Rathwood, Co. Carlow
What is Rathwood? It’s probably easier to say what it isn’t. Set in the countryside near Tullow, this family-owned phenomenon includes shops, a restaurant, playground, garden centre, forest walks and birds of prey centre. At Easter, Halloween and Christmas, a yellow express train sets off into the woods... with chocolate eggs, spooks or Santa as the final stop (there are teddy bear’s picnics in summer too). It’s amazing to think the whole operation grew out of a single potato shed on the family farm. The cafe focuses on good, simple fare – with a mean chocolate mud pie.
Details: 059 915-6285; rathwood.com
The Irish National Stud, Co. Kildare
Are your kids into horses? Then consider a trip to the Thoroughbred County. The Irish National Stud shot to fame when Queen Elizabeth visited in 2011, but it’s about far more than bloodstock and breeding. Sure, you’ll get to see loads of frolicking foals. But there’s also an Irish Horse Museum, Japanese Gardens which children love to explore, and a brand new playground. The restaurant is run by Ballymaloe-trained Natalie Collins, with highlights including hotpots, sambos and wraps made to order and freshly baked treats. They do afternoon tea, too.
Details: 045 521617; irishnationalstud.ie
Linalla ice-cream Cafe, Co. Clare
For such a short stretch of land, Clare’s Flaggy Shore has a heavyweight literary heritage. Seamus Heaney implored us to make the time to visit in ‘Postscript’. Lady Gregory kept a summer home at Mount Vernon. But kids won’t be won over with talk of ‘literary heritage’. Kids will be won over with talk of ice-cream, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Bríd and Roger Fahy’s cafe. Bríd makes the ice-cream with milk from the cows outside the door, occasionally foraging in the Burren for flavours like hazelnut, sea buckthorn and gorse. Worth writing home about...
Details: 065 707-8167; linallaicecream.ie
Castlecomer Discovery Park, Co. Kilkenny
Castlecomer Discovery Park is another great day out in one destination, mixing up playgrounds, a craft courtyard, tree top walk, trout fishing lake and coal mining museum on the old Prior-Wandesforde estate in Kilkenny. The Jarrow Cafe serves up a good menu of home-baked food in the oak-built visitor centre... with local ingredients including Goatsbridge trout. Save some room for the sticky toffee pudding too - its secret recipe has won rave reviews from kids and adults alike.
Details: 056 444-0707; discoverypark.ie
Lough Key Forest Park, Co. Roscommon
Moone Boy may have put Boyle on the global map – but savvy families have known about its best-kept secret for ages. Lough Key Forest Park is one of the best family attractions in the midlands, combining play centres, tree canopy walks, Zipit forest adventures, old servants’ tunnels and more into a great day out. The Lakeside Cafe overlooks Lough Key and Castle Island, offering up a neat array of sweet and savoury treats... with kids’ menus and baby bowls for toddlers. Attraction prices vary, and remember to bring coins for the barrier!
Details: 071 967-3122; loughkey.ie
Pól Ó Conghaile is Ireland’s Travel Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@poloconghaile) or online at http://poloconghaile.com/.