Ireland: 50 Free Days Out
1. Kinsale Arts Festival, Co. Cork
Kinsale’s summer arts festival pulls a focus on vice and virtue in Irish society through a mix of music, art, literature, drama, food and family activities. Lunchtime concerts at Friary Church, art exhibitions and a bookish treasure hunt are just some of the free events.
Details: kinsaleartsfestival.com; July 7-15.
2. Irish America Day, Co. Wexford
A re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party on the famine ship Dunbrody is the highlight of New Ross’s July 4th celebrations, and there are plenty of free activities too. Another US Independence Day festival is running in Limerick.
Details: irishamericaday.com; 4thjulylimerick.com.
3. Hack the City, Dublin Science Gallery
The Science Gallery doesn’t do boring. Its summer show promises to apply the hacker mindset to Dublin, with exhibits including stealth underwear, robot drones and hijacked billboards. No need to hack your way in, either – the gallery is always free to visit.
Details: sciencegallery.ie; June 22- August 8.
4. West Cork’s Islands
West Cork’s offshore islands are teaming up to offer reduced rates on activities, services and accommodation this weekend. Bring your own boat, and the walking and cycling on Roaringwater Bay’s outposts is as free as you like.
Details: discoverireland.ie/islands; June 23-25.
5. Castlecomer Discovery Park, Co. Kilkenny
Woodland trails, a quality playground, a craft courtyard and plenty of picnic areas are the makings of a fab free day out on the former Wandesforde family estate.
6. The Doonbeg Seafood Festival
You don’t have to pay five-star prices for seafood to enjoy Doonbeg’s annual festival. Currach races, puppet shows and face painting are all on the menu too.
Details: doonbegseafoodfestival.com; July 20-22.
7. Killarney National Park
Bike or hike your way around Killarney’s magical mountain landscape without spending a cent. When you’re finished, hit the country’s five remaining national parks – at Connemara, Glenveagh, the Burren, Ballycroy and Wicklow Mountains.
8. Cairde Festival, Sligo
The good news is that Sligo’s arts festival features visual arts, pub and café concerts and a sensational Shelly River boat race. The better news is that they’re all free.
Details: cairdefestival.com; July 1-8.
9. The donkey Sanctuary, Co. Cork
Sadly, Donkeys continue to be abandoned and neglected all over Ireland. Happily, many find a home amongst the farm walks at this free sanctuary in Liscarroll.
10. Dunmore East Food Festival, Co. Waterford
Dunmore East is overflowing with fun, festivities and fish this weekend, with free events including a giant farmers’ market, Fun in the Park and the annual sandcastle competition. If you’re curious about fish, pop into Tony Kelly’s – he’s answering questions all weekend.
Details: waterford-dunmore.com; June 22-24
11. National Museum of Ireland, Country Life, Co. Mayo
Admission is free to all four of Ireland’s national museums. This collection near Castlebar concentrates on folk life from 1850-1950.
12. Newbridge House, Dublin
Playgrounds have taken a big evolutionary leap in the past generation. Visit the fantastic (and free) examples at Newbridge Demesne and Malahide Castle to find out just how big.
Details: newbridgehouseandfarm.com; malahidecastle.com.
13. Cork City Heritage Open Day
For one day only, 38 buildings usually closed to the public in Cork will allow entry free of charge. Plan your heritage trail carefully – the opening hours are 10am to 6pm.
Details: heritageweek.ie; August 18.
14. An Creagán, Co. Tyrone
An Creagán is an interpretive centre on the site of a 10,000-year-old glacial esker near Omagh. Stone circles, duck ponds and forest trails are all free for families.
15. The Galway Arts Festival
Street spectacles by the likes of Macnas, Kamchátka and Catalan masters Efimer are the way to go if you’re looking to save money at Galway’s summer arts fest.
Details: galwayartsfestival.com; July 16-29
16. Cork Midsummer Festival
By now, this trailblazing festival is in full swing, with free events including Corcadorca’s reading of Pat McCabe’s new play, The Stars of Bel Air, the festival market on Patrick Street, and John Burke and Simon Norfolk’s photographs from Afghanistan at the Crawford Gallery.
Details: corkmidsummer.com; June 21-July 1
17. The Hartmann Collection, Limerick University
Whet your appetite for the London Olympics with a visit to sports physio Gerard Hartmann’s mouth-watering collection of memorabilia at the University Arena. A medal from Sonia O’Sullivan and vest signed by Usain Bolt are just the start of it…
18. Glenbarrow Waterfall Loop, Co. Laois
Legend has it that Ireland’s second-longest river – The Barrow – has its source in an enchanted spring. You may not find that on this lovely loop near Rosenalis, but you will find a gorgeous waterfall spilling over several sandstone steps. An easy one for all the family.
19. OPW First Wednesdays
On the first Wednesday of every month, all OPW-managed heritage sites are free to visit. From Charles Fort in Kinsale to the State Apartments at Dublin Castle, from Muckross House to the Céide Fields, that’s quite a list to cover…
Details: heritageireland.ie; July 4, August 1.
20. Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork
First Fridays is a free open night on the first Friday of every month at Blackrock Castle. Activities include lectures, space workshops for all ages, and free entry to Cosmos at the Castle.
Details: bco.ie; July 6, August 3.
21. The Butler Trail, Co. Tipperary
This brand new trail follows the Suir River Valley from Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir to Cahir Castle and the Main Guard in Clonmel. The first two are free, and you can avoid the €3 entrance fee for the latter by showing up on the first Wednesday of the month.
22. National Botanic Gardens, Dublin
Glasnevin’s botanic gardens are free to enter, and they run free exhibitions and kids’ activities – such as ‘pond dipping’ (exploring the diversity of insects living in and around the gardens’ pond). You can download a free audio tour too. Can’t say fairer than that…
23. Newbridge Museum of Style Icons, Co. Kildare
Dean Martin’s tux, Lady Diana’s wedding veils and Michael Jackson’s red vinyl shirt from his last public performance in the US are just some of the surprisingly stellar exhibits in this celeb collection at the Newbridge Silverware store in Kildare.
24. Doneraile Forest Park, Co. Cork
Doneraile House was where Elizabeth St. Ledger became the first lady Freemason, after being discovered eavesdropping on her father’s Masonic lodge in 1712. 300 years later, the 450-hectare estate is owned by the state, and you’ll discover it free to visit too.
25. The Ballina Salmon Festival, Co, Mayo
Ballina is famous for its salmon fishing on the River Moy, hence this annual knees-up – which also incorporates the town’s street and arts festival. Lots of events are free.
Details: ballinasalmonfestival.ie; July 8-15.
26. Loop Head, Co. Clare
Despite winning a European Designation of Excellence Award, West Clare’s Loop Head remains under the radar. In once sense that’s a shame, given stunning features like the Bridges of Ross and Carrigaholt Castle. In another, it isn’t – you’ll practically have the place to yourself.
27. Science Picnic, Lifetime Lab, Cork
Feeling spontaneous? Why not skip down to Lifetime Lab at the old Cork City waterworks, where a free Science Picnic takes place from 11am-4pm today.
Details: lifetimelab.ie; June 23.
28. Killarney Summerfest
The streets of Killarney come alive during this summer shindig, with street performers, musicians and magicians entertaining at a free FunFest alongside the ticketed events.
Details: killarneysummerfest.com; July 27-August 5.
29. Spraoi, Waterford
Waterford’s electric street arts festival attracts some 100,000 people to the city every year. On August 5th, the Saw Doctors play a free concert on the quay.
Details: Spraoi.com; August 3-5.
30. The Devil’s Glen, Co. Wicklow
Wicklow is spilling over with mountain walks, but this one has something for all ages. The forest trail features sculpture in woodland project, so walkers pass artworks inspired by the surroundings as they make their way towards a lovely waterfall.
31. Cork Pride Parade
The 7th Annual Cork Pride Parade takes place on Sunday, August 5th. Commercial and community floats will celebrate the various LGBT groups in the city, and everyone can pitch in to carry the centre-piece – a gigantic rainbow flag. The Pride Festival itself lasts a week.
Details: corkpride.com; July 29 – August 6.
32. National Heritage Week
From guided tours of the gardens on Garinish Island to lunchtime lectures at the Royal Irish Academy, there are dozens of free events at National Heritage Week.
Details: heritageweek.ie; August 18-26.
33. Rathfarnham Castle, Co. Dublin
Children didn’t always have Wii, you know. The Berkeley Costume and Toy Collection at Rathfarnham Castle ranges from a rocking horse once used to teach children how to ride, to a 19th century dolls’ house (there’s a free playground, too).
34. Take a trail in Kilkenny…
Cycling, walking, crafts and food – whatever your interests, there’s a free route through Kilkenny City and its surrounding towns and villages, courtesy of Trail Kilkenny.
35. Féile Brian Boru, Killaloe & Ballina
Running over two weekends, this lakeshore festival continues to build towards the millennial Brian Boru celebrations of 2014. Pageants, parades, art exhibitions, ukulele troupes and fireworks are just some of the free events on a programme headed by Tommy Tiernan.
Details: feliebrianboru.com; June 21 to July 1.
36. The Great Western Greenway, Co. Mayo
If you build it, they will come. And so it proved. The people of Mayo built a brilliant, 42km cycling trail linking Westport to Achill, and the visitors came – including An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who opened the Great Western Greenway a year ago.
37. Puck Fair, Co. Kerry
Ireland’s oldest – and some would say wackiest – fair kicks off on August 10th in Killorglin. Expect all manner of street entertainment, including the coronation of the goat-king himself.
Details: puckfair.ie; August 10-12.
38. Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails
95km of mountain bike trails criss-cross the Ballyhoura Mountains, and provided you bring your own bike, they’re absolutely free to muck about on. Muck about being the operative term – prepare for hair to be raised, and faces to be absolutely splattered.
39. Kilmore Quay Seafood Festival, Co. Wexford
Music, street theatre, exhibitions, kids’ activities and more garnish the famous seafood platters at Kilmore Quay. The festival will be opened this year by Voice of Ireland star, Kiera Byrne.
Details: kilmorequayseafoodfestival.com; July 5-8.
40. The National Gallery, Dublin
The National Gallery isn’t just free to visit. Its Saturday children’s art workshops, colouring in the atrium and activity sheets are too. Prepare your inner Picasso…
41. Limerick City Gallery of Art
The newly renovated Limerick City Gallery of Art houses a noteworthy collection of 18th to 21st century Irish Art. Afterwards, Pery Square and its playground are great for a runabout.
42. Altamont Gardens, Co. Carlow
Reputed to be the most romantic garden in Ireland, Altamont opens daily from 9am to 7.30pm. It’s the flagship attraction on Carlow’s garden trail, and perfect for a date…
Details: altamontgarden.com; carlowgardentrail.com.
43. Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, Co. Kerry
Kerry’s newest visitor attraction is a €4.5m educational and activity centre bordering the Tralee Bay Nature Reserve. It has two zones – one of which is paid, and one of which is free and includes a light water sports lake, a ‘learn-to-fish’ lake, walks and a cycleway.
44. Volvo Ocean Race, Galway
Try sailing for free, watch the street acts, browse the continental markets and see the fireworks go off on July 4th at the latest addition to Galway’s packed festival calendar.
Details: volvoocranracegalway.ie; June 30 – July 8.
45. The Sheep’s Head Way, Co. Cork
You want to walk? There’s no better (or wilder) place than West Cork’s Sheep’s Head peninsula. Following an 88km network of old mass, school and fisherman’s trails around the Atlantic Coast, surprises include deserted villages, blowholes and hidden beaches.
46. Clonmel Junction Festival, Co. Tipperary
Music, comedy, theatre and art are all on the cards at this annual festival, and there are plenty of pub gigs, street entertainment and other family events for free. Watch out for a festival celebrating 100 years of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ (pictured) on the same dates, too.
Details: junctionfestival.com; July 6-15.
47. Pirate Festival, Hook Lighthouse, Co. Wexford
If you haven’t visited Hook Lighthouse in a while, it’s time to return. The iconic light is today a multifaceted attraction, including a heritage centre, café, children’s art workshop and, on July 1st, a free Pirate Festival. Dress up, and you get a free tour.
Details: hookheritage.ie; July 1.
48. Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin
Michael D’s mansion is free to visit by guided tour from 10.15am to 4pm on Saturdays. Tickets to the President’s official residence can be picked up at the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre in Ashtown Castle on the day of you visit.
49. The Comeragh Mountains, Co. Waterford
There’s nowt freer than putting one foot in front of the other. And Waterford’s Comeragh Mountains are a beautiful place to do it, with highlights ranging from Mahon Falls to the corrie lake that will knock any National Geo cover for six – Coumshingaun.
50. The Dublin Mountains
The Dublin Mountain Partnership is making huge strides in getting people into the hills. Free guided walks include a 4km potter around Massey’s loop tomorrow (11am, meet at the Hell Fire car park) and 15km Tibradden hike on July 1st (11am, meet at Tibradden Car Park).
Details: dublinmountains.ie; June 24, July 1.
NB. All information correct going to press, but times and prices are always subject to change and availability. Some inclusions may involve parking charges. This feature originally appeared in The Irish Examiner.
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