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Bargain Breaks

Friday, 16 April 2010

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól O Conghaile is an award-winning journalist and author.
Based in Dublin, he has written for Conde Nast, Observer/Guardian, all major Irish broadsheets, Cara Magazine and The Globe and Mail, amongst other publications. Pól specialises in travel and features, contributes widely to national radio and TV, and was voted Irish Travel Journalist of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2008.

Pól is the author of That's My Baby! (Poolbeg; €12.99) and Bar Secrets Dublin (Shopping Secrets; €7.99). In 2009, he was the updating writer on Concierge.com's Dublin guide, and worked on the 'Day in the Life' series with the Irish Independent. In 2005, he co-founded and edited the online travel magazine, explore.ie.

As well as his published work, Pól is a regular contributor to shows on RTE Radio One, Today FM, 2FM, Newstalk FM and TV3. With travel experience that has taken him from Emo to Ethiopia, he also works with several high-profile public and private clients, and is available as a commentator, consultant and copywriter.

In 2008, Pól travelled to Mozambique with photographer and filmaker Kim Haughton. Their short film, 'The Stolen Generation', documents the lives of a family who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, and won Best Documentary at the inaugral Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival.

Travel: Spring Breaks

We're looking at value for money holidays around the 32 counties of Ireland!
These breaks come under the headings: Adventure, Family & Couples.

An Adventure Holiday: County Down

Events:

The Mountains of Mourne dominate Co. Down, and walks on peaks like Slieve Donard make for a pretty stunning couple of hours. Bryansford and Tollymore are centres for outdoor adventure - with pony-trekking, bouldering, canoeing, abseiling and Ireland's only mountainboarding facility


Details:-

www.discovernorthernireland.com / http://www.tourismireland.com/


Elsewhere, Silent Valley Reservoir Park is good for a picnic, and has super hills for kids to roll down. Delamont Country Park is set on Strangford Lough at Killyleagh - it has the longest miniature railway in Ireland and the 10m Strangford Stone (Ireland's tallest megalith). Waymarked walks, boat trips, woodland and outdoor adventure playgrounds complete the mix.


Details:-

http://www.oakleigh-ireland.com/silentvalley.htm / http://www.delamontcountrypark.com

Downpatrick's Saint Patrick Centre is one of Northern Ireland's major millennium projects, a state-of-the-art building and interpretative approach marking the first permanent exhibition telling the story of the patron saint.

Details:-

+44 284 461-9000; www.saintpatrickcentre.com

Other Events:-

Down has a gorgeous coastline too, so it may be worth spending some time driving around by the sea, maybe having a stroll on the blue flag Cranfield Beach and stopping off to grab a bite or coffee in towns like Kilkeel or Rostrevor.

Finally, you're a short drive from Newry - where Sainsbury's, the Quays and Buttercrane Shopping Centre will tempt you to capitalize on the Euro/Sterling exchange rate.

Where to Stay:

There is a camping site at Delamont Country Park (delamontcountrypark.com), with pitches available (tents or caravan) from £5.80/£2.50 in low season, plus a non-members' fee of £7.

Newcastle's Slieve Donard Hotel (048 4372 1066; hastingshotels.com) has a spring break special of B&B from £110 per room until June 1st.

Also check the accommodation finder on www.discovernorthernireland.com

Where to Stay:-

A Family Break: County Roscommon

Events:-

The Arigna Mining Experience is a world-class mine tour in the middle of nowhere. The tour guides are also bona fide miners. I was led into the mountain by a man who once made a living hacking coal in an environment as competitive as it was dangerous (think creaking timber and crushed digits). It's a real eye-opener.

Details:-

071 964-6466; arignaminingexperience.ie; €10/€6

Lough Key Forest and Activity Park is a 350-hectare amenity, based on the former Rockingham estate. Recently the county council has added an activity centre, a 300-metre tree canopy, a play kingdom and walking trails. You can walk though the old servants' tunnels, climb an observation tower, and it also houses the only Boda Borg in Ireland - a Swedish concept consisting of team-based, Crystal Maze-like challenges (2 hrs for €10).

Details:-

071 967-3122; loughkey.ie, from €7.50/€5

There's also a surprisingly interactive Georgian Mansion at King House in Boyle. It used to be a base for the Connaught Rangers. On my visit I got to beat drums, write with a quill, step into jail cells and try on a chieftain's cloak.

Details:-

071 966-3242; kinghouse.ie; €18 family ticket

Where to Stay:-

The caravan and camping at Lough Key ranges from €12 for a small tent to €22 for a family tent or caravan - bringing a full week in at just €154. The only extra is electricity at €2 per night, and a reception room containing toilets, showers (also €2), a laundrette and a children's play area is on site.

Kilronan Castle is a sister property to Lough Rynn, and it has a spring offer of B&B from €55pps. Add a spa treatment from €69.50 midweek. (071 961-8000; kilronancastle.ie)

Check for deals on bandbireland.com, irelandhotels.com or justgo.ie.

A Couples Getaway:- Limerick City

Limerick gets rotten press. And it's the last place you might consider for a couple's break. But there's a surprising amount to do here - arts, rugby, food and daytrips - a weekend will fly by.

Events:-

Even if you're not a rugby fan, Thomond Park makes for a great stadium tour. You can test your line-out skills in the museum, the none-too-subtle difference between the home and away dressing rooms, and memorabilia ranging from Keith Woods' first cap jersey to a picture of Padre Pio Paul O'Connell kept in his sock during the 2006 Heineken Cup final.

Details:-

061 421100; thomondpark.ie; €12/€10

Limerick is hosting its annual e v + a arts exhibition until May 23, and there's lots of galleries worth popping into. The Hunt Museum is a collection spanning some 2,000 pieces ranging from pre-Christian to Picasso and Renoir and Yeats. Entry to the former Custom House on Rutland Street is free on Sundays (2pm-5pm).

Details:-

http://www.eva.ie / / huntmuseum.com; 061 312833

Farmers' markets are ten-a-penny these days, but Limerick's Milk Market is one of the best. Build up your appetite for lunch with a little banter over Irish cheeses, fish, sausages, jams, chutneys, breads and meats. You may also like to sample a pastry - or three. NOTE we will need to double check this is not undergoing redevelopment.

Details:-

Saturdays, 8am-1pm

Other Events:-

Check out other spots with a mosey, including the riverside walk, The Sage Café (owned and run by Mike Hogan, formerly of the Cranberries) and Peter Clohessy's Bar and nightclub (The Sin Bin).

Where to Stay:-

The Clarion (clarionhotellimerick.com) has B&B plus dinner from €60pps (online deal).

No.1 Pery Square, the Georgian townhouse (061 402402; oneperysquare.com) has a two-night spring special, including two dinners and use of thermal suite, for €199pps.

Check for deals on bandbireland.com, irelandhotels.com or justgo.ie.

Spring Events & Deals:-

Spring Days Out:-

Dublin Puppet Festival

The recent death of Eugene Lambert adds an extra resonance to the Dublin Puppet Festival, an event founded in 1991 when the city was European Capital of Culture. The festival is moving this year from the Lambert Theatre in Monkstown to Temple Bar, where the finest practitioners of ventriloquism, slapstick, circus and cabaret will be holding court with all-age shows. Look out too, for an open-air street theatre weekend in Wolfe Tone Park - Wanderly Wagon is the centrepiece.

Details:-

The Dublin Puppet Festival (01 442-9010; puppetfest.ie) runs from April 19th to 25th. Events vary in cost, but the street theatre weekend is free.

The Ardara 'Cup of Tae' Festival

The best gifts come in the smallest parcels, and so it is with this tiny Irish music festival. Taking place every spring since 2000, the festival pulls a particular focus on the fiddle, and includes classes, recitals, sessions and fireplace evenings, where stories will be shared about the legendary Donegal fiddler, John 'Simi' Doherty. Despite its awesome scenery, Donegal can be surprisingly empty in spring, so head up now, and you can hit the whole county with your fiddle stick.

Details:-

The Ardara 'Cup of Tae' Festival (087 242-4590; cupoftaefestival.com) runs from April 30th to May 3rd. Musical entertainment is free, other events vary (the fireside evening costs €15).

Slieve Bloom Walking Festival, Co. Offaly

Think of Ireland's great walking trails and Offaly may not be the first place to come to mind. Cowen Country is home to the Slieve Blooms, however, and one of the best walking festivals around. Kicking off on April 30th, the event includes three days of ambling along beech-lined roads, thick forests, fresh glens, sparkling waterfalls and waymarked ways. At this time of year Knockbarron Wood is carpeted with bluebells, and a trad session in Kinnitty Castle should help soothe the calves.
Details:-

Registration for the Slieve Bloom Walking Festival (086 278-9147; slievebloom.ie) costs €20. The Ardmore Country House B&B (057 913-7009; kinnitty.com) has a weekend package for €120pp.

Punchestown Racing - Irish National Hunt Festival: 20th - 24th April
Family day at Punchestown takes place on Saturday the 24th! Events include a 'Go Racing Kids Club' for 6 - 12 year olds, an art competition, fancy dress parade and crystal swing performing on the main stage at 2pm!

Details:-

http://www.punchestown.com/festival_2010.asp

Additional Information for Current Travel Update:

Aer Lingus: http://www.aerlingus.com/cgi-bin/obel01im1/bookonline/initialiseHomepage.do

RyanAir: http://www.ryanair.com/ie

Dublin Airport: http://www.dublinairport.com/index.asp

Irish Aviation Authority: http://www.iaa.ie/

Live Travel Updates on RTE Website: http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0416/transportupdates.html

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