Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Time Out? Bridge that Gap - at The Dunloe - Killarney, Co.Kerry

Taking a holiday, in Ireland or anywhere for that matter, with kids is never straight forward. The obvious thing like budget and scheduling time off are likely to be the easy bit – location is the challenge. We’ve been all over Ireland either with or without the children but constants in our list of locations are Killarney and Kilkenny – the reasons vary – and over the years we’ve seen the good and the not so good offerings from around the country.
A mini-break is a treat for everyone – and there are so many hotels now offering family breaks – but when you pull back the covers – some are not really family breaks at all – more like family prices for a double room with two or three extra bed squeezed in. Now – don’t get me wrong – sometimes a product of that quality will be matched by the price and you will settle but there’s much, much more to consider and value when looking for a family break.

For us – before we even consider a family break we ask two simple questions. Does it have a pool and a kids club. If the answer to either of these questions is no – we move on. The pool is the main thing that our children want and its terrific to see them all having fun in the water – I’m eternally grateful that we stuck with the swimming lessons. For Mum and Dad – well, frankly – it’s our break too and if there is a well organised activity programme for the children while we are away – that give us some precious time together to catch up – otherwise it’s just geography isn’t it? Same thing different place!

We were invited to take a trip to The Dunloe, a 5* property about fifteen minutes from Killarney just off the main Kilorglin Road, to experience its luxury family package offerings. 

As the name would suggest, this fine hotel is within spectacular viewing distance of the renowned Gap of Dunloe and on the site of the original 12th century castle of the same name. As we drove down the long tree lined avenue of The Dunloe – we couldn’t help but stop and say hello to the amazingly friendly Halfinger Ponies that were there as if to greet us.

At the front door, one of the Hotel porters was on hand to help us with our luggage and park the car so we could start exploring straight away. Check in with Liam, was a quick process and he took the time to explain all that was available for the family at the Hotel. 

It quickly became apparent that we were not going to need to leave the hotel for fun this weekend.  It quickly became apparent that we were not going to need to leave the hotel for fun this weekend.

The Kids Club was of particular interest and promised an action packed itinerary of Indoor and Outdoor activity such as Indoor and Outdoor Games, Arts and Crafts, Movie time with Popcorn among the high-lights. 

However – that was only the Kids Club – as ll guests can also avail of the Leisure Centre, Fishing, Tennis, Pool,Table Tennis and the wonderful new playground to the rear of the Hotel  - in the shadow of Dunloe Castle. Our room was  a “Family Room” which was an ideal set up for us – essentially two large ensuite rooms connected by an un-lockable door. The kids room had 3 large single beds all facing a massive TV on the wall. Perfect. 

Having the “Separate “ rooms makes such a difference as it offers everyone some space to unwind and chill out and Adult time when the kids are exhausted from the days events. 

Our huge room offered the most amazing views of the Gap of Dunloe and just some of the 64 acre, real working farm, upon which The Dunloe is situated. The hotel has two full time farmers on site and it was really interesting for the kids to watch them tend the animals and indeed prompted plenty of questions. We were really enjoying this. 

Time to go explore before dinner and our maiden voyage to the Kids Club.

The three boys all have one thing in common – they love the water – so while it was too late to go for a swim we went to take a look at the pool anyway – we were not disappointed. 
There was a beautiful pool with probably the best views we’ve experienced from within it, plus Sauna, Steam Room, fully equipped gym with the latest technology and treatment rooms.  The area is fantastic and so bright and airy!

The Kids Club

The kids club operates every day from 10am to 12pm and 6pm to 9pm which is great for everyone as it gives the kids time to go and play and meet other kids. 

Kids Club activities vary by day and include Tennis, Table Tennis, Indoor Soccer, Parachute Games, Circuits, Rounder, Music and Movement, Novelty sports games, scavenger hunt, Horse bingo, Painting and Collage, Clay Modeling, paper Mosaics, Fun quiz, Kids disco, story time and more.  

There is a nice emphasis on outdoor activity with the children and if the weather is poor – which is not unusual in Ireland – there is also the huge indoor Tennis Court area on site to use. 

All indoor activity takes place in the purpose built Kids Club which is, as Andrew told me “the biggest kids club he’s ever seen” – it even had a cinema!

For us – it’s a few precious hours to catch up, have some dinner etc. This is so important to us and hence when we find a destination that offers a great Kids Club it really helps us to relax and enjoy our break too. However – this time there was a bonus. 

Normally our 13 year old would be too old or not interested in the Kids Club but The Dunloe have already thought of that, thankfully.  

Already available were the latest consoles including PS4s, Xbox and Wii so the appeal of the area was widened – in fact the lure of brand new PS4s was too tempting even for him to resist!

The Park – Playground, Gardens, Castle, Picnic Areas, Fitness Circuit!

Nestled within the grounds of the Hotel is a little oasis of fun for the kids.  Mum and Dad can relax and watch them enjoying themselves on the swings, zip lines, see saws, slides and play frames in this magnificent setting. 

There’s even an all-weather table tennis table and equipment can be borrowed from reception.

Family Fun

While the Kids club here at The Dunloe is fantastic – there is also the opportunity to spend some time together as a family enjoying some of the other activities available on site, we collected our fishing rods from reception and headed to the park on the hotel grounds which had a small trail down to the river.

 We took full advantage and spent a few hours on the banks of the River Laune fishing together. We had never done this before and surprisingly for us – everyone had a great time and great memories were formed.

We also explored the vast grounds and took full advantage of the offer of a guided tour of the castle itself by The Dunloe General Manager – Jason Clifford. The castle has had vast amount of restoration work done by the owners in conjunction with the OPW and its imposing form acts as a focal point from many angles within the grounds. From the top – there are amazing views to be enjoyed of the River Laune as it weaves its way toward the lakes and indeed the Hotel grounds itself. From our vantage point we imagined what is might have been like to live at Dunloe Castle during times of attack. How it would have been to defend it as the intruders clambered up the hill from the River banks. That was great fun!

Pony Trekking & Kayaking

Guest at The Dunloe also have the opportunity to visit the stables on site and take a complimentary Pony Trek. Again all ages and experience levels are catered for and Kyle and Christopher really loved it.  It is also possible to arrange locally for Kayaking experiences on the river but we just simply ran out of time – that’s probably the only one thing you can never have enough of here.

Dining at The Dunloe

The food at The Dunloe is incredible. The The Garden CafĂ© is open all day and offers a terrific selection from it’s menu in a casual setting over looking the grounds. For a more formal, elegance experience – try The Oak Restaurant – either are superb. 

If you have a penchant for presentation you will just love the creative flare exhibited on every dish. Breakfast is a buffet style which an mouthwatering array of options to choose from. If you wanted something a little different Chef is happy to accommodate – in fact – he even “created” a delicious fresh savory omelette for me, that was typical of our Dunloe experience.

 The Kids menu is comprehensive and offers a great range of healthy options and alternatives so no complaints there.

Our favourite though had to be the triple Chocolate Mousse which along with any other deserts we tried was exquisite and yes temptation did give way once or twice!!

Menu Links

If it’s a luxury family break you are looking for – The Dunloe ticks all the boxes and more. The children will be spoiled for choice and you will just want to kick back and take it all in. There is something seductively sedate about The Dunloe that will have you so relaxed leaving you will never want to leave. Friendly staff, fantastic food, breathtaking views and happy kids – it ticked all the boxes for us.

Family Package Rates:
Prices for 3 Nights B&B and Dinner for 2 on one evening are:
  • €890 per family based on a family room
  • €890 per family based on Superior room
  • €1070 per family based on interconnecting rooms
Prices for 3 Nights B&B, Dinner for 2 on one evening, Family ticket to Muckross House & Traditional Farms
  • €935 per family based on a family room
  • €935 per family based on Superior room
  • €1115 per family based on interconnecting rooms
Prices for 3 Nights B&B, Dinner for 2 on one evening, family trip through Gap of Dunloe by jaunting cart
  • €950 per family based on a family room
  • €950 per family based on Superior room
  • €1130 per family based on interconnecting rooms Recommend:Go for the three night option with Muckross House and Traditional Farms included. It’s only a short drive but the experience the family with get from stepping back in time on the farm is fantastic.

More information on The Dunloe Packages from the Hotel :

3 Night Family Special
Treat yourself to a wonderful 3 night break with the family (valid for 2 adults and up to 3 children in a Family or Superior Room) with one a la carte evening meal for two in our Oak Restaurant. Wake up to our sumptuous full Irish breakfast buffet for all the family each morning. All guests enjoy complimentary access to the extensive leisure activities at The Dunloe which include 25m indoor pool, sauna, steam room, dedicated chill-out zone, Techno gym, indoor tennis, horse-riding, outdoor children's playground and indoor Wii / Games Room. €890 per family in family/superior room (or € 1070 per family based on interconnecting room).

3 Night Family Package with Muckross House & Farms
This fantastic family package includes 3 Nights Bed & Breakfast in one of our spacious family or superior rooms for 2 adults and up to 3 children, dinner for 2 on one evening, a family ticket to Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms plus complimentary access to our onsite leisure facilities which include 25m indoor pool, sauna, steam room, Techno gym, indoor tennis, horse-riding, outdoor children's playground and indoor Wii / Games Room. €935 per family in family/superior room (or €1115 per family based on interconnecting room)

3 Night Family Package with Carriage Ride through the Gap of Dunloe
Take the family on an adventure through the famous Gap of Dunloe. A horse drawn carriage will collect you from the front door of the hotel to take you on a trip through the spectacular glaciated pass, where the path leads through the valley with Ireland’s highest mountains rising on either side. (Approx 2hr trip, returning to The Dunloe) Your trip will include a stop at a coffee house at the end of your carriage ride, where your choice of hot chocolate, tea or coffee and scones is included. Your package also includes 3 Nights’ accommodation in a family or Superior room for 2 adults and up to 3 children, dinner for 2 on one evening and full buffet breakfast each morning and complimentary access to the hotels unrivalled leisure facilities. €950 per family in family / superior room (or €1130 per family based on interconnecting rooms)

N.B. Damian and his family were guests of The Dunloe during their stay.

More information at and

Kids Club Details Below!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Clare Island Adventure

Clare Island Pier
When the email arrived from Hilda – Marketing Manager of Clare Island Adventures it was a cold January afternoon. “Would I be in interested in a “Weekend of Fun & Adventure on Clare Island she inquired? I made my decision in an instant. When you read my blog post you’ll understand just why

Clare Island Adventures is an initiative between Go Explore Hostels’ Carl O’Grady, Adventure West, led by Ian and Louise Moore & Clare Island Ferrieswho have teamed up to provide a high quality experience to those interested in exploring adventure activities on the island.” Quite simply these companies have identified the potential to create adventure activity breaks suitable for groups such as Stag, Hen and Team building – taking advantage of the fabulous setting and terrain that the Island offers.
Pirate Queen
Our remit was very simply to join a group of travel journalists and experience just what a typical weekend of adventure activity was like on Clare Island.
We left Roonagh Pier, near Louisburg, Mayo, on the Friday evening ferry. There was a good
 mix of tourists and islanders aboard including a large Stag Party heading off to enjoy the weekend. The crossing took about 20 minutes and we arrived on Clare Island ready to start our weekend. It turned out that the Stag party on board was also here for a Clare Island Adventure.
Go Explore Hostel and Sailors Bar & Restaurant
Met by Carl O’Grady, owner of Go Explore Hostel and Sailors Bar & Restaurant – we loaded our bags into his jeep and strolled up to the hill to our home for the Weekend. Now, having not been in a hostel for many years I was intrigued.  However as soon as we rounded the corner and seen Go Explore we were so impressed. Perched beautifully overlooking the bay with the most incredible views. The hostel is spotlessly clean, bright, airy and you get the sense of homeliness in it. Downstairs there is a large Kitchen and communal dining area – great to discuss over breakfast the adventures of the day before. A common room for chilling out and a beautiful bar/restaurant where one can sit back and enjoy a drink and a meal while soaking up postcard type views. We thought perhaps this was its first year open but Carl explained it was completely renovated in 2013.
8 Bed Dorm - Go Explore Hostel
All rooms have key card access and our room which the two of us shared was a large 8 Bed Dorm – comprising 4 sets of bunk beds with lovely memory foam mattresses and heavy duvets. Complete with en-suite bathroom and of course 5 star views! This was not how I remembered hostelling and how far Carl has taken this hostel is just incredible.
We met with the other guests in Sailors bar later that evening, shared some fine Irish Stout and heard stories of just what they were going to be getting up to over the weekend. The Stag party had opted for a mixture of activity which Clare Island Adventures are delighted to arrange. They chose a 2 night package which included two activities – in this case it was fishing and Coasteering. More about that later.
There is a full restaurant menu available and chef Azzi treated us to some fantastic fair. Our group had a mixture of fresh fish (caught by the staff daily) and the most deliciously mouth watering 22 day hung Co.Mayo Sirloins!
We finished early as with a full day of activity ahead we figured we would need the energy. We were right!!

Day 2:
The thing I love about hostelling is how everyone gets stuck in! Bright and early we met for breakfast where you can either opt for the continental breakfast or you can request a full Irish as an optional extra. The continental breakfast you make yourself in the large kitchen area – well stocked with all you need. When you are finished you wash your own dishes and head off. The banter and craic in the kitchen with the other guests is something that makes this experience unique and much more fun and interesting.

Lewis from Louisburg, still smarting from his brush with hosting celebrity Christine Bleakly a few weeks before and Ian Moore both from Adventure West were our guides for the day as we set of on our first activity – Coasteering. The Clare Island Adventures website describes it as “a high adrenalin water sport gaining in popularity in Ireland.  It combines rock-scrambling with cliff jumping and adventure swimming. You’ll be instructed in how to jump safely, and guided back to shore (or maybe even through a cave), where you can do it all over again”.Having been fitted with wet-suits, two pairs of gloves, socks and old runners we set off across the rugged landscape in our bus piloted by Ian. The island is just intensely scenic with the rugged landscape changing at every turn – we almost forgot we were heading off to jump from cliffs into the freezing cold waters.

There were 8 in our group – all of differing ages and abilities but this activity is a great leveller. There were two teenagers with us and they, of course, showed no fear and led the way. The first jump is an unflattering belly flop into the water and a short swim – under the watchful eye of Ian and Lewis. This is the acclimatisation bit – where the wet suit fills with water which your body then heats up – then the wetsuit does its thing and keeps you warm. With hands, feet and body covered the only parts that you feel the cold are your face and ears but we learned if you keep moving about all of that was fine.
The idea is – you jump in – swim to the other side, clamber up onto the shore then walk a bit more, usually climbing. You just need to take your time and all the time anticipating your next jump. The buzz and adrenalin rush is amazing. As we climbed out of the water on the first one – Lewis told us that the next would be approximately two metres and we would go steadily higher over the 2 hours we had allocated. Two metres might not seem that high but when you stand on the edge of a rocky surface with the idea of jumping in – it seems twice that!
So on and on we went – higher and higher until the final jump which is from a sea-stack and was approximately 12 metres. This took every bit of will-power to leap from and I’m so glad I did it. Every muscle in my body was shouting NO – but off I went!
This is truly the most exhilarating fun activity I think I've ever tried and I LOVED every minute of it.
Feeling cold and hungry the group trekked back to our van and headed back to our wonderful hostel where warm showers and a feast of soup and sandwiches awaited.
Rock-Climbing & Abseiling:

Our group was now ready for our next challenge – Rock Climbing and Abseiling. Again – with a group of differing ages and abilities I was curious as to how this might go. Clearly – this is something that the team are also used to and as we walked down toward the top of the cliffs – we met with Benny and Kirsten (no it's not an Abba Tribute band)  who assured us we would all be fine regardless of experience or ability. I was delighted to be struck by the extreme attention to safety and a good deal of time was given over to this. Fully briefed – we took a small walk/climb to our first test. Benny explained that we were going to attempt rock climbing while fully harnessed in and would be perfectly safe if one of us slipped. Even with that assurance – it was difficult to fully believe in the harness but as you got more and more into the activity your confidence levels grew. Abseiling from the top was the same – but exhilarating once you were able to trust the rope and your “be-layer” below.
We move to more challenging climbs – with the most amazing back drop you could imagine – and despite biting winds we managed to spend almost 3 hours on the cliffs of Clare Island.
Challenging yourself in this way – particularly if you have a fear of heights – is so rewarding. It’s ok if you decide it’s not for you after you try it. You can come down or stop at any time – but the group seemed to encourage each other so much that you just force yourself to go for it!
Back to Go-Explore Hostel
We returned to the Hostel and the group opted for an early dinner – having had so much fresh air we were all ravenous again! Another superb meal later (thanks Carl & Azzi) and the locals and other island guests began to trickle into Sailors Bar. The stag party that had been doing fishing and coasteering earlier in the day also came back and then a band arrived in to liven things up! With a full house, a great band and an open mic this is a party that went on long past my bed time!!

Day 3
Early start on Sunday and Carl kindly offered to take us on a short hike before our ferry back to Roonagh. Delighted with this offer of hospitality we gratefully accepted and just look at our reward for our hard work climbing to the highest peak on the island. Along the way – Carl shared his vast knowledge on the Island History, showed us examples of bog Oak and gave us invaluable insights into just how it was to be an islander in times past. We felt this really rounded off the weekend as we got the entire experience from the high adrenaline activity to the serene and rugged beauty of the island and a great sense of what being an islander means/meant.
Superb trip and highly recommended for everyone. Most activities are suitable for groups of 4 or more from ages 12 and up. Clare Island Adventures specialises in putting together package to suit all tastes and Louise tells me she is more than happy to split packages between Clare Island and Louisburg and/or Westport. It should be noted that family bookings are generally not taken in the Hostel for weekend in Summer time but please contact them directly to discuss.
Special thanks to the ever hospitable Carl O’Grady, the fearless Ian and Lewis, our cliff hangers Kristen and Benny and everyone on Clare Island and Roonagh that made this trip so awesome – can’t wait to get back!

Sample Hen/Stag Pricing:
Your hen or stag package includes:
Return ferry from Roonagh Pier with Clare Island Ferry Company
Bed & Breakfast (full Irish) in Go Explore Hostel
1/2 day adventure package * with Adventure West
* Choose one of the following; rockclimbing & abseilling, coasteering, snorkelling, Clare Island Challenge or guided hill walks. 

One night + half day adventure package from    €85.00
Two nights + half day adventure package from  €115.00
Optional extras
Increase to full day Adventure Activity          €30.00
 Soup & Sandwiches                                           €9.00
Dinner (3 courses)                                               €28.00
 Dinner (main course + beverage)                      €19.95
Go-Explore Hostel Prices
Double bedroom en-suite from €70  per room per night or €35 per person per night
4 bed Family Room from €90 per room or €25 per person per night?
5 bed Family Room from €110 per room per night or €25 per person per night?
4 bed Dorm from €25 per person per night
6 bed Dorm  from €25 per person per night
14 bed Dorm  from €22.50 per person per night

Photos by John Mee Photography / Kelvin O'Neill

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