawks, falcons and owls and a whole lot more can be seen and, in some instances, held. A visit will start with a guided tour and talk by a member staff with the opportunity to hold some of the centre’s reared birds, such as our Little Owl, Barn Owl and Harris Hawk. If you want to upgrade your experience, you can walk through the woods with owls with prices starting at €50pp for a minimum of two people with each subsequent person costing €35.
Clara Lara Fun Park
Rathdrum, Co Wicklow; adult €20, child €25; claralara.ie
This is a mucky old place – or, at least, it can be if there’s been a bit of rain – but don’t let that deter you. Embrace it, in fact. A day out at Clara Lara will have you (and everyone around you) laughing and screaming and, by the end of it, sleeping like an angel. It is probably best suited to children aged between six and 13 but older and younger children and adults will be able to knock some real craic out of the place too. There are rowing boats and woodland swings and climbing frames and mini golf. There is an aqua slide and ziplines and all manner of playgrounds and tree houses. There are also picnic tables and barbecue areas and a whole lot more. The online booking system is new and something you might want to consider if you are planning to go on a warm sunny day when half the east coast have the same idea.
Kia Ora Mini farm
Gorey, Co Wexford; €9.50; kiaoraminifarm.ie
This open farm styles itself as a “safe place for children to roam and learn about the animals and for adults to relax”. There are mini-diggers kids can play on, a go-kart track, a fire truck, a maze, sandpits as well as a convoy of ride-on tractors. But, while all that is grand, the star attractions are likely to be the animals and you can expect to meet rabbits, cows, sheep, pigs, alpacas, llamas and emus – making it less of a farm and more of an ark, by our reckoning. Oh, and in case you think – like we did – that it must have some connection with the drink that shares its name, the owners make it very clear there is no connection whatsoever. “The name Kia Ora came from a visit to family and friends many years ago in New Zealand by [the owners],” the site says. “Everywhere they looked were the words, ‘Kia Ora’”, which is “an expression in the Māori language and means ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’”.
Lough Boora Discovery Park
Boora, Co Offaly; free; loughboora.com
When life hands you a peaty bog, make memories. For much of the last century, this area hummed to the sound of Bord na Móna machines cutting turf, with one million tonnes of peat coming out of Boora annually at its peak. That is all changed now and the area has been converted into a wildlife sanctuary and activity centre with angling, cycling, walking and fairy and bird watching all on the table. There are multiple walking trails and a sculpture park too.
Castlecomer Discovery Park
Co Kilkenny; discoverypark.ie
Spread out over almost 100 acres of woodland and lakes, this place could keep people of all ages busy for days. There is rambling through woodlands and a fairy forest as well as playgrounds which are free. Activities including ziplines, sky walks, axe throwing, archery, boating, bouncing, raft building and all manner of other outdoor pursuits are available with prices starting at €3 for the orienteering course and rising to €45 for the Skywalk, Freefall and Climbing Wall combo. There is also a coal mining museum, a cafe and a craft village. And, if all that didn’t sound good enough, the park if a not-for-profit social enterprise so all the money they make is ploughed back into the centre and the local community.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Drumintee Road, Killeavy, Co Armagh; free; visitmournemountains.co.uk
This park has pretty much everything you will need for a family day out. There are woodland trails, breathtaking views of the Ring of Gullion and an Adventure Playpark designed for all ages, from toddlers up. There are zip lines, climbing frames, wishing chairs, lairs, mazes and more. There is also a red squirrel safari and a 5,000 year old passage tomb to look at too. You won’t struggle to find a lovely spot for a picnic but if you’ve left the food at home, there’s a nice cafe in the Slieve Guillion Courtyard cafe too.
Museums, galleries and indoor activities
We Are Vertigo
Titanic Quarter, Hamilton Rd, Belfast; Inflatable park €6.85, indoor skydiving €63pp; wearevertigo.com
A weather proof day out in the shadow of a somewhat better known tourist attraction, We Are Vertigo caters for almost all ages. The bouncy castle park sprawling and brilliant for smallies – and craic for older children too – while the Ninja Master course is excellent for older children and adults who have little or no shame and don’t mind falling off things in full view of unimpressed kids. You can easily knock a couple of hours of fun out of the two. While the skydiving experience lasts less than two minutes (excluding the build-up), it feels a lot longer than that and is wildly exhilarating and/or terrifying.
Ulster Transport Museum
Holywood, Co Down; family ticket €30; nmni.com
On the surface, a transport museum doesn’t sound like it would appeal to anyone but the most ardent of trainspotters, but scratch the surface even slightly and you will find a wonder. This museum covers all things transport, from horse drawn carriages to highflying jets as well as planes trains, boats and, more recently, surf boards (or at the very least, the history of surfing in Ireland). You will see a DeLorean sports car – make sure to watch Back to the Future before you go to give the trip a bit of extra wow factor – as well as very old school vintage delivery trucks. The museum of innovation also showcases the local innovation heroes including the folk behind the portable defibrillator, tractor and innovations in the sky.
Natural History Museum
Merrion Street Upper, Dublin 2; free; museum.ie
When it comes to free museums, Ireland is well served and while many of them may be heavy going for small children, they all seem to love the Natural History Museum – and not just because it has the deadly Dead Zoo nickname. It is small but perfectly formed and the skeletons and the stuffed animals and the insects on sticks have long fascinated young and, to be honest, pretty old – minds. You won’t knock a whole day out of the Dead Zoo but it does offer a diverting hour or two and is close to all manner of other attractions too.
National Gallery of Ireland
Merrion Square West, Dublin 2; free; nationalgallery.ie
They don’t just do painting, you know. While National Gallery is the pre-eminent home of fine art in Ireland, it also has events and activities for children running throughout the summer months – and, indeed, year round. There are family-focused tours, sensory workshops for babies, art classes and all manner of other things aimed at fostering a creative spirit and encouraging young minds to celebrate the world of art. Some of the activities do come at a cost – although not outlandish – but many are absolutely free.
Museum of Decorative Arts & History
Collins Barracks, Dublin 7; free; museum.ie
In the run-up to the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916, the queues to get into this museum a stone’s throw from Heuston Station were around the block but it is a whole lot quieter now and still a gem of a place to visit for anyone interested in peace and war and the clothes we wore. It is easily accessible on the Luas or trains into Dublin and has a wonderful neighbour in the Phoneix Park where you’re done with all the history.
College Hill, Co Armagh; adult £9, child £6.50; armagh.space
This is the longest running planetarium in Ireland or Britain and celebrates its 55th birthday this year. It has been regularly updated and improved over the five or six decades since it came into being and promises a “state-of-the art digital projector system providing an immersive experience under the full dome”. There are shows designed for all – from toddlers to adults with the people behind the operation suggesting you allow at least two hours for the experience. There are also tours of the dome on offer and this year, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, there will be themed events during which you can listen to the full album under artificial starlight – that might be something for the older folk out there, mind you.
The Odyssey, Queens Quay, Belfast; adult £11, child £9; w5online.co.uk
This science and discovery centre in Belfast comes very highly recommended by virtually everyone we have ever spoken to who has visited. It has eight exhibition zones and well over 250 interactive exhibits and attractions. The centre covers everything from nature and the human body to high tech wizardry and life through the lens of a television camera. There are games to play, things to learn, some seasonal exhibitions and a “skull cave” that is sure to impress even the smallest of wannabe Indiana Joneses.
National Museum of Country Life
Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo; free; museum.ie
This fairly recent addition to the national museum family – which opened in 2001 – offers a fantastic glimpse into Ireland in the rare auld times. It has a keen focus on rural Ireland from famine times until the middle of the 20th Century. There are also some wonderful gardens to explore.
Paddling on the river Barrow
Co Carlow; from €29; gowiththeflow.ie
The peaceful waters of the Barrow in Co Carlow are perfect for family-friendly paddling adventures. Go With the Flow offers fun-filled half and full day excursions. The water-based safaris will take you through dramatic landscapes, wooded valleys and the old navigations used by the Guinness barges to deliver Ireland’s favourite tipple. And, if that’s not enough to keep the kids entertained, trips also include a picnic stop and ample opportunities to swim in the river’s sheltered pools. Trips This adventure is suited for ages seven and above.
Cycle a greenway
Mayo, Waterford, Westmeath, Tipperary, Limerick, Kildare; free; greenwaysireland.org
While the Western and Waterford greenways are most well-known, the Suir, the Old Trail Greenway and Royal Canal are also great options for a family-friendly day out. All of the greenways offer families a safe off-road environment to cycle. Bike hire and collection facilities are available and there are ample refreshment stops along the way. The greenways are relatively flat so are ideal for those hoping to take a trailer with babies and toddlers, or for younger kids who are still relatively new to cycling.
Climb a mountain
Nationwide; free; trails.ie
There is something so satisfying about reaching the summit of a mountain, no matter how big or small it is. And, your kids will experience that exact same feeling of satisfaction. Whether you opt for something small and achievable with younger kids like the Sugar Loaf in Co Wicklow or Diamond Hill in Connemara, or something a little more ambitious like Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo, it’s guaranteed to be a great day out for the entire family – just be sure to pack plenty of snacks. A number of Ireland’s mountains are now very accessible, thanks to extensive works carried out to develop adequate parking and defined trails.
Co Roscommon, Dublin, Cork; from €18; zipit.ie
Nothing quite compares to the thrill of whizzing down a piece of wire suspended high in the air. It is thrilling, exciting and appealing to kids, both big and small. With three locations around Ireland – Lough Key in Roscommon, Tibradden in Dublin and Farran Park in Cork – Zipit is always a great day out. Climb high into the treetops, swing into cargo nets and ride a BMX across a bridge before taking to one of the many zip lines on offer. Kids as young as seven right up to adults will love this adrenaline-filled day out.
Coasteering on the Causeway Coast
Co Antrim; from £30; coasteeringni.co.uk
Coasteering is about the most amount of fun that you can have. Jumping off cliffs into the water, whizzing down natural water slides and swimming from spot to spot through the crashing Atlantic is guaranteed to leave the whole family feeling exhilarated. And, it’s a great way to explore the Causeway coastline, too. Bobby from Coasteering NI offers a really great trip, departing from Ballintoy Harbour. The tours are available to kids from 10 years of age.
Mountain biking on the Mourne Coastal Route
Co Down; free; mountainbikeni.com
The Mourne Coastal Route is home to not only one but two premier mountain biking destinations. Suitable for older kids and those with some mountain biking experience, Rostrevor is a bike lover’s dream come true. Both the 27km red route and 19km black route take you to the top of Slievemartin, where the effort of a long climb is rewarded with incredible views across Carlingford Lough. Another reward comes in the form of fast flowing single-track, jumps and high berms.
Castlewellan is just 30 minutes up the road from Rostrevor and also offers a wide range of trails, with a glorious blue route around the lake for younger children and those with less/no mountain biking experience. Access to the trails is totally free but both locations offer bike rental for those who don’t have their own. Cloughmor Extreme is offering bike rental at Rostrevor which starts at £30 for a half-day. Bike rental at Castlewellan starts at £7.50 for kids and £20 for adults.
Nationwide; various prices; trysailing.ie
There are hundreds of sailing courses taking place around the country for kids this summer, all of which are held by Irish Sailing affiliated clubs and centres. You don’t need to be a member and the club will provide everything your kids need to get started. The instructors are all trained on Irish Sailing courses so you can rest assured that they will be in safe hands. Most sailing courses start at age six but there are some courses available to younger kids such as the Sea Explorers in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, which takes kids from four years of age to explore the habitats of marine life creatures which is followed by arts and crafts and lively games.
Blessington Lakes Greenway
Co Wicklow; free; visitwicklow.ie
Kicking off from the Avon Activity Centre, the Blessington Greenway walk links the historic town of Blessington with the Palladian mansion at Russborough House. The trail itself covers a distance of 5.8km along forest tracks, boardwalks and tarmac, making it suitable for both walking and cycling. Once at Russborough House, kids can explore the expansive grounds, take to the maze or burn some energy in the playground. There is also a cafe on site.
Glenveagh National Park
Co Donegal; free; nationalparks.ie
Offering jaw-dropping scenery and abundance of activities to keep the whole family entertained, Glenveagh is always a great day out. You can choose to walk through the historic castle gardens or take on one of six easy walking trails. Alternatively, you can bring or rent bikes (prices start at just €5 for three hours). There are family friendly events throughout the summer months which include children’s story time, birds of prey displays, medieval weaponry displays and more.
Co Antrim; £15; aquaholics.co.uk
Aquaholics runs a fantastic boat trip from Ballycastle out to the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Kids will be kept entertained as they look out for dolphins, whales and even basking sharks. Older children and adults can also opt to hop off the boat and into the North Atlantic Ocean swimming right underneath the bridge. It’s a great way of ticking off some famous sites along this amazing coastline without having the kids cooped up in the car.
Co Meath; free; loughcrew.com
The Fairy Trail at Loughcrew Estate is an exciting treasure hunt style trail that will provide hours of entertainment for the little ones. Equipped with an activity booklet and map, kids have to solve clues and answer questions in order to get to the next part of it. There is also plenty of room for children to play on the garden’s lawns at Loughcrew as well as a great playground. Children are welcome to bring their bikes and if they get a little peckish, there’s a coffee shop on site too.
Surfdock Summer Camps
Co Dublin; €148; surfdock.com
The Surfdock kids camp offers a great way to burn some energy this summer. Taking place in Grand Canal Dock, the focus on these weeklong camps is fun. Open to children and teenagers from eight to 16 years of age, the camp offers sailing, kayaking, wind surfing and stand up paddle boarding. No previous watersports experience is necessary. The camp runs on a half day basis from either 9.30am-12.30 or 1.30pm-4.30pm from June 6th.
Avondale Forest Park
Co Wicklow; free; beyondthetreesavondale.com
While the treetop walk has garnered a lot of press since its opening (and for good reason), it is a relatively pricey day out at €40 for a family of four (and that’s without the additional charge for the slide). Avondale Forest Park has so much to offer with its six walking routes and one cycle trail set across 500 acres. Our favourite is the 5km River Walk which is very manageable for all ages. My son loves a spot of stone throwing and paddling in the river, which also offers a great spot to stop for a picnic. The on-site cafe is also very good and is located beside a large state of the art playground so parents can enjoy a coffee in blissful peace and quiet while the kids are still in view.
Co Wicklow; €3 per car; belmontdemesne.ie
Located just 15 minutes from Dublin at the foot of the Little Sugar Loaf, Belmont Demense offers a great day out for the whole family. Cycling enthusiasts are catered for on 15km of mountain biking trails set among the woodlands. There are also two pump tracks, one for small kids with balance bikes and the other for older kids and adults. Walkers can take on one of three routes, the longest of which includes a hike up the Little Sugar Loaf offering stunning views across Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains. There’s a great restaurant on site too for post-activity refreshments. Entry to the estate is free but there is a parking charge of €3 per car.
Organise a beach clean
Nationwide; free; cleancoasts.org
A beach clean is a great way to open your kid’s eyes to the environment around them. And, you’ll be surprised how much fun your children will have when you challenge them to see how much they can find on the beach over the course of an hour or two. You can really make an event of the clean up by inviting family and friends to join you. Litter collection packs are available free of charge from Clean Coasts.
Festivals and cultural events
Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers
The Ark, Dublin; June 10th-August 26th; ark.ie
The Ark Children’s Cultural Centre in Dublin’s Temple Bar has a great summer programme celebrating animation, built around Cartoon Saloon’s Oscar-nominated Wolfwalkers. Children aged four to 12 and their grown ups can step into a world of hand-drawn animation, glimpse the work involved in creating Wolfwalkers, the magical and beautiful animated Irish film, and learn some of the methods and techniques used by the animators. The free drop-in exhibition features original art, working drawings and backgrounds from the film.
A collaboration between the Butler Gallery and five-time Oscar nominated animation studio Cartoon Saloon (both based in Kilkenny), the self-guided experience shares the story of Mebh and Robyn as they adventure into the mysterious world of shape-shifters and wolves, on a quest to find Mebh’s mother and save the last of Ireland’s wild wolves. There are also visual art workshops for schools, inspired by the studio’s award winning animated movies The Secret of Kells, Songs of the Sea and WolfWalkers, and meet an animator events.
Cruinniú na nÓg
Nationwide; Saturday, June 10th; cruinniu.creativeireland.gov.ie
Cruinniú, the only event of its kind in the world, really has gone from strength to strength. This year, it has 600-plus free creative events of all sorts for thousands of young people throughout the island, presented by Creative Ireland, collaborating with local authorities and RTÉ. Events range from forest bathing in Castlefreke or celestial mechanics at the Dunsink Observatory, to a recreation of Clones Town in ceramics, hula hooping in Waterford or sensory soap making in Offaly.
Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network hosts circus skills and street spectacle open days in Cloughjordan, Cork, Dublin and Galway (plus online tutorials). For Rhyme Island, Creative Ireland teamed with the Kabin Studio to get people rapping, culminating in massive rap event at Elizabeth Fort, Co Cork (workshops, open mic sessions and performances). TG4 and Cúla4 supported by the Gaeltacht division of the Department of Arts are involved in Our World/Mo Dhomhan projects including sand art. Dig into the vast programme to see what’s in your area and get planning.
Kidsyard family raves
Dun Laoghaire, Drumcondra and The Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin; various dates; bodytonicmusic.com
Promising an inclusive family experience where parents (grandparents, uncles and aunties) have as much fun as the kids and old ravers relive their youth and dance with their kids. Bodytonic’s family-friendly raves (Dún Laoghaire and Drumcondra, Dublin) include glowstick crafts, bubbles, parachute games, dance tunes (at safe levels) and disco lighting.
Russborough House, Co Wicklow; June 30th-July 2nd; kaleidoscopefestival.ie
Billed as a family getaway for all ages and Ireland’s first fully inclusive family event, the music and arts camping festival for families and friends features music and activities for the whole family.
Headliners for the three-day Carnival of Colour are Nile Rodgers and Chic, Gavin James and Bewitched and the line-up also includes Róisín O, the King Kong Company, Cairde, Paper Tides, Bruising Shins Dublin Gospel Choir, Fun Lovin Criminals and Newton Faulkner. There’s also workshops, sports, wellness activities, dancing, quizzes, singing, art, sport, adventure and storytelling. With camping, including campervans, caravans and boutique.
Big music festivals
Several of the grown-up outdoor music festivals have big programmes of children’s events and activities. Just some of them are Body & Soul (June 16th-18th, bodyandsoul.ie) arts and music festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, has a children’s programme and family camping area for “Soul Kids”. Forest Fest (July 21st-23rd, forestfest.ie) music and arts festival in Emo Village, Co Laois, has a children arts and entertainment programme from Port Art Collective.
Night and Day (June 24th-25th, nightandday.ie) in Lough Key Forest Park has family fun, as well as the existing activities of the forest park, from ziplines to kayaking. Beyond the Pale (June 16th-18th, itsbeyondthepale.ie) in Glendalough Estate, Co Wicklow, includes circus and family events. All Together Now (August 4th-6th, alltogethernow.ie) has a big children’s programme plus Kids Together family hangout in the walled garden.
Theatre for children (and their adults) is worth seeking out locally. As a taster: Pavilion Theatre Dún Laoghaire has two family shows in July for ages three and up – acrobatics, juggling and slapstick comedy from Australian narrative-driven circus company Splash Test Dummies (July 7th-9th); and Dinosaur World Live (July 4th-6th) exploring a prehistoric world of life-like dinosaurs (including a meet and greet!), paviliontheatre.ie
Hey Duggee (Olympia Theatre, June 15th-18th) is an interactive production with music and puppets, featuring Duggee and the Squirrels and others from the hit CBeebies show, 3olympia.ie.
At Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, summer shows for the family include Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The King and I (Irish actor Annalene Beechey in the lead) (June 27t-July 1st); musical adaptation of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh (July 28th-30th); Titanic the Musical for ages eight and up (Aug 1st-5th); Shrek the Musical for five and above (August 15th-20th); and Annie (August 22nd-Sept 3rd), bordgaisenergytheatre.ie.
Carlow Arts Festival
Carlow College; June 7th-11th; carlowartsfestival.ie
The festival coincides with Cruinniú na nÓg on June 10th and includes samba drumming, costume workshops and performance in its Cruinniú na nÓg Tent programme (June 10th-11th), with the highlight a Carnival of Collective Joy, co-created with local children, parading through the streets of Carlow Town on Saturday afternoon.
Plus, Bombinate Theatre’s show for little ones, Goodnight Egg and Wires, Strings and Other Things, is an interactive performance that explores the art and mystery of how musicians compose and improvise. And, outdoor cinema with a singalong screening of Encanto.
Cairde Sligo Arts Festival
Various locations in Sligo; July 1st-9th; cairdefestival.com
This festival has tons of free and accessible family events including The Lonesome Boatman with clown Juanita, plus a two-day immersive Cairde in the Park (July 1st-2nd), with acrobatics from Síolta Circus, trapeze from Tumble Circus, family yoga, walkabout performers, a giant singalong.
Many of the multi-arts festivals, big and small have brilliant events for children and families. Check out, for example, Bloomsday Festival (June 12th-18th, bloomsdayfestival.ie) including storytime, workshops, young writers competition and community events. The one-day UCD Festival (June 10th, festival.ucd.ie) with interactive science, creative workshops and family-friendly activities. Galway International Arts Festival (July 17th-30th, Giaf.com) has Branar’s inventive You’ll See, described as Ulysses for children (aged eight and up), with the anarchic Helen Gregg; a street spectacle Dragon parade; and the return of Silent Disco walking tours.
Cork Midsummer Festival (June 14th-25th, corkmidsummer.com) has family friendly events including a Midsummer Parade, Island of Foam and a Fidget Feet aerial dance show. Plus, Clonmel Junction (July 1st-9th, junctionfestival.com), Galway Folk Festival (June 13th-18th, galwayfolkfestival.ie), West Cork Literary Festival (July 7th-14th, westcorkmusic.ie). Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival (August 4th-12th, birrvintageweek.com).
National Steam Rally
Stradbally Hall, Co Laois; August 6th-7th; irishsteam.net
A good family outing for the August bank holiday weekend and for more than just Thomas the Tank Engine fans. Celebrating the country’s rich, often overlooked, steam heritage for nearly 60 years, Ireland’s premier steam and vintage festival on the grounds of Stradbally Hall, Co Laois, is organised by the Irish Steam Preservation Society. More than 70 full-size and miniature steam engines are either on display or working.
Steam trains will run on the Stradbally Woodland Railway in the forest. A parade of steam engines from one end of Stradbally village to the rally grounds on Saturday evening. There’s also a carnival, bouncing castle, kids’ area, pet farm, dog show, blacksmith’s village, trade stalls, vintage cars, tractor display, steam-powered saw bench demonstration and live music. Engines this year are powered by a biofuel coal alternative.
Waterford has a run of free festivals with lots of family appeal. Spraoi International Street Arts Festival (August 4th-6th) street party hosts 200 shows of local, national and international artists and musicians performing street theatre, music, contemporary circus, comedy and spectacle, plus a festival parade and fireworks spraoi.com. SprÓg Children’s Festival is a sort of “pre-Spraoi” (July 29th-August 3rd) week of arts and science experiences at Garter Lane Arts Centre, with WIT Calmast, garterlane.ie.
A week later, Waterford Walls (August 11th-20th) hosts artists from all over the world creating large-scale spectacular murals around the city and county, with activities including live art, workshops, walking tours and music, wallsproject.ie. And, if you’re in Waterford/east Cork this weekend (until June 5th), the last few days of the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival has free (booking required) open-air lunchtime recitals for all ages, in Youghal today and Fermoy tomorrow, featuring members of the festival chorus, with children welcome to run free and dance to the music. blackwatervalleyopera.ie
National Concert Hall
Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2; nch.ie
The National Concert Hall has an eclectic range of family events over the summer. For the very young, Bring Along a Baby (June 27th) is an informal, accessible chamber music recital for parents and babies or very young children, who can sleep, feed and play on mats and with soft toys to encourage interaction with the music.
At Junior Songschool (July 10th-14th), eight to 12-year-olds learn about writing, performing and recording songs, while Songschool (July 17th-21st) is for secondary school students interested in writing and recording songs, performing, making a video, using music technology.
For Cruinniú na nÓg (June 10th), there’s The Wild Turkeys interactive family concert of Irish traditional music. The film of Superman (June 16th-17th) has National Symphony Orchestra’s live accompaniment of John Williams’ triumphant score. The NSO’s Music of Harry Potter (June 30th). Ulster Youth Orchestra 30th Anniversary (August 10th). Musical Picnic with The Summer String Quartet (August 12th), an interactive concert and meet the musicians in an indoor picnic.
Dublin 2; dublinia.ie
Dublinia at the heart of Viking and Medieval Dublin celebrates its 30th birthday several events. In June, discover how birthdays, weddings and other special occasions were celebrated in Medieval times. Join an interactive family tour in July on Family Saturdays – try a Viking costume, sword or shield, visit a medieval fair and take a flying visit over the medieval city in an audiovisual show. In August, play Viking and medieval children’s games.
Hek Hek Hoo
Living Canvas at Wilton Park, Dublin 2; Saturdays and Sundays in June, noon-4pm; rhagallery.ie
A month-long workshop collaboration between RHA Kids (art-in-education) 3rd class pupils and artist Julie Weber resulted in a short film about the transformative potential of the everyday and its wildness and playfulness. On exhibition in the open air at Living Canvas, IPUT Real Estate’s energy-efficient screen on the banks of the Grand Canal.
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Killruddery House, Co Wicklow; June 10th; dicmf.com
Family concert by Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective founding members, Tom Poster (piano) and Elena Urioste (violin), presenting a fun and eclectic family programme, drawn from their Jukebox days when they recorded one music video every day they spent in Covid isolation, taking place at Killruddery House, Co Wicklow, June 10th (Cruinniú) as part of Dublin International Chamber Music Festival (free, booking required).