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Active ingredient: Great outdoors holidays to set the heart racing

Rest and relaxation is fine, but nothing beats getting out into the fresh air

Getting active in the great outdoors is now an essential part of a holiday break for many people. Rest and relaxation are all very well, but they can pale in comparison to serious playtime. And Irish staycationers are very fortunate in the range of activities open to them almost literally on their doorsteps.

To the waters and the wild

Watersports tops that list in many cases. If there is one thing this country has no shortage of, it's water, both inland and around our coasts. "There is something happening every month and it can be absolutely fabulous at this time of the year," says Katrina McGirr of Waterways Ireland.

Activities include boating on the Shannon, paddleboarding, canoeing, and swimming. Shannon River Adventure offers a wide range of water- and land-based activities to entertain and challenge kids and adults of all ages. Packages range from a fun-filled one-day experience to a five-day adventure camp where participants can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, mudslides and pier jumping.

Baysports in Athlone is home to Ireland's largest inflatable waterpark. The park is made up of the biggest collection of original one-off award-winning floating slides, rockers and challenges, to entertain and delight people of all ages and abilities.


“There are lots of options,” McGirr adds. “What we have discovered is that people like to have a hub from where they can do three or four things in one day. They want a mix of water and on-land activity for all the family. The Shannon Blueway and the Royal Canal Greenway both offer all of that.”

For those with an appetite for the ocean, guests at the Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa can enjoy surfing with the Inchydoney Surf Club and kayaking with Atlantic Sea Kayaking. "The surf school does a great job," says Des O'Dowd of the Inchydoney Island Lodge. "The beach here is very good for beginner standard and intermediate surfers. The guys go out and get people comfortable in the water. Even if they don't get to stand up on the board they get the feel for it."

Atlantic Sea Kayaking is run by Jim Kennedy. “He is internationally renowned and runs a really professional operation at Lough Hyne. They have night kayaking in Castlehaven where the bioluminescence is really magical. They also have trips around Lough Hyne and in and around Cork city.”

And then there is swimming. “Use designated bathing areas away from locks and weirs,” McGirr advises. “Stay in supervised areas where it’s safe, and always swim in company.”

"Swimming really took off in the last year," adds Elaine McInaw, sales and marketing director with the Abbey Hotel in Donegal. "A lot of people took to the Irish waters. We are very lucky to have some great beaches nearby."

Taking to the fairways

Golf is one of those sports that you can play all year round in the Irish climate, and staycationers have plenty of courses to choose from. From world-renowned championship courses such as Ballybunion in Co Kerry, to nine-hole layouts such as Ballinacorney in Rathfarnham in south Co Dublin, there are options to suit players of all levels of ability.

For those who want to combine their round with breath taking scenery, courses don't get much better than Ring of Kerry Golf Club. Almost every green on this 18-hole course overlooks Kenmare Bay. A green fee for a day's unlimited golf is €110, or just €55 for members of Irish golf clubs in possession of a Golf Ireland membership card.

"We have special offers for people who stay in one of the 29 cottages located on the course," adds Romi Chiodi of Ring of Kerry Golf Club.

On your bike

While cycle lanes may be the cause of some controversy in our cities, new dedicated cycleways have provided a much-needed tourism boost to regional Ireland. A short distance from the Johnstown Estate Hotel is Ireland's longest off-road cycle route at the Royal Canal Greenway. It is over 100km in length and stretches from Maynooth to Athlone. "With bicycles available from the hotel, the trail has a flat terrain that is easy to negotiate and ideal for cyclists of all levels," says Lisette Madigan of Johnstown Estate. "If you would like to travel a little faster with less effort, electric bikes are available to hire in Trim. The Royal Canal is a shared cycling and walking route with lots of beautiful spots to rest and enjoy refreshments along the way."

Taking to the trails

Walking and hiking holidays are also growing in popularity. "We try to create experience breaks," says Clifden Station House Hotel general manager James Sweeney. "We have four-night walking breaks in October with guided walks of different areas of Connemara. Wea re blessed to be located in Connemara which is fabulous for outdoor activities. Diamond Hill is a very accessible climb within half an hour of the hotel."

And you can walk, run or cycle with Maria Dolan at the BrookLodge Hotel and Macreddin Village. "For guests looking to adventure the countryside around Macreddin Village and beyond, Maria is just the person to contact," says Brid Murphy of Macreddin Village. "Maria is our very own personal guide. She is an experienced athlete, a trained navigator and mountain first-aider. She caters for all with walking, running and cycling suited for family adventures or for small and large groups of adults looking to test their fitness levels. She also provides individual coaching on a one-to-one basis which covers basic navigation skills, instruction and training tips and plans."

For something a little different, The Travel Department offers four-night Explore The Burren guided walking holidays where visitors get to uncover The Burren's archaeological sites, see its magnificent landscapes and learn more about its history.

And then for something completely different

For that extra adrenalin buzz guests at the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel can head out of town to explore the countryside and visit the Castlecomer Discovery Park with its Tree Top Adventure and the longest zip wire over water in the country.

Also in Kilkenny, visitors to the Lyrath Estate can channel their inner Robin Hood with a crash course in archery from the hotel's trained instructors. "We welcome archers of all ages and abilities to practice this ancient art amidst the picturesque woodland surroundings of our 170-acre estate," says sales and marketing executive Megan Stacey.

Staying with the medieval theme, the Hawkeye School of Falconry is the first facility of its kind in the southeast of Ireland. Guests can take the Private Hawk Walk where the falconer begins by introducing them to the hawk they are about to fly. "The falconer explains the 5,000-year history of falconry and you then set off on a walk as your hawk follows you, watching your every move," Stacey explains. "Your falconer will teach you how to recall the hawk from the treetops to your gloved hand and send him back to the trees again."

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times