Tours and trampolines, forests and fishing – Lough Derg is a brilliant place to set your children’s pulses racing, both on the water and off it. Mixing great outdoor activities with restorative moments where kids can really switch off, you’ll find everything from watersports to great heritage attractions, nature walks, mountain-bike trails and even a chocolate factory.
Fire up their imagination with visits to castles, an old workhouse, ancient forts and a crumbling abbey filled with secrets. Encourage a sense of play in inflatable waterparks, on cycle trails through forests rich with wildlife, and on fishing adventures out on the water. Or take it easy along the lough’s quiet shores, where scenic harbour towns and villages make for long, lazy lunches and laid-back walks. Bring on the fun.
A taste of fishing...If you like the idea of spending time fishing with your kids, but you don’t have any of the requisite skills, don’t panic. The Shannon Boat Hire company in Killaloe runs “Little Jacks” courses – fishing lessons for children aged from four to 15. It’s a wonderful way to learn the basics, get out on the water, and catch and release a fish. The workshops last around three to three-and-a-half hours, and are perfect for a family day out. Prices start from €50 and include accompanying persons, life jackets, rods and lures. (shannon-boat-hire.com)
Portumna Forest...Exploring Portumna Forest by bike is an amazing adventure for kids – weaving around the cycle tracks, taking picnic stops, and trying to spot some of the beautiful fallow deer and red squirrel who call the park home. You can choose from the longer Bonaveen and Rinmaher Cycling Trails – easy-grade mountain biking trails – or the shorter Woodland Cycling Trail, which is ideal for younger children at a length of only 2km. Kids will also enjoy trying to spot the white-tailed sea eagle from the new bird hide in the forest, as well as the Forest Friendly Walking Trail, which tracks along forest road and timber boardwalk. (coillte.ie/site/portumna-forest-park/)
Stand up paddle boarding...The still waters of the canal at Killaloe are the perfect place for kids to try a stand up paddle boarding lesson with the folks at Soulkite SUP. Lessons take place at the car park near the bridge and go up and down the canal for around an hour, with all the necessary skills covered. All equipment is provided, and wetsuits are available to rent for €5. Prices start from €25 for under 16s. (soulkite.ie)
Tearaways Farm and Activity Centre...A 15-minute drive from Portumna, you’ll find the Tearaways Pet Farm and Activity Centre, just outside the town of Birr in County Offaly. There are tonnes of seriously cute animals here, including rabbits and Highland cows, but that’s not all… the farm also boasts a go-cart track, playground, football area, sandpits, Barrel trail and Sledge run. And it doesn’t stop there: the high-octane fun just keeps on coming, thanks to a purpose-built 6,000 sq ft indoor activity centre, with everything from ball pits to tunnel slides. (tearaways.ie)
Birr Castle...A wonderland for young and old, Birr Castle is a perfect mix of science and pleasure. The excellent Science Centre brings you on an interactive journey through early photography, engineering and astronomy, anchored by the amazing Great Telescope, which dates to the 1840s, and was once the largest in the world. After that, kids can let off steam around the extensive grounds, which include Ireland’s largest treehouse. (birrcastle.com)
Wilde Irish Chocolates...Drop into this friendly little chocolate factory in the village of Tuamgraney, County Clare, and your kids will be in seventh heaven. Over 80 types of chocolates are made here, and the open plan production area means you can see the chocolate being created and packed. Entrance is free, with the added bonus of tasters along the way! (wildeirishchocolates.com)
Spirit of Killaloe Cruises...Cruises on Lough Derg are always a big hit with kids: they’re fun, relaxed and with most tours lasting around an hour, they’re short enough not to let boredom set in. One of the more popular is the Killaloe River Cruises, which has two luxury boats – the Spirit of Killaloe and the Spirit of Lough Derg. The tours run daily along the Shannon and Lough Derg, and an engaging commentary will keep you enlightened about the sights and waterscapes that you pass. (killaloerivercruises.com)
Lough Derg Aqua Splash...In the lovely village of Dromineer, County Tipperary, you’ll find Aquasplash – a perfect place to indulge in a super-fun day on the water. There are pedal boats to rent here, as well as banana boating and kayaking. But the huge draw has to be the Supertramp trampoline – expect a major adrenaline shot! If that all sounds too much, why not try the Water Park – a huge floating playground that’s suitable for all ages. Prices start from €10. (aquasplash.ie)
History, with a dose of adventure
With Lough Derg as their playground, it’s no wonder kids get such a kick out of this part of Ireland. But the area also boasts incredible history, which is brought to life through exploring its forts, castles, a workhouse and abbey. Brian Boru’s fort Béal Ború, just outside Killaloe, is great fun for kids, who can scramble around its steep hills and learn about the history of Ireland’s High King (Killaloe/Ballina also host a festival dedicated to their most famous son in late July).
Nenagh Castle (with its outdoor viewing platform) and Portumna Abbey are two other great stops. At the abbey, kids will get a real kick out of searching for the hidden tunnel where monks kept their gold, and trying to find the upside down faces carved into the stone. There’s a definite sense of adventure attached to trips out to Holy Island – this 6th century monastery is only accessible by boat and is packed with fascinating tales.
And finally, don’t miss bringing older kids on a tour of the Irish Workhouse Centre – it lifts history right out of the text book and into real life. Powerful and moving.