Vintage View: A family holiday with a history lesson

Kya deLongchamps suggests some stealth history lessons on those family holidays and days out.

Vintage View: A family holiday with a history lesson

Kya deLongchamps suggests some stealth history lessons on those family holidays and days out.

Inflicting some curated history on the kids is a traditional bit of vengeance to punctuate all that playing pool, stumping for 99s and sitting around at the base of a super-slide.

It doesn’t have to be the cod liver oil of the summer holidays, mind you.

Everywhere you go in Ireland, there’s at least one great Irish house within a teenage roar and flanked in magnificent gardens and places in which to roam, most kids will warm to the experience with a hunt through a 18th-century fernery and a wild leap off a raised ha-ha to the lawns.

Derrynane House.

Starting in the vivid beauty of Kerry, Derrynane House (Oakwood of St Fionán) allows a worthy, straight-faced poke at those Junior Cert victims.

Derrynane is the early 18th-century summer home of Daniel O’Connell, built on the profits of sea-trader, Capt John O’Connell. Its extension continued into 1844 when Daniel himself (adopted by his uncle Muiris ‘Hunting Cap’ O’Connell), added a wing, battlemented library, a pavilion and family chapel to the three-story mansion.

It’s particularly important as one of the few surviving great Georgian houses connected to a Gaelic Catholic family. One of O’Connell’s best architectural flourishes at Derrynane was to re-order the rooms, putting the principal views from the back to the front — out to the sea, (and the maritime fortune that delivered the house to the family).

Even a brief biography of the liberator reveals a generous, brilliant man whose humanity and humour stands out from the political hagiography. I would venture a well-rehearsed remark to the yawning youngsters of —

“Danny had to fight the penal laws to even get an education — look what he did!”

O’Connell’s duelling pistols (this should add a juicy bit of danger — he did use them) and the eye-watering golden chariot in which he rode in triumph through the streets of Dublin are also at Derrynane.

Still it’s his Gothic summer house (c1842) where the Liberator would retreat for quiet reflection, that feels most personal set in the steeples of rhododendron and exotic planting typical to Victorian collecting.

The park includes part of our National Botanical Collection. Open from 10.15am to 5.15pm every day — wrap up a worthy Sunday outing with a trip to one of Ireland’s most lovely serene, dune-girdled beaches. Admission €5, concessions €4/€3, family €13.

Westport House

A stately square villa, perched over the flash of Clew Bay and claimed by its supporters as ‘the most beautiful house in Ireland’, you cannot lose at Westport House in County Mayo, as it abridges a fabulous family adventure park and has real dungeons and pirate roots to boot.

Pirate luvvie, Grace O’Malley has several castles in the area, andWestport is said to have been built on the rubble of one of these. Richard Cassels, who designed Leinster House, and James Wyatt, are strongly associated with the grand architecture of Westport which evolved as we see it today from c1650-1730.

For the big house hysteric, it’s worth a trip just to ooh and ah over the cool Sicilian marble staircase built circa 1858. The house is complete with many of its original contents. Three hundred years of history are distilled throughout no less than six standing exhibitions. If you have a young baby, bring a baby pack, as buggies are not allowed over the protected parquet flooring.

Outdoors, I can’t do better than the brochure – “an eclectic fusion of natural wonders, architectural grandeur and fascinating antiquities”.

For some real period feel, pre-book a Hawk Walk with falconer, Jason Deasy — which offers a bird of prey scything quietly through the shady woodland trails. 10am – 6pm.

Adult tickets (house & gardens) €13, concessions €10/€6.50.

Battle of the Boyne Visitor’s Centre (Oldbridge House)

I’ll admit to having no idea this big house attraction was so evolved and fascinating, and on a rave review from another history bore, we’re taking the car up to see it this month.

It’s a testament to just what the OPW can do with an ancient pile on the right ground and a lot of imagination stirring.

With Oldbridge House as its backdrop and starting line, the Centre offers a number of self-guided walks through the 17th-century battle-sites, bringing the events and characters surrounding a nation-altering moment in 1690 to life.

There’s a weaponry display, replica artillery, and on occasion, interactive actors to get you in the 17th-century mood. Do get some warning of when guns might be fired if you’re a bit jumpy.

Oldbridge House itself is described as ‘underused’ by many visitors, but is open to further development and above all the venue is said to have highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff.

With positive reviews from Irish wanderers and tourists alike, you can enjoy a well-stocked café, a celebrated walled garden and acres for children to run free (dogs are kept on leads, so it’s especially safe for little military buffs).

There’s even a meet and greet with a general in his tent in period dress (check for events).

Open 9am – 4pm, admission €5, concessions €4/€3. Family ticket €13.

Slane Castle and Newgrange are within easy reach, but book and plan your trip well in advance to avoid convoys of heaving summer coaches.

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