A new campaign from Fáilte Ireland to encourage visitors to explore the “Hidden Heartlands” of Ireland has just launched covering 9 counties and stretching from Cavan in the North to Clare in the West. We have picked out a selection of things for families to do in the Hidden Heartlands, from paid to free activities. Find out about these Hidden Treasures for Families in the Hidden Heartlands of Ireland:
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The “Hidden Heartlands” covers these counties in the middle section of Ireland: Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, East Galway, Clare, Westmeath, Cavan, Tipperary, Offaly.
One of the nice things about the Hidden Heartlands is the wide variety of activities available for families, from getting outdoor and active, enjoying the nature, from the River Shannon to Lough Key Forest, from geoparks to stunning castles, there’s literally tons for families to do.
Here’s just a small selection that we picked out!
The dramatic Tullydermot Falls are situated approximately 6km south-west of Swanlinbar in the direction of the Bellavally Gap. The Tullydermot viewpoint overlooks Slieve Rushen and the lowlands of north Cavan. There is also a good view of the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain.
Dun a Ri Forest Park
Take a picnic to Dun a Ri Forest Park. Relax on the grass overlooking the river, or enjoy a walk on many of the trails through the park and over bridges, there’s even a wishing well!
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A visit to Craggaunowen will satisfy all ages. As well as a restored medieval castle, you can visit a crannóg and ring fort, and find out how people lived in the past and their traditions.
Wander the woods then pay a visit to the ‘Brendan Boat’ – a leather hulled boat built by Tim Severin who sailed across the Atlantic re-enacting the voyage of St. Brendan.
Those into animals will enjoy seeing goats, soy sheep and wild boar. There are also seasonal events throughout the year so check what’s on before you go.
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West Clare Railway
At West Clare Railway the highlight is one of the original West Clare Railway steam engines “The Sliabh Callan” brought back to its former glory. There’s also
- An old dining carriage renovated for tea/coffee area and souvenir shop
- The original station house with living quarters, kitchen, bedrooms, toilets
- Ticket office & waiting room
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Portumna Forest Park
Portumna Forest Park makes a great day out for kids, situated 1 km from Portumna town in Co. Galway. Pack up a picnic, outdoor gear and kids bikes/scooters for lots of outdoor fun, including leisure and mountain cycling, the Arboretum, Forest Park, Walking Trails,and Orienteering with access for all. Picnic facilities available on-site.
There are 4 looped trails in the park, ranging from a multi-access trail suitable for all visitors of approx 1km length, to a long multi-use trail of over 10km for walkers and cyclists.
One of our favourite walks takes you near the edge of Lough Derg and back to the picnic area. We have seen deer and red squirrels, as well as birds and shyer species including foxes and badgers. Dogs are allowed, just keep them on lead at all times.
Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre
The award winning Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre and Battlefield Trail can be found just off the M6 Dublin-Galway motorway. This was one of Europe’s most historic battles that changed the course of Irish history.
At the Centre you can discover how three rival European Kings (William of Orange, James II and Louis III) took hold of Ireland in their struggle for power with over 45,000 soldiers gathering at Aughrim in 1691, in what proved to be the defining battle of the Williamite War in Ireland.
The day we visited, the staff member was really engaging, told great stories and the kids loved dressing up in old costumes.
There’s also a kids playground and park right next to the Centre. And if you feel like a walk, then follow the self guided Battlefield Trail. The total Trail route is 10k so you can drive, cycle or walk part of the trail on the battlefield itself. Amazing to think such a dramatic story and one of Europe’s bloodiest Battles took place in today’s peaceful landscape.
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Acres Lake Floating Boardwalk
Acres Lake Floating Boardwalk in Co Leitrim is part of the Shannon Blueway, one of Blueways Ireland’s multi-activity recreational trails, designed to get people out and about on our waterways.
Ireland’s first-ever “floating walkway” is part of a 600m-long boardwalk on the River Shannon and that’s also part of a 14km off-road trail connecting Drumshanbo with Leitrim Village. The floating boardwalk runs 160m out over the water, kids will love this. Imagine telling them they are going to walk over water!
You can walk there or bring the kids’ bikes and get them out cycling down the route. Or you might enjoy trying some of the water activities like canoeing or stand up paddle boarding.
If you bring the swimming gear, there’s also Drumshanbo Outdoor Swimming Pool, it’s a heated pool with shallow and deep ends, with facilities, changing areas and showers there.
Acres Lake also has an interactive Visitor Centre, a kids playground, tennis courts, cruiser jetty. So there’s lots to do outdoors there and most of it free too.
Glencar Waterfall is situated near Glencar Lake, 11 kilometres west of Manorhamilton in County Leitrim. It is particularly impressive after rain and can be viewed from a lovely wooded walk with facilities on site including children’s playground, picnic areas, café facilities, tourism information and ample parking.
Glencar Waterfall served as an inspiration to the William Butler Yeats and features in his poem ‘The Stolen Child’:
‘Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star’
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Corlea Bog Trackway
Take a trip to Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre located 3km from Kenagh to see a 2,000 year old trackway and enjoy the unique plant life in the bog habitat. The oak road is the largest of its kind to have been uncovered in Europe.
Inside the interpretive centre, an eighteen-metre stretch of the preserved trackway is on permanent display in a hall specially designed to preserve the ancient wooden structure. As well as the exhibit area, there’s a short audio-visual presentation.
The centre is surrounded by walkways through the bog, and along gravel paths that offer fabulous views of Corlea bog.
Toilets and picnic area by the carpark.
“How did they get that up there?” must be what everyone asks when they visit Aughnacliffe dolmen, the impressive Stone Age portal tomb.
A pathway leads from the village of Aughnacliffe to this impressive megalithic tomb located in a shallow valley, among the rolling hills of north Longford.
This monument is unusual in that it has two capstones or roofstones, as similar portal tombs and dolmens typically have only one. Along with the nearby portal tomb at Cleenrath, the monument also has a traditional connection with the ancient legend of Diarmaid and Gráinne. It is believed to be one of their resting spots on their flight from Gráinne’s fiancé, the legendary hero Fionn MacCumhaill.
The monument is on private farmland, but is accessible by foot, please ensure that gates are closed behind you.
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Birr Castle is an experience of discovery for the whole family – home to extensive gardens and parkland, as well as the Historic Science Centre and the great telescope of the 1840s.
Kids will adore Ireland’s largest tree house, and the play area, complete with bouncy pillow, picnic areas, sandpits – in fact you may find it hard to pry them away! There is also a lovely café on site.
When you arrive be sure to pick up your Family Quest sheet and follow the clues!
Lough Boora Parklands
From something unique, visit Lough Boora Parklands in Co Offaly. The Parklands consist of a magnificent collection of natural & manmade lakes, wetlands, woodland areas, 50km of walkways.
There are picnic benches and a bike hire facility, as well as guided tours. There are sculptures too throughout the parklands and kids will love both the Willow World and the Fairy Trail.
At Junction 7 on the M6 Dublin/Galway exit towards Moate/ Clonmacnoise. Follow signs for Kilcormac and Lough Boora.
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Lough Key Forest & Activity Park
Located in Boyle, Co. Roscommon and set in the grounds of the old King-Harman Estate on the shores of island studded Lough Key, the Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, offers hours of entertainment for all the family.
A wonderful Adventure Play Kingdom will entertain the smallest visitors while the weather independent Boda Borg Challenge will test the mental skills and physical agility of everybody over seven! Take a boat trip on the lake or out to the islands, try the Zipit courses, segway or bike through the woods. Or let the kids enjoy a first driving experience on the Kids Jeep Safari!
There are miles of biking trails and orienteering courses and loads of picnic spots as well as the Lakeside Café. You can even stay over in the campsite.
And don’t miss the Lough Key Experience with its amazing Tree Canopy walk, hearing the history of the original house by going through the Servants Tunnel, and enjoy a climb to the top of the Moylurg Viewing Tower to see the great views over the estate and Lough.
Strokestown Park, House and Irish National Famine Museum
A visit to Strokestown Park encompasses Strokestown Park, Strokestown House and Gardens, and the Irish National Famine Museum.
Strokestown Park House and the National Famine Museum are open seven days a week and visitors will get a real insight into days gone by at this Georgian Palladian mansion in which many of the original furnishings can still be seen.
Visitors can also take a stroll through the 6 acre walled garden and surrounding woodlands. There’s a café to refresh yourselves afterwards. They run regular family friendly events so check their website before you visit.
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Standing guard in Tipperary over the River Suir, Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s most impressive medieval castles. It has featured in a few films and TV series – parts of The Tudors were filmed here, as well as Excalibur and Moonfleet.
Explore this historic castle and all it has to offer with a guided tour around Cahir Castle, where you’ll discover everything about the powerful Butler family who owned it and learn more about the magnificent building itself.
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Nenagh Heritage Centre
Housed in an interesting mid-19th century building which was a County Gaol Governor’s House for North Tipperary and the prison. Here you can learn about the history of these unique buildings, step back in time to experience old rural Ireland and follow in the footsteps of the condemned prisoners.
The Heritage Centre contains a model of the North Tipperary Gaol, a recreated schoolroom from 1913 Ireland, a recreation of the original kitchen from the North Tipperary Gaol, dating from the mid 1800’s and an Irish Dairy, which shows the stages of butter-making and the various utensils used in Irish farming life.
There is free admission and free guided tours each day.
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Athlone Castle was first built during the 13th Century to defend the crossing point on the River Shannon and evolved into a bold defensive structure over the centuries. Elements of the original castle can still be seen today. The Athlone Castle Visitor Experience tells the story of settlement in this part of Ireland’s Ancient East, from the Neolithic period through Viking, and Medieval ages to modern life in Athlone.
During your visit you will discover tales of bitter battles fought, territories won and lost and hear stories of bravery. Prepare to walk in the steps of monks, kings, soldiers and generals. You hear these stories and the story of Athlone Castle through a series of modern exhibitions, authentic museum artefacts, interactive games and an intense 360º cinematic experience of the Great Siege of Athlone.
Baysports Inflatable Water Park
Strictly speaking it’s in Roscommon but The Baysports Inflatable Water Park in Hodson Bay near Athlone is a must visit for families! It is a giant inflatable island with its own jungles, towers, trampolines, slides, water based obstacle courses and even a castle.
You can climb, jump, slide and splash into water, float on rafts, climb on the climbing frame, hamster wheels and viking rocker. It’s splashing fun to suit the young and young at heart. Wetsuits can be hired or you can bring your own.
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Over to you now. Is there a hidden treasure that you’ve found with the kids in the Hidden Heartlands? Tell us in the comments below.