The Ark

The Ark

The Ark is a purpose-built cultural centre for children based in the city’s creative quarter, Temple Bar. Expect a busy schedule of theatre, music, exhibitions and workshop catering for ages 2 to 14. 

Our visit

The Ark has been high on my hitlist of toddler friendly things to do in Dublin since we arrived here in late March. As the events are aimed at children aged two and above, I’ve had to hold off until Pea came of age. I couldn’t quite wait until his second birthday though, I just don’t have that kind of willpower. When I started writing this post, it was going to just be about our experience of Grass, a dance production back in September. But I’ve been so behind with my blogging that we’ve been again since, so I’m going to write about our second visit too. Kind of a Buy One, Get One Free type of deal. 

Grass, 27th September

I took a chance and booked this for a then almost 22-month-old Pea in disregard of the age guidance. I don’t make a habit of ignoring age guidance for this type of thing but there’s a dearth of these opportunities in Dublin and I’ve taken Pea to enough shows for young children now to know that he can stay focused in the right conditions. 

Grass features dancing, puppetry and projections in a performance that explores the ground beneath our feet and the creatures that inhabit it. I thought Grass was a beautifully conceived an executed show. Like the best performances for young children, the concept is a simple one with a little bit of educational content (interesting facts about various insects) a playful approach and a lot of surreal fun – the ant dance-off being the highlight for both me and Pea. 

What didn’t really work for us was the seating. We were seated on the floor right in front of the stage. Cute little fake grass mats were provided which I thought might keep Pea distracted. Wrong. What caught his interest was a ceramic plant pot. It looked like just part of the set but in fact was just a clever way of concealing some of the lighting. We were warned not to touch it as it would get hot. So, that was the one and only thing that Pea wanted to get his hands on. I kept trying to prise him away from it and trying to distract him with other things but he just kept going back, as did several of the other children.

So that was annoying for him and stressful for me. He did eventually settle down and were able to enjoy the rest of the show. I don’t mention this to sound nitpicky – I’m not a theatre professional and don’t pretend to understand the challenges of staging any kind of production, let alone one for such a niche audience. I just think it’s interesting that a neat solution to a staging issue had the potential to derail the performance simply due to the tendencies of the target audience. Since we attended Grass Pea has reached the recommended age threshold and I can confidently say that he’s no more capable now of not touching something he wants to touch than he was two months ago. 

Seedlings Early Years Workshop – Slime Symposium, 30th November

Seedlings Early Years Workshops are hands-on, creative workshops for children aged 2-4 and are held monthly at The Ark. When I went to book this a few weeks in advance I discovered it was sold out. I added my name to the waiting list not really expecting anything to come of it. When I didn’t hear anything by the day before, I assumed that was it and made other plans to for my day with Pea.

As it turned out, Pea had a rough night with teething and barely slept. So I barely slept, and then we both did sleep, late into the morning and we missed our window for my planned activity for the day. I couldn’t fire up my burned out brain to devise an alternative plan so resigned myself to
the day becoming a write-off. Then we got a call from The Ark advising that a spot had become available for the 2pm workshop and did we want it? Hell yes, we did. 

The Seedlings workshops are designed and delivered by Artist in Residence Lucy Hill and take a different format each month. The ‘slime symposium’ promised messy play and our own slime to take home. Nice. Lucy started things off by introducing the children to two crates one filled with ‘mud’ (If I recall correctly it was actually chia seeds but looked very convincing) and one filled with seaweed. Pea ignored the mud but happily got into the seaweed, running it through his hands and studying it closely.

After the seaweed fondling, the kids donned cute little smocks and were set to work at their slime making stations. The slime actually was cornflower more chia seeds and food colouring, with various accessories to embellish it with. We had googly eyes and purple glitter, neither of which Pea was all that interested in. He mostly just wanted to stir the slime ingredients around in the bowl and that was fine. Lucy and her team of assistants made the effort to engage with us and demonstrate the wonders of slime but did so in a relaxed, unobtrusive way. The consistency of the slime, by the way, was more doughy and sticky than slimy but it looked pretty and it felt great so no complaints here. 

As well as the slime making, there was a lightbox covered with dyed tapioca balls (the ‘bubbles’ in bubble tea) on top of it that Pea loved playing with. They are satisfyingly squishy to flatten underneath the palm of your hand. Around 10 minutes before the end of the session Pea abandoned messy play altogether in favour of barrelling around the studio. No one said a word or made us feel awkward, which isn’t always the case with similar activities we’ve participated in. 

Essential info

The Ark is at 11a Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Tickets for Grass costs EUR 12.50 each. Tickets for Seedlings cost EUR 11.50 per child/adult pair. The Ark building has step free access, accessible toilet and baby change facility. No cafe on site, but there are numerous options around Temple Bar and Dame Street.

 

EPIC the Irish Immigration Museum

EPIC the Irish Immigration Museum

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EPIC the Irish Immigration Museum tells the stories of the 10 million people who left Ireland.

Our visit

EPIC is one of Dublin’s newest museums, opened in 2016 in the historic CHG building. With it’s modern facilities and highly interactive displays the museum is very appealing to families with young children. As a recent returning immigrant I was interested in reflecting on the experiences of Irish immigrants and their contribution to the countries they settled in. When Pea’s Dad had a job interview nearby, we decided to make a day of it.

For the first hour or so it was just me and Pea, while Pea’s Dad went to his interview. We asked about parking the Pea mobile when we booked tickets and were advised to fold it up and put it in one of the lockers. I don’t think any of us expected it to fit. It didn’t.  I felt obliged to push it around one-handed while attempting to control Pea with my free hand.  In the end, an obliging staff member agreed to store the buggy in a locked room, giving me both hands free for optimum toddler wrangling.

Upon arrival, visitors are given ‘passports’ with a space inside to stamp each of the sections as you move through the museum. This is such a nice idea. It’s practical, as it serves as a map of the museum and I found this much easier to navigate my way around than a traditional floor plan. It doubles up as an activity trail, as visitors stamp their own passports in the stamping machines in each room. This would be a great way to keep little people focused.

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The first few rooms focus on individual stories of immigrants, the reasons they may have left (famine, political strife, employment opportunities, missionary work). Later rooms cover the social, political and cultural impact of Irish immigrants worldwide. There were some really nice little touches throughout the museum. In one section, there’s a selection of old fashioned school tables with crayons, which kept Pea busy for a blissful twenty minutes or so. We had the most success, funnily enough, in a room decked out like a traditional Irish pub with little tables, traditional music and pub quizzes. The touch screen quizzes proved to be a great distraction for Pea, and gave me a much needed rest. I also really liked the ‘Achieving Infamy’ section with a myth-busting quiz about notorious Irish criminals.

When Pea’s Dad returned, we were all hungry and Pea was looking tired, so we stopped for lunch. Once Pea fell asleep in his pram we were able to go back for a second walk through and this time I was able to take my time to read the bits that interested me. There is a lot to take in, and even though we spent most of the day here there were still sections that I didn’t get to fully appreciate during Pea’s napping window.

I really liked the fact that the museum shines light on the positive impact immigrants have had in the world and not just on the tragic reasons for leaving the homeland. I had expected it all to be a bit heavy on famine and strife but it was much more balanced than that. The exhibits are interactive and innovative, making some subjects, such as sports, much more appealing to me than they generally would. While there’s nothing here to directly engage with very young children it’s overall very family friendly and Pea certainly found enough to keep himself occupied.

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Essential information

EPIC The Irish Immigration Museum is at the CHQ building Custom House Quay, Dublin 1. Open daily, 10-5. Admission is EUR 15 adults, EUR 7.50 for children 6-12, under 5’s go free. Step free access, accessible toilets, baby changing and lockers are available. The CHQ building has a gift shop and several food and beverage outlets for refuelling.

Richmond Barracks

Richmond Barracks

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A former British Army barracks built in 1810 amid fears of a Napoleonic invasion, Richmond Barracks is significant for its connection with the events of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Following Irish Independence in 1922, the barracks took on various uses but was eventually reopened as a Museum in 2016. The Museum also incorporates the historic Goldenbridge Cemetary. I was keen to visit the Barracks for my own interest not because there was anything that seemed especially enticing for Pea. But you know, you can’t book a babysitter for everything, so this was a case of dragging him along and hoping for the best.

Our visit

Visitors to the Barracks can either take a guided or self-guided tour. The guided tour includes to Goldenbridge Cemetary so we chose the guided option. The Museum closes for lunch between 12.45 and 13.45 and we arrived at around 13.40. The next guided tour was due to begin at 14.00, so we headed towards the cafe to kill time before then.

As we walked down the corridor, I had a peek through the window of one of the locked rooms which is set up to resemble a school classroom. I involuntarily shuddered – the colour of the walls, the heavy wooden desks with the inkwells – it took me straight back to primary school. Irish classrooms haven’t really changed much over the years.

We gathered for our tour with our guide Niall. The tour began in the gymnasium – a nice open space for Pea to run around in with minimal risk of injury to himself or disturbance of others. We learned that every person in the country arrested for involvement in the 1916 rebellion – more than 3,000 – was brought to this very gymnasium where they learned of their fate. It was either prison in England or Wales or execution. The gymnasium is used as an exhibition space and the current exhibition, 77 Women, focuses on the women who were detained at Richmond barracks for their involvement in 1916. You can read more about them here, and the background to the centrepiece of the exhibition, a commemorative quilt celebrating the lives of all 77 women. I would have liked to have spent a bit more time looking at the quilt and reading about the women but Pea was being…well, just Pea.

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The tour then moved into the main part of the barracks, or at least what remains of the original barracks building. There’s the classroom, which we didn’t access as it was being used for filming purposes the following day. One room is a re-creation of a soldier’s quarters and the remaining two rooms are re-creations of the residential dwellings that became of the site during two different periods.

The final part of the tour was of Goldenbridge Cemetary. The cemetery is only accessed through these tours or pre-booked appointments so it felt very special to gain access. Pea just wanted to play with the gravel on the ground so he stayed with his Dad near the entrance to the cemetery while I did my best to catch up with Niall’s tour.

Goldenbridge was the first Catholic Cemetary in Ireland since the Reformation. The most notable burials are W.T Cosgrave, the first president of the Irish Free State, and his son, Liam Cosgrave, a former Taoiseach. The thing that struck me most about seeing the grave (Liam is buried in the same plot as his father) is how modest it is.

img_7358Goldenbridge Cemetery

The story that will stay with me the longest though is that of 8-year-old Eugene Lynch. Eugene was killed while playing outside the Barracks. His death wasn’t instantaneous. He was taken to his grandmother’s pub and laid on a table where he bled out. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Goldenbridge, only recently discovered and given a headstone after more than 100 years.

I really enjoyed our visit to Richmond Barracks but most likely wouldn’t go back here with Pea until he is a few years older. The museum cafe, The Mess, is very child-friendly and has outdoor seating and a garden which Pea loved running around in so we would definitely come back for that.

Essential info

Richmond Barracks, off Bulfin Road, Inchicore Dublin 8. Open Monday – Friday, 10.00 – 16.00, access on Saturdays and Bank Holidays is only by pre-booked tours for minimum 6 people. Guided tours take place at 11.00 and 14.00 daily and cost EUR8. Self-guided tours cost EUR6. The museum closes for lunch between 12.45 – 13.45 daily, but the cafe is open then. It’s free to access the cafe and garden.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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.

The Science Gallery Dublin

The Science Gallery Dublin

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Science Gallery Dublin presents a series of exhibitions examining “white-hot scientific issues”. It’s based on the Trinty College Dublin campus in the city centre and is part of a global science gallery network which includes Science Gallery London, opening this year.

Our visit

This was our first proper day out together since moving to Dublin. After several weeks of stress and upheaval including a necessary but painful separation from Pea I was desperate to escape the unpacking and do something fun together in our new city. It needed to be something low cost or even better free because it turns out that moving your family to a different country is a bit of a drain on the old finances (nobody told me). I chose the Science Gallery for our first Dublin adventure because it looked really fun and engaging and

The current exhibition, Fake, explores copying and mimicry in a variety of ways, from art forgeries to biomimicry through a selection of objects and installations. On the day we visited the weather was shocking with torrents of rain of epic proportions. And I had the not too bright idea of walking for much of the way. By the time we arrived at the gallery, I was soaked through to the skin and Pea was chomping at the bit to escape the confinement of his pram. It always amazes me how incensed he can get at being carted around – it’s warm an cosy in there and he’s completely protected from the elements. I’d be delighted to be chauffeured around the city like this but there’s no rhyme or reason to toddler behaviour so what do I know?

The exhibition wasn’t yet open when we arrived, but we were invited to wait in the cafe until opening time. The cafe looks good, but we didn’t try anything as it was very busy and the queuing/ordering process was bit disorganised. Instead, we had a quick look around the bookshop and I spent some time attempting to strap Pea into his harness (an essential restraining device now that he’s mobile).

Once the exhibition was open, I had a hard time containing Pea even with the harness. It’s quite a small exhibition and it was well attended and Pea just kept gravitating towards the most physically intimidating person in the room and then getting right under their feet. Many of exhibits here can be handled but in my judgement, they weren’t robust enough to withstand Pea’s vigorous attentions so I had to keep dragging him away from things which was annoying for both of us. Some of the interactive exhibits included a pretend deli/cafe consisting of foods that can be in some way considered fake (such as Quorn, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter etc) a laughter simulator, and a vanilla sampling station (because the majority of vanilla flavoured things don’t come from vanilla beans at all but are manufactured). Other pieces included a fake alien head and a hairy chair that Pea was very taken by.

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This is a really playful and thought-provoking exhibition that I don’t feel I was able to fully enjoy on account of the heavy duty Pea wrangling I was doing on the day. It’s most certainly better suited to older children and adults but not entirely inappropriate for a toddler, mine was just a bit stir crazy on the day. The upcoming exhibitions look just as intriguing so we’ll absolutely be back for those but I’ll be sure to release Pea into a park or garden to burn up some energy beforehand.

Essential info

The Science Gallery is at Trinty College Dublin, Pearse St D2. The current exhibition, Fake, closes on 3rd June. There’s no permanent collection, so if planning a visit always check the website first as there’s nothing to see in between shows. Exhibitions are open Tuesday – Friday 12.00-20.00 and 12.00-18.00 Saturday and Sunday. Admission to exhibitions is always free.  Accessible toilet, baby change facilities, cafe and small bookshop on site and the staff were happy for me to store the Pea-mobile at Reception.