It's (not really) a long way to Tipperary and it's absolutely worth it
It's a long long way to Tipperary, but my heart's right there.
Being a Kildare girl, I'll admit that Tipp was usually just a stop in the Horse & Jockey for a good feed, en route to a much further-away end destination. Apart from the famous wartime ditty, a top-notch hurling team and some blue cheese, I'm ashamed to say I didn't know a whole lot else about the Premier County. But, after a long weekend in what can only be described as Ireland's best-kept secret, I plan to shout about Tipp's family staycation possibilities from every (thatched) rooftop.
As a family of five with three kids in tow it can be difficult to find holiday accommodation to suit all of our sleeping, eating, and entertainment requirements. But when we rolled our laden-down people carrier (complete with family bikes on the roof) up outside the River Run Cottages in Terryglass, we had a feeling we were onto a winner.
We weren't wrong - these picturesque pink cottages are everything you might imagine when you think of an Irish idyll. Nestled in unspoilt countryside on the shores of Lough Derg, these 4 star self-catering cottages are an olde-world dream complete with sash windows and a half door that opens onto a private south-facing patio. The mature gardens are perfectly still - bar the busy bees buzzing around the foxgloves, wild poppies and roses.
Our cottage - we stayed in the Sage - comprised two upstairs bedrooms (both en-suite), a living room with a solid fuel stove, TV, DVD player, stereo, and a fully kitted-out kitchen. On arrival we found a bottle of wine and a fab welcome hamper filled with local homemade goodies and brown bread waiting for us. Fresh towels are provided and our kids were delighted to find that some toys and books were too. The village store is just a stone's throw away but if you don't feel like cooking guests can avail of a full catering service courtesy of Paddy's Bar, which is located just across the road.
Do & See
Despite the fact that the closest I've ever come to fish is a frozen supermarket counter, we ventured over to the beautiful village of Killaloe to meet the lovely Noel Bulger who runs Fishing for Kids. After we got fitted out with lifejackets and fishing rods, Noel talked us through our equipment and bait. Needless to say, my boys were in their element holding worms and peering at maggots. Our little lady accepted a pre-baited rod but (not so politely) declined the opportunity to handle any creepy crawlies. The fishing expedition quickly turned into a significant highlight of the trip to Tipp when my six-year-old defied my skepticism and actually caught a real-life fish. He's been telling the tale with enormous pride ever since.
Thrilled with our (his) catch of the day and enamoured with the misty surroundings of Killaloe Bridge, we took a last-minute decision to take a boat trip out to see more of Lough Derg. Noel, being the total gent that he is, skippered us around a wee bit of the lake's 32,000 acres with its stunning backdrop of Slieve Bearnagh to the west and the Arra mountains to the east. Words can't do justice to the Lough's beauty - a blissful memory that I'll keep with me for life.
Our little thrill-seekers hugely enjoyed working on their balance, co-ordination, cornering and control skills at Bike Park Ireland's 'pump track' - not to mention a thrilling but bumpy ride up Knockshegowna Hill in the back of an army truck. The downhill trails are more suited to older kids but my youngest and I made the most of an oh-so-scenic walk back down towards the farm.
Other notable highlights included a tour of The Rock of Cashel, with our informative guide Susan happily answering my Indiana Jones wannabe son's many questions along the way. Cashel Folk Village is a little gem definitely worthy of a visit, and is deservedly ranked as the number one museum in Tipperary. While you are on the history buzz, Roscrea Castle and Damer House has an impressive stone castle and two corner towers that date from the 1280s that will bring a touch of period glamour into your lives.
The 'Best Bit of our Tipperary holiday' vote in the car on the way home had two clear winners - tied for first place in every heart, both old and young - our ride-out at Crossogue Equestrian Centre and our kayak-out with Lough Derg Water Sports.
Crossogue Stud is a listed Georgian house that, despite its grandeur, somehow managed to feel immediately like home. Located just 7km outside Thurles town in glorious rolling countryside, our gentle family hack around the farm was perfect from start to finish. We were welcomed so warmly by the team and met with so many delicious homemade offerings, that I feared my children (and himself) might never leave. Mark, Noel, Sylvia, Lucy and all the team are some of the best hosts a family could wish for. Our instructor/adventure leader Maike won the hearts and confidence of every rider in our group from the total 'never sat on a horse before' novices to their 'it's been quite a while' mother.
Exchanging our saddles for paddles, we met up with Becky and Reuben, the awesome pair who run Lough Derg Water Sports, at Kilgarven Quay. We were provided with all the necessary equipment for a morning on the still blue waters and we even caught a rare glimpse of a majestic white-tailed eagle soaring above our heads. Despite our party ranging in ages from four to forty and lacking in any experience, Becky managed to turn our kayak adventure into a family memory that will last a lifetime. Spontaneous games, paddling techniques, and even safety drills all brought a huge grin to everyone's face. From the moment we got back to dry land, the kids were asking to go back and the adults felt the same.
Tipp is a foodie's nirvana and we pretty much salivated our way around the county. For a special family meal (complete with wandering peacocks) try Brocka on the Water, half way between beautiful Coolbawn and Ballinderry, where Anne Gernon and her team will delight your tastebuds with locally-sourced ingredients and homegrown produce. The Peppermill Restaurant in the busy market town of Nenagh is another welcoming spot, with seafood sourced directly from owner Robert Gill’s family in West Cork and serving only Tipperary Hereford beef.
Flanagan's on the Lake, is a super family spot to add to your list, ideally situated on the shores of Lough Derg in the twin towns of Kilalloe and Ballina. The summer BBQ menu and views over the water will make your soul smile. For lunch check out the Pantry Café, one of Nenagh's best known food emporiums (the smoked salmon cold plate is delish) or Bailey's Hotel in Cashel for a comfortable, contemporary, and child-friendly lunch venue.