It’s the most wonderful time of year

Jedward take to the stage at the Olympia from Wednesday December 19 2012 to Monday December 31 2012 for Jedward and the Magic Lamp.

From Santa to skating, December is one of the busiest months on the calendar for kids. But Christmas isn’t just for children — there’s plenty to keep adults entertained too. John Hearne picks the best events to keep all ages amused over the festive season. Mark your diaries.

CHRISTMAS is all about the great indoors. You lock up, draw the curtains and only stir outside to get more coal. But there’s only so much monopoly and charades you can take before you start to turn into your man in The Shining. Take measures against cabin fever early and plan a few outings over the holiday. There are literally hundreds of festivals, markets, fairs and shows to choose from. Here are a few of the best.

For Families

A Cork Christmas Celebration

You don’t have to hand out big bucks to sample the atmosphere along Grand Parade and in Bishop Lucey Park. Cork City Council says they hosted more than 150,000 Christmas visitors last year, and anticipate bigger numbers again this year. In addition to the Christmas markets, there are vintage carousel rides, a full size helter-skelter and choral performances. Bishop Lucey Park transforms into an illuminated landscape inspired by The Nutcracker.

The Moving Crib, St Martin Apostolate, Parnell Square, Dublin

If you want to show the kids what a non-commercial Christmas looks like, here’s a great place to start. Going now for fifty years, the moving crib has an old world charm that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s essentially an expanded nativity play, taking in a range of biblical scenes from Adam and Eve through the crib scene and ending with Jesus teaching at the temple. Best of all, it’s free.

Lapland at Glendeer Farm, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

Like so many pet farms around the country, Glendeer gets its annual Christmas makeover at this time of the year, and transforms itself into Santa’s homeland. You’ll see a live crib, real reindeer and of course, the man himself is in residence. There’s a ‘Winter Wonderland’ where the kids can run around as snowflakes fall around them, while many of the non-seasonal attractions, including the Indoor Skywalk Adventure, are still available. Adults €8, children €16.

The panto

From Red Riding Hood at the Everyman Palace on MacCurtain St, Cork to Alice in Wonderland in the Opera House, there are plenty of panto options for families this month. In Dublin, Jedward take to the stage at the Olympia for Jedward and the Magic Lamp — one for the tweens — and over in the Gaiety Cinderalla takes centre stage..

Cork on Ice, Mahon Point Shopping Centre

The country’s biggest skating rink is back. This year, there’s a dedicated kids rink where those aged three and up can give it a go. There are regular snow falls, a light show and a crew of penguin attendants there to help keep everyone upright. Family tickets start at €30 for off-peak skating.

Aillwee Cave Christmas, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare

The big man is back in his cave in Clare this year, with his usual band of friendly elves. The experience includes a personalised audience with the man himself, as well as face-painting, puppet shows and carnival rides. For something totally different, take in the Birds of Prey Centre on the way out. €33 per child, €15 adult. The Birds of Prey centre is extra.

Tara’s Palace, Powerscourt, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow

Here’s one of the hidden gems of Christmas, or indeed any other time of year, Tara’s Palace is a beautifully realised doll’s palace, located in the Museum of Childhood in Powerscourt. Designed and built to one-twelfth scale, it captures the grandeur and elegance of an 18th Century mansion. All profits are donated to children’s charities. Family tickets €12.

Farmleigh Christmas Programme, Castleknock, Dublin 15

Farmleigh is offering a wide ranging programme of Christmas entertainment each weekend in December. There are festive cribs, horse and carriage rides, a food market, puppet shows, storytelling and all kinds of music, from Carol singing to barbershop — and it’s all free.

Christmas at the Toy Soldier Factory, Kilnamartyra, West Cork

Here’s something a little different. Head along to Kilnamartyra between Dec 15 and Dec 20 and create your own masterpiece at the Christmas casting and painting workshop in the Toy Soldier Factory. You can make your own Christmas tree ornament or cast a three piece nativity set. From €7 per child. Santa’s Secret Christmas Village, Killarney, Co Kerry

Killarney’s Christmas extravaganza is back, featuring a range of attractions, the centrepiece of which remains Santa himself — overworked but jolly as ever. There’s Mrs Claus’ gingerbread kitchen, Santa’s communications centre, the toymaker’s cottage, together with a skating pond and Christmas slide. Adults €10, children €15.

For Grown-Ups

Go racing

Wrap up warm and bring your binoculars to one of five seasonal race meetings. Both Leopardstown Christmas Racing and Limerick Races run from Dec 26-29. Goran Park runs on Dec 23, Tramore on Dec 31 and Jan 1 and there’s also a meeting at Fairyhouse on January 1. You get a great festive atmosphere, food, entertainment and if none of that strikes your fancy, there’s always the horses. Prices start from free in Limerick on Dec 28.

Go see Tommy

Just back from his World tour of Cork, Tommy Tiernan now embarks on his World Tour of Galway, taking in all major (and some not so major) towns in the county, starting with Dec 12 in Clifden and finishing in Loughrea on Dec 22. He’s also booked for seven dates in Vicar Street, Dublin, starting on January 4, so if you’re a fan, you will have plenty of opportunities to check him out. Prices vary.

German Christmas Market. The Square Shopping Centre, Tallaght, Dublin

Featuring fifty stalls lit by more than 1,000 Christmas lights, this is Christmas with a German twist. You can buy traditional sweets, games, wooden crafted models and toys — perfect stocking filler fodder. There is also a mouth-watering array of festive treats on offer, including German sausage, mulled wine and Belgian waffles.

Go gigging

Galway darlings The Stunning play the Savoy Theatre, Cork on Dec 21, Damien Dempsey is in Dolan’s Warehouse in Limerick on Dec 20, and the great Grant Hart of Husker Du is in Cypress Avenue, Cork on Dec 17; just three from a packed December gig schedule.

Go upmarket

If men in tights are more your thing, The Nutcracker gets quite a few runs around the country this festive season. The National Ballet of Ireland is touring its production to the Lime Tree Theatre at Mary I College on Dec 13 before moving on to take in Ennis, Tralee, Bray, Dublin and finally Navan on Dec 22. Meanwhile Monica Loughman presents The Nutcracker at the Convention Centre, Dublin on Dec 21 and 22.

You’ve got to Pick a Pocket or Two

Christmas time is musical time. Oliver takes up residence in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin from Dec 12. The David Hennessy Stage School is also putting Oliver through his paces at the Garter Lane Theatre in Waterford from Dec 19 to Dec 22, while Bottom Dog Theatre Company presents ‘A Christmas Carol’ in the Lime Tree Theatre at Mary I College in Limerick until Dec 12. Prices vary.

The Docklands Christmas Festival, IFSC, Dublin 1

Now in its 8th year, the Docklands Christmas Festival runs until Dec 23 from 12 noon to 8pm daily, featuring more than 80 traders offering everything from roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate with marshmallows to a variety of gourmet treats. To keep the Christmas cheer flowing, there will be carol singers and live bands on stage every day, with even more cheer available in the 1950’s Airstream bar on site.

vWaterford Winterval

Waterford’s offering comprehensively covers almost anything you could want to see at this time of year. The Christmas market on Georges street will have to compete with the Winterval Express Train, Waterford on Ice at Merchant’s Quay and the Ardkeen Artisan Food Experience at Greyfriars. Garter Lane Theatre also presents a range of music, arts and drama programmes, including the Waterford Homecrafts’ Annual Christmas Craft Fair, open til Dec 23.

Hit Thomand

It’s hip flask time at Thomond Park, Limerick on Saturday Dec 29, when Munster take on Ulster in the RaboDirectPro 12. Kick-off at 5.30pm. Drag yourself off the couch and go see some festive rucking and mauling. From €20.

Go classical

The Irish Chamber Orchestra teams up with the conductor Jonathan Cohen, the Irish Youth Chamber Choir, the ICO chorus and soloists for its annual Christmas Celebration, held this year in University Concert Hall, Limerick on Dec 13. The programme includes Vivaldi, Corelli and Handel. Students €10, standard ticket €20.


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