What to do for a break this autumn in Ireland

With so many lovely places to stay in Ireland it’s difficult to choose – these are three of my favourites and some places that you can visit while you stay there.

Cork and Fota Island Resort


I escaped to Fota Island Resort with my friend Cheryl and our daughters Nicole and Sarah a short while back. Our accommodation was a family room with large king size and single bed but with plenty of room for another pull out bed where my daughter had a very cosy sleep. There was plenty of room in the en suite with a large walk in shower and generous sized bath − a priority for the kids. While our daughters swam in the hotel pool, under the supervision of a lifeguard, it was time for Cheryl and I to explore the spa. The spa is well presented with good variety in the thermal and hydrotherapy suites. I was whisked into a treatment room by Kasa my therapist for a soothing Indian Head Massage. The bed was heated by an electric blanket and as Kasa worked her magic, the back-to-school-blues became a distant memory. After the hour long treatment I was brought to the relaxation room and served a passion fruit yogurt with fresh melon. Looking out of the relaxation room at a colourful garden of trees and grasses I almost forget that the kids were with us.
hydrotherapy pool at Fota Resort
Our little mermaids were so enamoured with the selection of shampoos and conditioners at the pool that they were showered and ready for the night before leaving the spa. The hotel offers kids clubs and it wasn’t so long ago that our daughters would have needed that kind of attention to give their mother’s a break. But at 11 years of age they wanted to dress up and with appetites whetted they could not wait to see the menu in the dining room. The sun came out and we had the option of sitting outside too.
The dining room welcomed with a piano in the corner. The steak was too mouth-watering to ignore so we ordered two while the kids opted for delicious homemade burgers from the children’s menu. It isn’t often that I refuse dessert but the main course was so satisfying and delicious I hadn’t the room or inclination for pudding. Babysitting facilities are also provided so parents can get a real break. Cheryl and I settle into the bar safe in the knowledge that our mermaids were happy upstairs in the room. A passing waiter asks if we would like cocktails and we didn’t want to appear rude so we agreed. As we sat back in our leather armchairs we sipped away any thoughts of making school lunches the following week.
My daughter Nicole loved the baby cheetahs
Next morning, after a long and colourful breakfast that includes, waffles, pancakes and plenty of fruit, the girls insist on another swim before check out. The skies clouded over in typical Irish fashion and it starts to pour as we drive our short trip to the wildlife park. Fota Island Resort offers free entry into the park with special packages, so this is worth checking out on booking. Surprisingly the sky clears and we see the tigers and rhino in the Asian sanctuary at leisure. This is a lovely sized park where the animals are happy and have the choice to hide away or come see the spectators if they choose. A little train runs around the rim of the park taking passengers to the reasonably priced cafe. The highlight for our daughters is the two new baby cheetahs, they send the girls into a frenzy as they frantically post pictures on their Instagram accounts. We realise on our return that we have taken so many photos of the animals we have almost none of the girls.


Taking a right out of the park brings us to the historic town of Cobh, only five minutes away. This town is a huge treat for kids who are fascinated by the Titanic story and the museum is a must see. The great thing about Fota Island is the variety of family friendly activities so close together. There are three golf courses on the resort and a stately house with one of the finest art galleries outside the National Gallery in Dublin. As we set off home on the long road back to Dublin we all agree that one night on Fota Island just isn’t enough!

Fota Island Resort is an oasis with lovely facilities and a zoo close by. Terrific for couples or families.
There is a FOTA Wildlife Park Package – Prices for midweek for 2 adults and 1 child start from €235.

Current prices for Two Nights B&B with Dinner on one evening start from €685.
Prices for a self-catering lodge for 2 adults and 2 children start from €485.

Cobh is close by so why not bring the kids to the Titanic Experience – they will love it!
find out more here http://www.titanicexperiencecobh.ie/


Belfast and The Culloden Hotel


The Culloden is the jewel of Hastings Hotels in northern Ireland and being only ten minutes from Belfast city centre you can really enjoy all that the city has to offer. Listed are prices for a stay and some fun things to see or do this autumn including the CS Lewis tour which I took with my daughter last year.


·         Fans of Game of Thrones are also in for a treat when they visit the Causeway Coast, and they will find several locations used in the filming of the series, such as The Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbour, Dunluce Castle and Cushenden Caves to name but a few.
The Culloden Estate and Spa is located in a prime position for anybody who wants to get out and about during their stay to see all that County Down has to offer. Here are five of the main picks:

·         Mount Stewart is a stunning country house next to Strangford Lough, with beautiful gardens and rooms to explore. In particular, if you’re around for Jazz in the Garden which takes place in the grounds one Sunday a month, this is a great day out. You can bring a picnic and enjoy the great music in the picturesque settings.

·         The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra is a fun and educational day out for all the family. Both museums in the complex offer a real feel of stepping back in time, with the Folk Museum bringing you back to past ways of life in the early 20th century, and the Transport Museum hosts impressive displays of transport from over the years.
·         Pickie Family Fun Park in Bangor has been a summer favourite for many generations, and is just as much so now. Kids can enjoy the train, the swings or the swans and their accompanying parents can have the added nostalgic value of days spent there when they were younger.
·         Those of an active inclination can visit the Mourne Mountains for a day. All the peaks, including Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s tallest mountain, are reachable in a few hours, so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. Those who take on the climb are rewarded with absolutely breathtaking views at the top.
·         Finally, the long-awaited reopening of Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry arrives in August. Exploris is a great interactive opportunity to get up close and personal with the array of marine life in Strangford Lough, and a fun and educational family day out. Exploris will re-open on August 15.

A Voyage of Discovery in Belfast with CS Lewis
Nicole with the searcher statue dedicated to CS Lewis, do you spot a certain wardrobe?
Every city has its literary giants and Belfast is no exception. Authentic Ulster promotes a tailormade CS Lewis tour which takes a fascinating three hours.  While my 11 year old daughter, her friend and I enjoy the wisdom of our entertaining guide Sandy Smith, we discover that the mountains at Cavehill provided the inspiration for one of the most famous giants in literature.
Cavehill is visible from several parts of the city and resembles the profile of a giant lying on his back. Sandy informs us that while Jonathan Swift was visiting Belfast and looking at the same mountain he found inspiration to create the character Gulliver. It’s the perfect start to the tour, as we stand at the site where the young Clive Staples Lewis spent his early childhood. My daughter is already enthralled without the need of a flashing screen or interactive exhibit. The Chronicles of Narnia is undoubtedly the series that CS Lewis is best known for and Sandy is quick to question the children in our group about The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe. He then takes us to Lewis’s Grandfather’s house which was the rectory attached to St Marks Church.
We stand at the front door and see that the young Lewis would have been at eye level to the beautifully moulded door knob − the head of a lion. The wardrobe story is next and we are taken to Belmont Tower which is only around the corner. A permanent exhibition holds all the information needed to become proficient in the CS Lewis story. Here we learn it was Lewis’s other grandfather, who worked at the Harland and Wolfe shipyards, that crafted the famous wardrobe where he used to play hide-and-seek as a child.
To experience the CS Lewis Tour visit www.authenticulster.co.uk ,

Dublin and the Marker Hotel

The Marker in Dublin has some exciting packages if you are looking for a weekend in our capital city

Room only €219 per room per night
Breakfast inclusive €249 per room per night
Other packages we would do –
·         Bord Gais Energy Theatre package (tickets not included) – overnight stay with pre-theatre menu & complimentary glass of bubbles and breakfast the following morning – from €319 per night
·         Luxury Lie in & Le Drunch – stay on a Saturday night, complimentary late check out the following morning and then Le Drunch (which is our late lunch / early dinner offering on a Sunday) in our Brasserie – from €279 per night
·         Food Fetish – dinner, bed and breakfast – from €319 per night
·         Urban Escape – dinner, bed and breakfast and two one hour spa treatments – from €519 per night
·         Sumptuous Stayover – overnight stay with breakfast and two 30 minute spa treatments – from €399 per night

One of the great new attractions in Dublin which opened this summer is Epic.
Epic Visitor Museum at CHQ Building Custom House Quay
Open 7 days per week 9am-6pm
There’s an Epic new attraction in the CHQ described as Dublin’s newest immersive visitor museum. I brought along two pre-teens, to see how Ireland’s Diaspora changed the world, and was surprised and impressed at how the interactive displays kept them busy.
Getting passports at emigration
On entering the fully accessible building, we were handed our passports, which instantly gave the girls something to do. The adults seemed just as amused with the task of stamping their passports as they completed each section of the exhibition.
Stamping passports as we passed through the museum
The ambience and initial imagery is unmistakably celtic, and I did wonder if this was going to be fun for the kids, Our island’s tragic history makes gloomy reading and the story of emigration even more downbeat and ever cyclical. However, the constant stamping got the kids through the initial horrors of famine, destitution and poverty without determent, and the girls had their phones out from the initial display. Using their cameras and social media is as much a part of an experience for this generation as the exhibits, and because the displays became more fun and interactive as we passed through each section the girls stayed longer to find out more.
The layout of the exhibition is cavernous which neatly blocks the themes of music, arts, sport and literature into tidy separate sections that are easy to navigate.
I was especially impressed by the books in the literature rooms which recounted tales from various classic novels when pulled from the shelf. The guides were especially helpful in this part of the museum and eager to show off the novelties.
Those Diaspora who had achieved acclaim on the silver and small screens were recorded especially well and I was so engrossed that I lost the girls at that stage. They were more amused by the sports room and found a place to make better use of snapchat and instagram.
The images taking me through Italia 90 made me quite reminiscent of our innocence as a nation and I was even emotional watching the pope in the Pheonix Park in 1979. Although, I’d imagine the JFK speech will impact largely with the American Visitors to the museum.
The girls were getting into the swing of the museum by the time we reached the sport room
I was genuinely astonished to see the Irish Diaspora’s contribution to science and astronomy and this particular display was the most innovative with fluorescent light effects.
The room of notorious Irish was possibly the most fun for the girls and they were educated about historical facts while they partook in the interactive quiz. I have to admit that I danced around from option A to B a couple of times myself. Every bit of space is used with the displays in all the rooms making the floors, walls and free standing surfaces equally interesting and informative.
We did spend over an hour at the museum which made the entry fee of €16 for adults and €8 for kids good value.
With plenty of opportunities to see their names in lights the girls got involved with the personalised postcards and twitter feeds. If you do visit this summer be sure to use the hastag #epicireland to see your tweet in lights. Some heavyweight social media experts like @tedrubin have been to visit here already! It’s good to see a top quality attraction like this in Dublin. With the range of healthy eating options upstairs at the CHQ I really hope that visitors are directed to this attraction this summer and it will put in an interesting afternoon for those living in Dublin or visiting from the rest of Ireland too.

Another new attraction to open this summer in Dublin is The Witness History Exhibition at the GPO

Struggling to keep the kids entertained this summer? Come explore the GPO Witness History Visitor Centre

If you’re looking for a fun and exciting day out the whole family can enjoy, why not stop in and check out the GPO Witness History visitor centre this August. Located in the historic GPO building on O’Connell Street in Dublin, the centre is a great place for the whole family to learn more about the seismic events that shaped Ireland’s modern history.
The centre uses timelines and artefacts to show visitors the circumstances that led to the Rising, including the cultural revival and struggle for Home Rule. There is something for everyone to see and enjoy no matter if you are a tourist or a local. The extensive list of things to do and see is sure to captivate people of any age. View an original copy of the Proclamation, and learn the interesting story of how it was printed. See one of the Mauser guns used by the rebels during the Rising, and learn about Ireland’s complicated relationship with Germany at the time.
GPO Witness History is interactive and engaging, with the centrepiece being an immersive 15 minute audio-visual experience which puts you in the midst of the action at various battles between rebels and British forces around Dublin, including inside the GPO itself. Feel the tension inside the GPO as the roof starts shaking under British bombardment, and watch as the rebel leaders make decisions that have impacted this country to this day.
A character in period costume roams the centre, happy to tell you all about his or her life in 1916 Dublin.

Children and adults alike may enjoy the various touchscreen games. Can you avoid British soldiers as you seek to deliver a message to rebel strongholds? Can you sort letters to New York, London and Galway faster than the rest of your family? There’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition!
See the conflict from both sides and through the eyes of the bystanders, with many eyewitness accounts available to enable visitors to draw their own conclusions on the events of Easter week. Video booths showing short interviews with some of Ireland’s most preeminent historians give balance to key themes from the Rising. Compare life for a wealthy child in Dublin at the time with the life of a child of the tenements, with mock-ups of both children’s living arrangements side by side.

After passing through the commemoration gallery, detailing how the rising has been remembered in the 100 years since, take some time to sit down and discuss your GPO Witness History visit over refreshments in the café, and don’t forget to find a memento from the shop, stocking a variety of beautiful Irish-made goods.
If you are interested in learning more about this unique exhibit of Irish history, visit the GPO Witness History website at www.gpowitnesshistory.ieto book tickets and to find out more about the GPO Witness History Visitor Centre. 


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