Cat Lounge

Cat Lounge

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Cat Lounge in Smithfield, Dublin is Ireland’s first cat cafe. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a cat cafe, these are spaces where cats and kittens freely roam the space, playing, licking themselves and looking aloof. Humans are permitted only if they abide by certain rules, and beverages are available. At Cat Lounge Dublin, children under 10 years old generally are not permitted. However, occasional special sessions for under 10’s have been introduced, and I was damned if I wasn’t taking Pea along to one of them.

Our visit

The Under 10’s sessions start at 10.30am as this is a time when the resident kitties are at their most playful and active. When we arrived for the session the duty ‘Cat Slave’ asked us to read through the house rules before going inside to meet the kitties. In essence – you are not Donald Trumpy, do not grab a pussy. No feeding them human food either or forcing them to sit still for a selfie. The cats determine how much or how little they want to interact with you.

I was so excited about this session that I booked it as soon as I heard about it (a previous session had sold out and I could’ve cried). Almost as soon as I’d booked and paid for it I started to worry about how Pea would be with the cats and if he was really too young for this sort of thing. His only consistent experience with cats is with my mother’s cat the super fluffy, ageing and docile Myrtle. She endures his fumbling petting with a sort of resigned tolerance. I am desperately broody for a feline fur baby though so I thought this would be a nice way of getting Pea used to cats and how to treat them.

He was fine. Absolutely fine with the cats. Initially mildly curious, then mostly indifferent to their presence and only really interested in playing with their toys. There was one incident where he handled a teeny kitten more vigorously than I would have liked and on a few occasions, I had to coax him away from infiltrating the Cats Only Zone.  Otherwise all was okay. Perhaps because of his general indifference towards them, the cats seemed to like Pea and it was mostly relaxing for me too, just sitting with Pea and letting the cats and kittens slink around us. The cats are wonderful, my absolute favourite being Frodo – he was lively and playful and his paws! He has an extra digit, a thumb, basically. All of the cats are adorable but Frodo was a bit special.

img_7648The fabulous Frodo

Essential info

Cat Lounge is at 1 Haymarket Square, Smithfield Dublin 7. Sessions cost EUR 15. For further under 10’s sessions, check the Cat Lounge Facebook page. Tea, coffee and hot chocolate are available from a self-service machine at no extra charge. Access is step free and there’s space in the hallway to store a buggy but it is limited.

*Since drafting this post, Cat Lounge have unfortunately announced they will be closing in August this year*. 

Rathfarnham Castle

Rathfarnham Castle

Rathfarnham Castle is an Elizabethan Castle in South Dublin. There’s a playground on the grounds, managed by Dublin City Council. I learned about Rathfarnham Castle during our tour of Drimnagh Castle – the castle at Rathfarnham was built by Archbishop Adam Loftus, who was one of the owners of Drimnagh Castle.

img_7303View of the Castle from the playground

Our visit

We arrived at the Castle just before midday on a scorching hot June day after a short but sticky bus ride. I’d planned to release Pea into the Castle grounds and playground to tire him out first but we were both a bit grumpy and sweaty from the journey so we headed inside to the Castle instead. Visitors can either take a guided tour or go for a self-guided option. After briefly toying with the possibility of joining the next guided tour with a group of seven-year-old school kids (the heat was clearly getting to me) I decided self-guided might be a better option for us.

This turned out to be a good choice, as we were able to explore the Castle interior at our own – okay, Pea’s – pace. He really only has two speed settings these days – Full Throttle or Asleep. So our tour was essentially just me chasing him down long, wooden floored corridors in large ceilinged rooms, steering him away from items of furniture helpfully labelled ‘I’m an antique’ and trying hopelessly to interest him in the ornate ceiling work, glistening chandeliers and stained glass windows.

img_7261Pea attempting to climb the furniture (not an antique!)

This all probably sounds immensely stressful, and it likely would have been, but for the fact that we didn’t encounter a single other visitor or member of staff during our time. No risk of awkward looks from strangers or being told off by staff (in fairness the front desk staff seemed very relaxed). We were also both cool, Pea was happy just running around and I appreciated the beautiful environment, even if I didn’t get to finish reading a single one of the information sheets in each of the rooms.

Just as we were leaving, the seven-year-olds were beginning their tour – perfect timing! We ventured outside then to try out the playground and have a snack. When Pea started to wilt, I poured him back into the pram and we took a walk around the foresty section of the park until he drifted off to sleep.

Essential info

Rathfarnham Castle, Rathfarnham Dublin 14. Open daily May – September, 09.30 – 17.30. From October – April the Castle is open Wednesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from 10.30 – 17.00. Admission is 5 EUR per adult. Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month. There’s step-free access and a tearoom with baby changing, accessible toilet and selection of kids toys. Playground, tea room and exterior grounds can all be accessed free of charge.

Toddler Takeover at Dráoicht

Toddler Takeover at Dráoicht

Dráiocht is an arts centre Blanchardstown, Dublin with a programme of music, comedy, theatre and family events. The centre has a particularly strong youth arts programme including regular, affordable early years workshops. The Toddler Takeover is an annual event in which the whole of the centre is dedicated to creative activities for ages 1-4.

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Our visit

I was really taken by the early years workshops on offer at Dráoicht but unfortunately for me are scheduled on a working day. When I spotted the Toddler Takeover it just seemed to good to miss and as it was a whole day event and not just a short workshop it seemed justified to book a day off work so Pea and I could enjoy this.

There are optional workshops that could be pre-booked for a small fee. We could choose between Shadow Makers or Drawing with Ribbon. I decided to only book Shadow Makers so that we would have time to enjoy the ‘Roam free’ areas too. Blanchardstown is quite out of the way for us, and getting there necessitated two buses. It took a lot longer than I expected, and Pea skipped his usual naptime, preferring instead to finally succumb to sleep a mere 5 minutes before we arrived at the theatre. I did a little recce of the downstairs area before getting lunch in the cafe and then did the unthinkable – I woke the sleeping child. He took it well enough, and we went upstairs for Shadow Makers with time to spare.

Workshops were advertised as being suitable for 18 months upwards – Pea was a week shy of 18 months at the time and the content was a little too advanced for him. The idea of the workshop was to use a selection of craft materials to create ‘magical beasts and captivating creatures’ which would then be used to make shadow play. We weren’t really given any instruction or much assistance as to what to make and it felt a bit rushed as the whole workshop was only 30 minutes. I did my best to assemble something vaguely suitable while trying to prevent Pea from stabbing himself or another child with scissors. Once we were finished with our creations, we were invited to join everyone else to make a shadow show. This part was lovely and much more relaxed. And then it was all over, and we went off to explore everything else.

img_6859Pea strutting in the main auditorium at Dráoicht

There was so much to explore! The first-floor lobby had a train set and a cardboard train that the kids could crawl inside. In one part of the lobby, there was just a collection of white cardboard boxes of varying shapes and sizes – Pea busied himself picking these up and ferrying them to other parts of the room then back again. It never ceases to amaze me how much joy he can get from something so simple. When he tired of this, we went downstairs to check out the bits we’d missed.

The main auditorium was amazing! Bathed in beautiful, calming pinkish light and with a selection of cardboard dens dotted around the room. The dens were large enough for both Pea and I to fit inside and there were even cushions in there! A live band were playing and the whole thing was just lush and lovely. Throughout the room, there were arts and crafts items and opportunities to paint, draw or make. I loved it in here, and could have stayed all day. In fact I could have probably fallen asleep inside one of the dens, so lovely and chilled out was the whole vibe!

I dragged us away to check out one final room before we had to go. A bright, light-filled room on the ground floor with an exhibition of pencil drawings on the wall. Taped to the floor were large cutouts of the shapes in the drawings – a bed, a dress etc – and crayons, charcoal, chalk and coloured acetate paper next to each one. Children could fill in the cutouts with any combination of materials, which I thought was a genius idea. There were more cardboard structures in the centre of the room, and these had been decorated by drawings and scribblings of previous children.

img_6836Pea tries his hand at some colouring in

In the main foyer I noticed that the benches had blacks taped along the bottom creating a kind of curtain effect. We looked under the curtains – there was a set of wooden stacking blocks set up under there!

We had a really gorgeous day here. I was so impressed by the creativity and attention to detail on display – the various cardboard structures from the train to the dens were wonderful and I loved that the appeared designed to invite the kids to draw and doodle on them. It’s such a shame that Dráiocht is so out of the way for us as I’d love to take Pea some more of their events but we’ll make the effort to go to the Toddler Takeover each year until he outgrows it.

Essential info

Dráoicht, The Blanchardstown Centre, Dublin 15. Toddler Takeover is an annual event and is free, but workshops attract a small fee (5EUR in 2018). Throughout the year, early years arts workshops are available. Baby changing facilities available, step-free access and a cafe on the premises.

 

 

 

 

Trinity College Zoological Museum

Trinity College Zoological Museum

img_79871The Zoological Museum at Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest museum. It’s open to the public in the summer months only and staffed by students from Trinity’s zoology school. Specimens on show include Prince Tom, the ‘Royal’ elephant, the jaws of a Great White Shark and Ireland’s last Great Auk. The Google reviews for this place suggested that there was some kind of interactive element and that was enough to convince me that this would be an appropriate place to take a rambunctious 18-month-old.

Our visit

We combined this with a return visit to the Science Gallery for the new exhibition Life at the Edges. That was not really any more toddler appropriate than last time, but I brought in reinforcement in the form of Daddy Pea and Aunty Pea so it was all considerably more manageable on this occasion.

The Zoological Museum is on the first floor of the Zoology building. When you get to the first floor there’s a big colourful ‘I Visited the Zoological Museum’ banner so you know you are firmly in a nipper-friendly zone. Pea bounded up to a stuffed critter of some kind (a gazelle maybe?). One of the museum staff members came out and said it was fine for him to touch the gazelle, whose name is Dave. You know you’re in safe territory when the staff are so chilled out about toddlers groping the exhibits.

While I was paying for our tickets, Pea became quite enamoured by the museum mascot, a large stuffed toy giraffe. Very helpfully, he was given a smaller version and allowed to carry that around the museum. I’ll never know how many tantrums that simple act spared us, but I’m grateful.

Inside the museum, you can look at all sorts of ex-beasties behind glass. The first thing that caught our attention being the horseshoe crab. It’s displayed in a cabinet with scorpions and spiders which they’re more closely related to than actual crabs. One of the things I love about places like this is the encounters with all sorts of weird and wonderful critters. Fun fact for you – horseshoe crabs have blue blood.

We looked at badgers, sloths, armadillos and an anteater (I rather liked him) amongst other creatures. Pea really couldn’t have cared less about any of this, he was just happy running around cuddling his giraffe and pressing his nose against the glass cabinets.

img_7972Hello Dave

The best thing about this museum is the handling collection. A long table in the middle of the main room includes a selection of items such as animal skins, fossilised bones, teeth, the jawbone of a guitarfish. Seriously, that’s a thing, I didn’t make it up. Visitors are encouraged to interact with these items and ask questions – nothing is labelled so you can try to guess what you are looking at. There are even some live creatures in tanks – I definitely spotted a very large snail – but we didn’t really interact with these. The staff struck a good balance between talking to us about some of the exhibits and just letting us do our own thing. As well as the handling collection, there was an activity table with a jigsaw puzzle to interest older kids.

I’m so glad we called in here as it was one of those rare activities that appeals to both me and Pea. I’m always interested in anything animal related (I mean, I prefer them cute and cuddly and alive as opposed to dead behind glass or slimy and in a tank but you can’t have everything) and for Pea, just being able to totter around and poke at things is all he needs. It’s tiny in comparison to the similar and better known National Museum – Natural History and nowhere near as slick but all the more charming for that. You can’t really touch up anything at the National. We will definitely try to fit in another visit before the end of the summer and I look forward to taking Pea back here each year when he’ll increasingly get more benefit from it.

Essential info

The Zoological Museum is at Trinity College, Dublin 2. Admission is EUR3 per adult, we weren’t charged for Pea. It’s open daily from 1st June to 31st August only from 10.00-16.00. There’s no step-free access so if visiting with a buggy-bound beastie of your own assistance may be needed. I didn’t spot loos, but the Science Gallery nearby does have toilets and baby change facilities if needed. There’s a cafe at the Science Gallery and there’s also The Perch cafe opposite the entrance to the Book of Kells.

 

 

National Print Museum

National Print Museum

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The National Print Museum is a small museum dedicated to promoting the historical significance and contemporary relevance of printing. The museum is set out to replicate a printing workshop with composing, printing and finishing areas. The permanent collection includes printing machinery and artefacts. This isn’t sounding like the most toddler-baiting of days out so far.  But wait, website notes family-friendly tours are available and there’s a kids education area. Also, there was an exhibition I wanted to see so the boy was duly dragged along and I hoped for the best.

Our visit

My trusty friend Google maps reliably informed me that I could reach the museum on foot in around 50 minutes, versus 45 minutes or so by bus. I elected to walk, and even though the weather was a bit drizzly, it was quite pleasant to walk along the canals and uncover another section of my mental map of Dublin. We arrived just before midday, and a tour was just about to start so I opted to join that on the assumption I would learn more than I would from the self-guided option.

I almost immediately regretted paying for the guided tour though as Pea was in a lively mood, determined to get up into the heavy, dangerous looking equipment and in no mood to be held by me. He probably wasn’t being as disruptive as I thought, but I always feel self-conscious that he’s disturbing other people in situations like this so I tried to keep him on a tight leash which only invoked his wrath.

Thank goodness for the education area! It’s small, but stocked with a nice selection of books and art materials.  A few pieces of plain paper and chalk were enough to keep Pea distracted. So we just stayed there, Pea got chalk all over himself and even tried to eat a piece and I made some crap origami. The museum’s permanent collection is all on the ground floor so I was still able to hear some most of what was happening on the tour.

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The tour finished up with a printing demonstration so we rejoined at this point. Pea and another little girl on the tour got personalised ‘Wanted’ posters made up for them which made for a cool little keepsake. The exhibition that I wanted to see (Print, Protest and the Polls) didn’t open until the following week, not sure quite how I managed to muddle this.

I didn’t learn much about printing but one thing I do remember is the replica Guttenberg press (gifted from the production of The Tudors). Our tour guide explained that Guttenberg came from a winemaking region of Germany and was inspired to build the press by observing the winemaking process. So without wine, we probably wouldn’t have printing. Wine is the best. Yay for wine.

As a toddler distraction activity, this was very much saved by the education zone and I do plan to make a return visit with Pea. We’ll skip the guided tour and hopefully catch the exhibition next time! For older children and adults there’s more to enjoy here – there are printmaking and bookmaking workshops for children from 4 years old, and workshops for adults too.

Essential info

The National Print Museum is located at Beggars Bush Barracks, Haddington Road Dublin 4. Admission is free for a self-guided tour, guided tours cost EUR 3.50 for adults and EUR 2.00 for children. Opening hours are 9.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday and 14.00 – 17.00 on weekends. The museum closes on Bank Holiday weekends. Step free access is available to the ground floor but not for the mezzanine floor where temporary exhibitions are held. There’s an accessible toilet, baby change and a cafe with highchairs.

Drimnagh Castle

Drimnagh Castle

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Drimnagh Castle is a Norman castle in south Dublin, distinguishable as the only known surviving Irish castle with a flooded moat. I learnt of its existence after a session of sofa exploration (Google maps, how would I survive without you?). It’s walkable from our home and I just love a good castle. It’s closed on the weekends though, so, even though I wasn’t sure how Pea-friendly it would be, I decided to chance it on one of our Friday Lee and Pea days.

Our visit

Pea’s Dad was again able to join us for this day out which helped assuage my concerns about its suitability for Pea. As it turned out, it would have been doable for me alone but considerably easier with a two-adults-to-one-Pea ratio. When we arrived, a member of staff emerged from the gardens and informed us we could either walk around the gardens and exterior for free or take a guided tour for a small fee. She initially seemed a bit sceptical about us taking the tour with Pea, but once we’d established a spot to park his pram she seemed happy enough.

Our tour guide was Richie, as knowledgeable as he was affable. It was just the three of us and another family of three on the tour. This worked in our favour as the pace was quite relaxed and Richie was happy to wait for us to catch up when Pea would invariably break free in pursuit of his own entertainment.

I won’t do justice to the full history of the castle but here’s a mico summary. It was built by the Barnewall family (originally de Berneval, Anglicised to Barnewall) on land granted to them in 1215 by King John. It remained in the Barnewall family until the time of James 1st when it was sold to Adam Loftus in 1607. Loftus was formerly Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland and also held another castle in South Dublin at Rathfarnham.

From there my timeline gets sketchy but at some time during the 20th century the castle was in use by the Christian Brothers and, as Richie wryly noted, it all went downhill from there.  In the 1960’s the castle fell into disrepair but thankfully restoration work was undertaken from 1986 to 1996.  Even better, the restoration work was completed by local young people as part of a community employment scheme. Since then it has been open to the public and used for film and television work, weddings and other events.

Richie did a great job of pointing out some of the distinctive features of the castle and bringing stories to life. I appreciate the macabre, so I loved seeing the Murder Hole (basically just a trap door above an entrance, used to tip boiling water over intruders). An unusual feature of the castle is the stairs leading from the undercroft to the great hall, as the steps turn to the left. The children’s room featured a hidden staircase through which they could escape to safety if the castle came under attack. The chandelier that hangs in the great hall isn’t an original feature but rather a prop from the film Excalibur. Gabriel Byrne, who grew up nearby, thought it looked so good there that he convinced the production team to leave it behind.

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The guided tour took about an hour and by the time we finished, we had about twenty minutes spare to enjoy the gardens and courtyard. These days, Pea is generally happy to have space to run around or to pull up grass or gravel and he had the opportunity here to do all three. The gardens are small but very pretty with a cute little bench at the rear.In the courtyard, there’s a mural of Eleanora Barnwell and her love Sean O’Byrne. I won’t go into the story of their romance but things didn’t work out too well for either of the star-crossed lovers and superstitious types believe Eleanora now haunts the castle.

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This turned out to be a surprisingly suitable family day out and I’m sure Pea and I will make a repeat visit in the not too distant future.

Essential info

Drimnagh Castle is at Long Mile Road, Dublin 12. Guided tours cost 5 EUR per adult and 3 EUR per child, we weren’t charged for Pea but I’m not clear at what age a child fee applies. The guided tour grants entry inside the castle building but the gardens can be enjoyed for free. Opening hours are Monday to Thursday 9.00am – 4.00pm and Fridays 9.00am – 12.30, the last tour on a Friday is at 11.00am. There are toilets on site and we left the Pea-mobile in the courtyard while we took the tour.

 

 

 

 

Iveagh Gardens Dublin

Iveagh Gardens Dublin

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The Iveagh Gardens is a lush Victorian green space in the centre of Dublin. Designed by Ninian Niven in 1865, many of the original features still survive. Despite being in the city centre, the location of the gardens is somewhat inconspicuous, giving rise to the nickname Dublin’s ‘Secret Garden’.

Our visit

We first visited back in late April when Dublin was basking in unseasonably warm weather. I saw this as a great opportunity to take advantage of the weather by both walking from our house in the south of the city to the city centre – no better way to get your bearings in an unfamiliar city than on foot – and to let Pea enjoy an unstructured day of outdoor exploration.

It was almost midday as we were approaching the gardens so I stopped to pick us up a takeaway lunch. I had visions of finding a shady spot and enjoying a lovely, languid lunch with my boy. It didn’t quite pan out that way but we had a memorably lovely day nonetheless.

We did a quick circuit of the gardens first thing to get our bearings. There’s a rose garden, a maze, a couple of fountains and, best of all, a waterfall. The abundance of ageing statues, many of them missing heads or limbs, lends the place a sort of romantic Gothic feel. I have a penchant for old cemeteries and although to the best of my knowledge, the gardens have no history of usage as a burial ground, a creaky old church and crumbling gravestones wouldn’t feel out of place here.

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We settled in the sunken garden to have our lunch. I let Pea out of his pram and assumed he wouldn’t be interested in wandering too far when there was the possibility of food. Wrong. He was so excited to be out in the open that I couldn’t interest him in food or get any peace to eat mine. He just wanted to run around or approach random strangers with little offerings of daisies or cut grass. He was having the time of his life. In the end, I felt that we both really needed to eat and hydrate ourselves. The only way to do this was to bundle him back into the pram and pass him little pieces of chicken to eat in his hands. Lesson learned – freedom is more appetizing to Pea than any meal and any future attempt at a picnic needs more careful planning.

After we’d eaten we went for a deeper exploration of the gardens. Towards the National Concert Hall entrance, we found a little foresty area with wood logs arranged in a circle. This kept Pea quite entertained climbing on the logs, picking leaves off the trees, exploring and touching everything he could. It was a great find, as the trees kept us in the shade too.

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We then went to have a look at the fountains in the centre of the gardens. Pea busied himself with throwing pebbles and ivy branches into the water. Finally, we stopped by the waterfall. It’s magnificent, and Pea was completely captivated. It was tricky to drag him away, but he desperately needed a nappy change so there was no choice but to move on. We didn’t attempt the maze on account of a couple of shady looking characters hanging out in the vicinity and we didn’t take in the rose garden as the flowers weren’t n bloom – I’m looking forward to those on a future visit before the summer is out.

Essential info

Iveagh Gardens are at Clonmel Street, Dublin 2. The entrance on Clonmel St is step free, there are some steps throughout the gardens and at the National Concert Hall entrance. The gardens are open all year round and are free to visit. Opening times vary according to the season and access is limited during June, July and August due to various events, so it’s best to check the website before planning a visit. There are no toilets, baby changing or cafe in the grounds. St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is about a 5 minute walk away and has baby changing facilities and an accessible toilet. Camden Street is a good bet for food or drinks nearby.