10 Best… Free Days Out

3rd May 2011
Pól Ó Conghaile

10 Best Free Days Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saddle up for a cycling trail…

You mightn’t have two cents to spare, but what about two wheels? If you’re a mountain biker, some 98km of trails are threaded through the Ballyhoura Mountains, amounting to an exhilarating (and bone-rattling) collection of boardwalk, berms and technical rocky bits. If you fancy an easier ride, try the 3.6km Glenisca cycling trail at Curragh Chase in Co. Limerick. A few dips, hollows and loose stones are the most you’ll have to contend with in this family-friendly forest.

Details: ballyhouracountry.com; coillteoutdoors.ie.

 

Nab time in a National Park…

You do own them, after all. In May, the Burren explodes with wildflowers, ushering in the Burren in Bloom festival. In Killarney National Park, you can re-discover what the tourist fuss is about (and catch a glimpse of the last herd of wild red deer in the country). Or what about heading north to Glenveagh National Park in Donegal, carved spectacularly into the Derryveagh Mountains? A free bus leaves the visitor centre for Lough Inshagh Gate and the head of the Glen every Sunday at 10am.

Details: npws.ie.

 

Grab a gallery outing…

There is no charge to visit a surprising number of Ireland’s top galleries. In Cork, those include the Crawford and the Lewis Glucksman Gallery on the UCC campus. In Dublin, the Chester Beatty is the little library with a big reputation – it will be exhibiting the art books of Henri Matisse from May 26th. If you’re in Dublin tomorrow, there’s a free workshop for kids aged 4-10 at 3pm in the National Gallery. Intriguingly titled ‘Battle Dress’, it’s facilitated by Mary Broderick.

Details: crawfordartgallery.ie; Glucksman.org; cbl.ie; nationalgallery.ie.

 

Take a hike…

There’s nothing freer than fresh air, and Ireland has more looped walks, forest trails and waymarked ways than ever for your fix. In Cahir, Co. Tipperary, a sweet 2km stroll along the River Suir (pictured) connects the castle with the Swiss Cottage. Nearby, in the Glen of Aherlow, you’ll find loops for all abilities and, if you fancy something more adventurous, try the Sheep’s Head Way – a four-day loop around the eponymous West Cork peninsula. There’ll be barely another visitor in sight.

Details: discoverireland.ie/walking; coillteoutdoors.ie.

 

Hit the heritage hotspots…

Hundreds of Irish heritage sites are out in the open and free to visit – from Poulnabrone dolmen in Co. Clare to the massive stone circle at Lough Gur, Co. Limerick. In Co. Cavan, you’ll find a baby Burren marked by mysterious glacial boulders, karstic formations, wedge tombs, rock art and promontory forts outside Blacklion. Several of the OPW’s heritage gems are free to visit too – including Listowel Castle, Ormond Castle and St. Mary’s Church in Gowran, Co. Kilkenny.

Details: heritageireland.ie.

 

Browse Ireland’s bogs…

Ireland’s bogs are slowly gathering steam as visitor attractions. At Lough Boora in Co. Offaly, several walking trails wrap around Sculpture in the Parklands, a suite of sculptures inspired by the area’s natural and industrial legacy. Further south, the souvenir-sized Clara Bog is one of the best examples of a raised bog in Western Europe. It hit the headlines when Brian Cowen used his last official public engagement to open its new interpretative centre.

Details: sculptureinparklands.com; npws.ie.

 

Take a dip…

Yes, you will probably freeze. But an outdoor dip is also free. Think of the Pollock holes in Kilkee, the famous rock pools that hold their water at low tide. Or what about Guillamene Cove in Tramore, where the deep water means you can leap off several rocks, and the ‘Men Only’ sign harks back to the glory days of gentlemen nudie bathing in the 1880s? In Dublin, the 40-Foot gets all the press, but there’s a far sweeter swimming spot further south at Killiney’s White Rock.

 

Drive for the day…

Ok, you’ll have to pay for the petrol – but otherwise, a scenic drive is the perfect way to grab a day out whilst keeping your costs in check. If you’re a movie buff, check out locations for movies like Moby Dick (Youghal) and Michael Collins (Béal na mBláth) on Fáilte Ireland’s Atlantic Film Trail? Clare’s Loop Head and Waterford’s Copper Coast are gorgeous saunters, or you could travel back in time, following the route of the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup Race around Kildare, Laois and Carlow.

Details: discoverireland.ie; waterfordtourism.com; gordonbennettroute.com.

 

Make for a museum…

We may have lost our sovereignty, but we still have our national museum. At the Museum of Archaeology on Dublin’s Kildare Street, you can check out one of the largest collections of prehistoric gold work in Western Europe. At the Museum of Country Life near Castlebar, Co. Mayo, see how Irish communities survived before d’Internet and takeaway coffee. And of course, the Natural History Museum on Merrion Street is Grand Central for stuffed beasts and pinned insects.

Details: museum.ie.

 

Break for the beach…

Everyone has a favourite beach. Where’s yours? My young kids were spellbound recently by the crushed coral sands at Trá an Doilín, just outside Carraroe in Connemara. Or what about Ballyrisode in Goleen, Co. Cork? Or Stradbally Cove in Waterford? You can’t access Nuns’ Beach in Ballybunion for a swim, but the cliff-walk above it is stunning. For sands and surfing, try Spanish Point in Co. Clare, and for families, you can’t beat Derrynane in Kerry. An embarrassment of riches…

 

NB. Some attractions may involve a parking charge. This feature originally appeared in The Irish Examiner.