CAPTURING CULTURE WITH THE CLAN:
Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way with Kids
By Sara Aitken and Deborah Schull
The beauty of Ireland’s west coast might cause the uninitiated to assume it offers only photo ops for sightseeing grownups. But cherished childhood visits to the beach at Mullaghmore in County Sligo–enjoying fish and chips at the Pier’s Head and laughs at O’Donnell’s, my granda’s favorite pub–have taught me it’s the experiences, not so much the objects of attention, that create lifelong memories. And now, the Wild Atlantic Way, a stunning 1500-mile touring route launched in 2014 that spans the country’s entire west coast, is revealing itself as a major conduit of culture, offering kids vivid experiences and parents irreplaceable moments en famille. Tracking nine counties, from Donegal in the north to Cork in the south, the Wild Atlantic Way does not disappoint.
Donegal to Mayo
Overlooking County Donegal’s Lough Foyle at the northernmost point in the Irish Republic, the Inishowen Maritime Museum and Planetarium at Malin Head is an ideal spot for learning about local maritime history, lighthouses, shipwrecks, and World War II. Kids can enjoy the life-size models of the Basking Shark as well as the planetarium, which features shows about prehistoric sea monsters in addition to the solar system.
In Tubbercurry, County Sligo, Gillighan’s World is a magical cultural paradise for adults and children alike. While escaping to the “Field of Dreams” atop one of Ireland’s sacred hills, the family will enjoy art, a lush landscape, animals, and ancient ruins while learning about Celtic lore, particularly of the mystical faeries.
In County Mayo, a short ferry ride from the Roonagh Pier will bring the family to Clare Island, the sparsely populated home of the illustrious and ever-popular pirate queen, the real-life Gráinne O’Malley, who ruled the Ó Máille clan as a formidable chieftain in the 16th century. The ruins of her stronghold, the O’Malley Tower House, stand near the water’s edge. In the summer, Clare Island hosts traditional music and dance festivals such as the Snás ar do Bhlás and the Clare Island Feile Ceol.
For an even deeper experience of traditional Irish culture, visit Glencolumbcille Folk Village in southwest Donegal, a “living history” museum with cottages replicating those that stood in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Pick up a cupla focail (a few words!) and enjoy live demonstrations of traditional weaving, spinning, and knitting.
Galway to Clare
In County Galway, just outside the village of Kinvara, the Burren Nature Sanctuary has something for everyone, with domesticated animals, a Famine Village, and a Fairy Woodland. After exploring the surrounding grounds, kids can unwind in the Adventure Playground and soar over the park on ziplines.
County Clare’s Burren National Park is a strangely beautiful karst landscape, where the dissolution of soluble rocks has created a lunar terrain featuring caves, springs, and sinkholes. Measuring 702 feet at their highest point, the Burren’s Cliffs of Moher are a sight to behold for the whole family, and its trails are safe and accessible for all ages. The Cliffs Exhibition encourages children to experience through all of their senses the area’s remarkable fauna and flora, which include some species that exist only there.
Kerry to Cork
At the Titanic Experience in County Cork’s Cobh Town, kids can imagine what it felt like to be a passenger on the ill-fated ship, in Queenstown, its final port of call. Cork also hosts a variety of family-oriented festivals throughout the year, including the Eyeries Family Festival, where music, sports, local food, and street performances are on tap.
In West Cork, the Model Railway Village channels local history amidst picturesque Atlantic views. Located in Clonakilty, the miniature village replicates the old West Cork Railway Line of the 1940s. While learning about life in the railway town, kids can hunker down among the model trains, kick it in playgrounds, and take a Choo Choo Ride.
Sara Aitken is a candidate at New York University’s Masters Program in Irish and Irish-American Studies. She is also an associate producer and content research intern for Cultural Roadmapp, a transatlantic startup creating groundbreaking, hands-free audio tour apps for motorists. Deborah Schull is a Telly Award-winning writer and producer, as well as founder and president of Cultural Roadmapp.