Ireland with Kids
Almost all of my blogs are oriented towards adults. Ireland with children is a different experience, but still very enjoyable for all. This blog is a summary of my experiences with my grandsons and other under-18’s touring around Ireland. This is a tough blog to generalize since I don’t have current experience with young granddaughters that probably see things differently than grandsons. Additionally, the interests of children can vary significantly even at the same age.
Fooling Around at Dublinia
My grandsons are very curious and smart (of course, they’re my grandsons 😉), and enjoy different types of transportation and sports. Other children may be interested in animals like horses, sheep, etc. or other areas like dance and music. You’ll have to keep this in mind when planning your trip. Additionally, during your trip try to be looking for things along the way that would interest your (grand)children. First, I'll generally talk about a few areas to consider when planning your Irish tour with kids, and then I’ll list a few places where I’ve had success with the under 18 crowd.
Pubs and Kids are NOT mutually exclusive. Children are welcome in most pubs at the appropriate times. The general rule of thumb: if the pub is serving food, then the children are welcome (until about 9 pm). Later teenagers (15-17 year olds) will usually not be asked to leave a pub at 9 pm as long as they are with their parents and are not drinking and are not obvious.
Many pubs have an “early” music session and Sunday afternoon is a popular time for a Trad session in many pubs. These are perfect times for the younger crowd.
Almost every restaurant has a children's menu, even the pubs serving food. The favorites for my grandsons were chicken goujons (chicken fingers or strips). Milk is a very popular beverage at meals, even for adults, and Mi Wadi is widely available.
The scenic sights are usually a hit with the 5-18’s. They usually enjoy the sights as much as the adults. My grandsons particularly liked the sights if combined with some form of “new” transport, like a boat ride to the Cliffs of Moher or a ferry ride to Inishmore.
Kids are always excited by new forms of transportation. All kids like a horse and buggy ride to see Inishmore or a train ride from Dublin to Galway.
Irish Rail Train
The main memory my two older grandsons have of their first trip to Ireland is the day we went to the island of Inishmore. During that day we took a train, a double-decker bus, a ferry, and a carriage ride. I’m not sure how much they remember about Dun Aonghasa, but they can remember almost every detail of our transportation experience getting there.
All the 4-12 year olds (and maybe the adults) are intrigued by the slightly different playground equipment they find in Ireland compared to North America, and the younger kids may find it intriguing to talk and play with the Irish kids. So, keep your eyes open for playgrounds.
In Ireland there are several sports that are not readily seen in the US. The most Irish would be the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) sports. The admission to any of these matches is pretty reasonable by US standards and the matches usually occur almost all Saturdays and Sundays.
The age of the participants will vary depending on which pitch you choose to visit. The two sports are both "amateur" and there are teams from about the kindergarten level to the Seniors with some players over 30. There are County teams that have an All Ireland Finals Match in August or September. The Club teams have an All Ireland Finals Match on St. Patrick's Day. The “home” of the GAA is at Croke Park in Dublin where the Dublin Seniors team plays their home matches and also where the All Ireland finals are contested.
I've previously done a blog on the Gaelic Sports of Hurling and Gaelic Football (a cross between soccer and hurling with a little bit of Volleyball thrown in).
Rugby is also very popular. There are four provincial teams (Connacht, Muenster, Leinster and Ulster) and during an international tournament there is the Irish National team that usually plays their home games at the Aviva stadium in Dublin.
Hiking and Cycling
Depending on the age and the stamina of your children, hiking may be a great way of seeing Ireland and the sights. There are several places to hike that vary from very easy to pretty difficult (for this over 60 guy).
Family Hiking on Inishmore
Ireland has pushed to build “green ways” throughout the country. A green way is a “hike and bike trail” in the US. Bikes of all sizes are available to rent at a reasonable price at several points along the route and can be rented one way. As an added incentive there are usually places to stop for a “treat” along the path. Many times the trails let you see some of the most scenic parts of the area that can't be seen by car or bus.
In many of the cities there will be a pedestrian mall lined with shops and restaurants. Two of my favorites are Shop Street in Galway and Grafton Street in Dublin. Up and down these streets you will find buskers, street performers, that are very entertaining and varied.
The usual buskers are musicians of all sorts, but I’ve seen magicians, sand sculptures, physical challenges (hanging from a bar), face painting and hair weaving.
If your (grand)child is interested, then a walk down Shop Street could easily fill an entire morning.
Ireland presents a wide variety of animals, mostly domestic, but also wild animals.
I’ve challenged my grandsons on longer train rides to spot a fox in the fields along the tracks. On a morning or evening train, they will usually see at least one fox or a hare. The foxes are so plentiful that they are considered a pest.
Horseback riding is also available and is lots of fun for adults, too.
Then there are the “pet” donkeys and mules that you will see as you drive and walk through Ireland. Irelands main industry is farming so there are farm animals everywhere.
Ireland is famous for raising thoroughbred horses for racing and equestrian competitions. You can easily find a place for horseback riding at any skill level along your travels. And then there is the Irish National Stud & Gardens. (I have not been here but have heard good reviews).
Music and Dance Shows
There are many opportunities to see live entertainment in Ireland. Some in the pubs, but others may be in another setting like an Irish themed medieval banquet hosted in a Norman Castle or Keep (this has been a hit with us for children age 5 to 80).
Medieval Banquet Performers
With the above overview, here is a list of sights and activities with helpful links and maybe a very short description or hint about seeing it with children.
Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship - A reproduction of a "coffin ship" that transported the Irish to North America during the potato famine. The historical material may not be appropriate for the younger children although they handle it sensitively on the tour.
Dublinia is for children of All Ages
Killary Fjord Cruise - A cruise up and down the only fjord in Ireland, a historic and very scenic area. During the boat ride an audio description of the area and its history is played
Hop-on Hop-off bus tour of Dublin - An OK way to get an intro to Dublin, but if your kids are not walkers, this is probably your best bet. They may be entertained just by being on the double-decker bus!
Inishmore Buggy ride - This link is our favorite buggy ride on Inishmore. You can call/email ahead and make a reservation or just wait until you get to the island as there are usually plenty of buggies lined up at the pier when the ferry comes in. If you think this will be a hit with your kids then I'd make a reservation/booking.
Corrib Princess Cruise - Is a picturesque ride up the Corrib river in Galway City. If you can, arrange a cruise at the right time for an adult Happy Hour before dinner.
Aran Island Ferry - A ferry line that operates out of Rossaveal. A shuttle to the ferry terminal from Galway City can be included in your ticket. I have also written a blog about the trip to Inishmore.
Liffey Boat Ride - A nice cruise up and down the Liffey River in picturesque Dublin.
Cliffs of Moher Cruise - On a good day this is a spectacular cruise, but check to see if there are spectacular crashing waves on the shore before booking your ticket. Spectacular crashing waves on the shore means 3-6 foot swells. Even the strongest sailers can get sick in that situation. The same ferry company also services the Aran Islands out of Doolin.
Wagon on Inishmore (one of many options)
Music and Dance
Trad on the Prom - Our favorite Irish Song and Dance production. I think it's better than Riverdance.... although many of the performers are alumnae of that show. It starts early but I've had a six year old fall asleep during the second half ... hard to believe with all the energy and activity on the stage ... but jetlag is a tough thing to tackle when you're six.
Tunes in the Church - This is a little more low-key than Trad on the Prom. The performances are in downtown Galway City in a medieval church. They also perform in Dublin but we have not seen the show in that venue.
Crane Bar - My favorite music pub in Galway. A great Sunday afternoon session and an early Saturday session, all downstairs. The upstairs sessions don't start until about 9:30 and it's not appropriate for young kids.
Bunratty Castle Medieval Dinner - This has been a hit with kids from five to eighty. The actors do a good job of including the younger kids into the performance. Depending on the age and the kids usual bedtime, the early seating is a better bet.
Croke Park - The home of the "All Ireland" Gaelic sports matches (and the Dublin Gaelic teams). There is a museum that documents the history of Gaelic sports in Ireland and its role in the struggle for independence. Also available is also a behind the scenes tour of the stadium.
Irish Rugby (IRFU) - This is the organization that "owns" the Irish National team and the four provincial teams.