Vickie Maye discovers that there is fun for all of the family on a visit to Dublin and Meath — from Croke Park to Tayto Park.

I WAS first in the queue for the Big Apple rollercoaster, on the roof of the New York New York Hotel on the Vegas strip. It lifts you up 203 feet and drops you 144. You turn 180 degrees, speeding at 67mph.

That was when I was 21. And before I became a mum.

A very cautious mum.

These days, on trips to Disney, or to PortAventura, with my four children in tow, I have to stop myself from snatching my 11-year-old back out of the queue for Thunder Mountain.

Like I said, a cautious mum; my thrill-seeking days are behind me.

So when the people behind the Etihad Skyline invited me to see Dublin from the skies, from the top of Croke Park — and requested my daughter’s height to make sure she fulfilled the minimum requirement — I really had to steel myself. 

I recalled live radio broadcasts when the Skyline first opened four years ago, terrified broadcasters, voices quivering, edging their way along the steel construction.

There would be harnesses, and we would be 44 metres — 17 storeys — above the ground.

The brave, heady, exhilarating days of the New York New York Hotel never seemed further away.

It was an unnaturally stunning summer’s day when Mia and I made the climb — with clear blue skies and soaring temperatures.

Mia Ryan, 17 storeys up, on the Etihad Skyline at Croke Park.
Mia Ryan, 17 storeys up, on the Etihad Skyline at Croke Park.

We stepped onto the specially constructed walkway, breathtaking views of Dublin and its surrounds at every turn.

As we made our way around with our guide, the calm, reassuring and ever knowledgable JJ, I rediscovered my love of heights. 

This was no thrill seeking ride, but it was thrilling in every other sense of the word.

Bird’s-eye views of Dublin like these are hard to come by, and it was a moment to relish.

The tour takes an hour-and-a-half with five stops along the way: The Hogan Stand is the first stop and gives visitors a chance to view Glasnevin Cemetery, the National Botanic Gardens, and the Royal Canal; the Davin Stand takes in views of the Dublin Mountains as well as iconic Dublin landmarks like Trinity College, the Spire, and the GPO; the Cusack Stand looks towards The Sugarloaf Mountain, Dun Laoghaire Harbour, the Aviva Stadium, and the North and South Bull Walls; while the final stop on the Etihad Skyline tour gives visitors the chance to discover more about modern Dublin and includes information on the Dublin Docklands, the iconic Poolbeg Chimneys, the Poolbeg Lighthouse, and the IFSC.

By the time I got to the ledge that allows you to look out over the stadium itself, I was in my stride.

The Skyline should be on every visitor’s Dublin to-do list.

But there was better yet at Croke Park. Our morning had started a couple of hours earlier with the stadium tour. 

It’s Ireland’s largest sporting arena, with a 82,300 capacity, and the third biggest in Europe,

Here the kids ran through the players’ tunnels, they saw the changing rooms and the warm up room (where teams can be exposed to anything from meditation to loud, pumped-up music).

We sat in the Players’ Lounge where, incredibly, the winning and losing teams share dinner and drinks after a final.

It’s an amateur sport, no one gets paid — they are just proud to put on their county jersey, JJ reminds us. Competitiveness is left on the field and the losing team rise to give the winners a standing ovation. 

It was a fascinating insight.

We saw a plaque in honour of the first groundskeeper, he kept the grass short with sheep (today there are three people in charge of grass conditions at Croke Park; it’s a science).

The tour was fun, informative, and another Dublin must-do.

We stayed across the road at the Croke Park Hotel.

Part of the Doyle group, you expect a high standard. And this didn’t disappoint.

It’s family friendly too. I travelled with my four children, three of them under five (I had granny too to help), and there were little goodie bags on arrival full of arts and crafts that made dinner a calm, relaxed affair.

It was an ideal base for Croke Park and its tours.

If you’re planning a day there, the in-house cafe at the stadium, The Blackthorn, is top notch too.

The smallies joined us on the stadium tour, and in the museum afterwards.

Here they saw the original Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy cups up close and personal. A highlight was the museum’s interactive games zone, where you can test your own hurling and football skills.

The smaller kids missed out on the Skyline though, so we had another trick up our sleeves for them.

We decided to make a mini break out of our Croke Park experience, so we headed for Sandyford, to Imaginosity, the museum for kids. 

Usually our annual family trips to Dublin might take in a trip to the zoo, or a Disney show.

Now we have another destination to add our list.

Imaginosity at the Dublin Children’s Museum at Sandyford.
Imaginosity at the Dublin Children’s Museum at Sandyford.

This museum can be booked for two hour slots but my five-, three- and one-year olds could have stayed there all day. My 11-year-old adored it too.

There was a supermarket for the kids, mini trolleys where they could choose plastic fruit, veg, and groceries with a till at the end to ‘buy’ it all; there was a baby doll hospital, with X-ray machines and doctors’ outfits; a car complete with simulator and petrol pumps; a diner with chefs’ outfits and (plastic) ingredients.

Upstairs there was construction zone, a TV studio where my kids read the news on screen, and a mini theatre with full dress up, and lighting and sound effects.

Whoever designed this knows kids.

This was two hours of heaven, ticking boxes for every age, from 11 to one.

Afterwards there was a five minute drive to Dundrum and Hamleys.

And then we wrapped up the day half an hour away at the beach at Bull Island.

It was a side to Dublin we’ve rarely seen as a family, and one I never knew even existed when I lived in Dublin city a decade ago.

Our family adventure ended at Tayto Park, half an hour from Dublin in Meath.

Weekend break: Croke Park, Dublin

There was a zoo, birds of prey, rides for all ages — even Fossetts Circus.

And there, I took my seat on the Cúc Chulainn rollercoaster. The Skyline gave me the gentle nudge I needed.

The Croke Park stadium tour and entry to the museum costs €40 for a family of five (children under three years are free),

The Skyline costs €20 for adults; €18 for students/seniors; €12 for children (1.2m height restriction); €52 for a family based on two adults and two children

www.crokepark.ie 


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