There are some great blogs and websites out there which can tell you of all the wonderful family friendly places to visit.
As great as they are, for my family, I still have to ring the venue and find out for myself if my family will find it family friendly and more importantly inclusive .
This past summer, I took it upon myself to create a list of places that I found to be inclusive to all types of families, not just the ‘average’ family.
As most of you already know, my family is made up of three boys and a hubby.
Ethan is a new to the scene wheelchair user, we’ve upgraded to an electric one , but still haven’t brought that baby out and about- it needs a new battery and our car isn’t adapted.
Ethan also has sensory issues and autistic tendencies.
What does that mean?
That means we are not an average family and we need to ensure we go to an inclusive friendly family place.
Seems easy enough, eh?
Thankfully, in this day and age most places are or are at least trying to be inclusive.
The one thing I will say here and now; while every place we visited had a disabled toilet, disappointingly they hadn’t a space to change disabled bathroom , so Ireland, we have a long way still to come. (Check out space to change; if you’d like to see what I am referring to- Here )
Below are the places we visited over the summer who have the ‘Ethan seal of approval’ !
Birr Castle Gardens.(Offaly)
We packed up the car and drove a little over an hour to Co. Offaly. Finding Birr Castle was easy and quick. I had rang beforehand and asked if the grounds where wheelchair friendly ; mostly yes and some parts not really.
When you’ve a wheelchair with you , it’s important to pick your battles and realise not all places are wheelchair friendly regardless of the amount of wheelchair users on our little island. (There are roughly 40,000 wheelchair users in Ireland)
The first thing that draws your attention and that of your kids , is the massive playground, which isn’t inclusive. My other two boys ran off straight away and thoroughly enjoyed bouncing on the huge ‘pillow’.
Ethan on the other hand found it too noisy and too busy, quickly we walked through the playground, promising our other two boys a return visit on our way back out.
The grounds of Birr castle , for the most part are indeed wheelchair friendly. There are signs telling you which route to take, but these are not very clear which meant we found ourselves facing steps more than once.
We can lift the chair down the steps while Ethan slowly climbs down the steps with support. But, a lot of wheelchair users cannot do this, so one main point I would make is to Birr themselves, make your wheelchair route more visible.
Birr Castle and gardens are without a doubt a hidden gem. Wheelchairs and buggies can get around but if like Ethan your child has sensory issues, ring ahead and ask when is the quietest time to visit. We arrived at 11am. It was busy around the playground but the grounds of the castle were much quieter. We found it easy to find a quiet corner to help regulate Ethan, each time he needed it.
We bought a picnic , so I honestly cannot tell you about the food; however I can tell you about the ice-cream ; get some! It is beautiful !
We didn’t leave Birr until 5pm, which I can assure you was an accomplishment.
Kylemore Abbey and Connemara National Park. (Galway)
Kylemore Abbey is a historical place, so the Abbey itself cannot be changed and completely adapted to wheelchairs. Don’t get me wrong, that didn’t stop us from trying but it was futile , plus the boys really had no interest in the Abbey itself.
The grounds of the Abbey are wheelchair accessible and absolutely breathtaking.
There is even a little bus that can bring you to the gardens ,as the walk is about 15 minutes, this bus is wheelchair accessible, which I have to say, was nice to know. (We walked as the bus looked far too busy for Ethan)
The gardens are something to see, the ground is covered in pebbles making it a tad more difficult to push wheelchairs or buggies. It was doable but it wasn’t me pushing Ethan’s chair as I found it too hard ( only this part of the grounds had those tiny pebbles instead of tarmac)
Again we bought a picnic , as Ethan finds it difficult to sit in a busy restaurant and he has a special diet. We found a nice quiet place and sat and had a bite to eat.
We packed up and made the couple of minutes drive to Connemara National Park. I had rung them the day before, they were very open about the accessibility as it is a protected park, there isn’t a lot of room to negotiate a completely accessible park. We were told about the playground, the picnic area , the different routes to walk up Diamond hill (hill my ass).
Each route is clearly mapped out, there is a route which wheelchairs and buggies can use; don’t be fooled, this is not an easy hike but it is very doable, BUT will include a lot of pushing going up, coming down it’s much steeper so there’s a lot of pulling back; well, that’s my opinion as I watched my husband guide Ethan’s chair around the walk. If it were left to me to push Ethan’s chair, I don’t think we would have made it to the foot of the hill.
The boys really enjoyed it all and Ethan did too , it was however a workout for daddy but he did say he would do it again. The scenery is out of this world.
We took the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ back to Galway city, pulling over to take in the wonderful sites and views, even on a wet day, the landscape is amazingly beautiful.
Dreamland, Mungret Park and Curraghchase Park. (Limerick)
Dreamland was always going to be special for us. Ethan is one of their ‘Children of Courage’ ; which means we know Shay and his wonderful team for a few years now.
Dreamland is exactly what its says ‘ A dreamland for all children’. It is fully accessible and the beauty of it? There’s slotted times, so it’s never packed , for us this means an awful lot; Ethan didn’t have any meltdowns due to the amount of space around him at all times.
Again we bought our own food; we do this a lot mainly due to Ethan’s diet.
Ethan fell in love with the sensory room and the pilot room.
Our toddler loved the slide, the grocery market, the fire station , well everything. Even my 12 year old was impressed. “It’s a town especially for Ethan” were his words and I have to agree, it is designed to include everyone. We plan to go back over the winter months.
After our time there (1.5 hours) we headed off to visit another place close to our hearts, Mungret Park.
We know the Mulcahy family and their beautiful daughter,Sophie (RIP) who touched our lives . (We took part in a tv3 documentary called Ireland’s Miracle Children , a few years previously and that is how we met the Mulcahy family)
What can I tell you about this park? It is one of the few inclusive parks in Ireland.
Ethan enjoyed going over the wobbly bridge, the roundabout and he even had a go on a swing; something he hasn’t been able to do in years.
Mungret Park is for everyone, absolutely everyone.
They have a manager (I think that’s what he is) who came over to us ,as soon as we parked up to see if we wanted access to the swing as it’s for wheelchairs. A friendly thoughtful man who also walked us over to see Sophie’s tree.
There is plenty of parking around the park and loads of wheelchair spots which I have to say was a welcomed sign.
After an hour there we decided we wanted to see a little bit more of Limerick.
We took the short spin over to Curraghchase park. You need 5 euro in coin to drive into the park; bring the 5 euro, it is worth it.
There was everything here. A wooden playground, ducks, fairy gardens, trees for great climbing and beautiful quiet lakes along with plenty of picnic benches.
It is wheelchair accessible , again with a bit of pushing up some hills but it’s worth it.
It’s a camping ground too so you never know who you could meet.
There were so many people there, yet it is so big that Ethan wasn’t bothered by any of them. We sat and had our lovely picnic as we watched ducks and passerbys.
It’s a hidden gem within Limerick and one we hope to get back too.
Marley Park, Wicklow Mountains and Powerscourt Hotel. (Dublin)
Dublin, what were we thinking?
Ethan associates the road to Dublin with hospital, so he wasn’t what you’d call ‘happy’ when he figured out which direction we were going in.
Our trip up to the big smoke was a bit of a washout, as we ended up driving to Bray only to be met with a busy bustling scene as there was an air show on. We learned to do a bit more research before driving to the big smoke.
However , when life gives ya lemons and all that;
We drove up the Wicklow mountains only to the lookout point because you simply can’t wheel a wheelchair all the way up, neither D nor I were that determined to find out.
It’s a beautiful spot by the way ! We figured we’d come back and climb to the hell fire club again.
Marley park was definitely worth the time we spent in the car!
It has an inclusive playground too , just like Mungret park. It was lovely to see. The other boys enjoyed it but Ethan was unable to as it was far too busy.
We took a lovely stroll around the park and took in the views, markets, the forest, the ducks and everything else the park has to offer.
It is wheelchair accessible , the forest is too if you’re in the mood for a bit of pushing and pulling. Ethan loves forests and woods, so we always try to push him through pathways that are not designed for his chair, but hey it works and he got to see all the fairies too.
In our experience , most woodlands are fine to push a chair through , just remember to take a break and take turns pushing .
We sat down to yet another picnic and had a laugh at some ducks trying to take our toddler’s food.
We packed up and took another spin to Powerscourt hotel.
It was getting late by the time we got there so we didn’t spend too long there.
We walked around the beautiful paths and took in the peacefulness of it all. The boys climbed trees while once again spotting ducks in the lakes.
There’s a fantastic waterfall there too but we didn’t make it to it as it was pushing 7pm and I hadn’t packed Ethan’s medications so we had to point the car west and leave.
When I say Dublin was a bit of a washout for us, I mean we didn’t plan it as well as did our other trips and forgetting Ethan’s medication was a careless thing to do, so we hadn’t much time to really appreciate Powerscourt .
We learned some valuable lessons ; always research fully where you’re going and never forget Ethan’s medications.
Wild Atlantic Way, Cong , and Ashford Castle.
Seems like a lot eh? Well these places are all close to each other. The Wild Atlantic Way is the route we took. I’d highly recommend this if you’re heading out west. (There are a few different wild Atlantic routes to take, we took the one through Carrore)
It was a wet miserable day but it was still beautiful. In between showers we all got out and stretched our legs and Ethan’s too.
We stopped at some rocky beaches along our way.
We sat with the car doors open and ate our picnic as the Atlantic Ocean beat up against the rocks .
The beaches are not wheelchair friendly. We carried Ethan and helped him stand and talk a short walk around them. He loved it but was happy to get back into the car too as the rain began to fall. Our other boys were mesmerised by the corale beach and each took a bottle of corale home with them.
We drove into Cong, I for one was excited to see where ‘The Quiet Man’ was filmed, I was alone with that excitement.
The village of Cong is small and difficult to get around with a wheelchair, however the people of Cong are extremely friendly and helped us navigate the small village.
The boys quickly got bored of the history side of Cong so we made our way towards Ashford Castle.
Wheelchair friendly level ‘almost’.
The paths are worn enough that you can push the chair through the woods but it isn’t easy, especially on a wet day.
We were stuck more times in the mud than not , but this only encouraged toddler to do his impression of that ‘pig’ (the peppa one), he was covered in mud by the time we made our way back to the car.
Despite the rain, mud and lifting of the chair up and down steps, we actually had a great time. Each time we got stuck there was another friendly pair of hands offering to help. Each time we faced steps , another pair of hands would appear. The people of Cong and those who were in Ashford Castle while we visited, must have been the most helpful people we have ever encountered.
Sensory Me (Roscommon)
We had plans to visit Loughkey Forest park too on this day but it wasn’t to be.
It started out well, until we got closer to Roscommon.
Ethan just wasn’t in the form for going anywhere and perhaps hindsight I should have held off on this trip for another day.
We spent only half an hour there( due to Ethan not settling). I should have rang ahead and asked about their busy times , and if they had any big groups booked in.
They weren’t busy when we got there because they had a booking in the next few minutes. Having said that, we were not rushed out, in fact quite the opposite , the owner tried his best to engage with Ethan and told us a little bit about his own family and his reasons for setting up Sensory Me.
Regardless of our best efforts and that of the owners, Ethan was very unhappy and didn’t want to be there.The toddler didn’t want to leave. You can picture the scene, Ethan trying to escape every chance he got while the toddler hid every chance he got. It was stressful but not because of Ethan but because the toddler kept hiding in the ball pit and I couldn’t even see him!
Ethan had a whopper of a meltdown in Sensory Me but it was the most comfortable meltdown I have ever witnessed . No one batted an eyelid . The owner came over and changed the scene in the interactive sensory room for Ethan which did help calm him.
The building itself is wheelchair accessible. It’s fun, interactive and has every sensory item on our wish list.
It is suitable for everyone and currently, I believe they are taking bookings in advance in order to ensure the place is never crowded.
I could not fault them even if I tried.
We will go back soon and give Ethan another run at it as we know he will enjoy it as much as he enjoyed Dreamland.
It turned out Ethan was unwell due to an infection , luckily we didn’t go to Loughkey as I don’t think he could have handled off road wheelchair riding on that particular day.
Fota Wildlife Park, Spike Island, Leahys Open Farm. (Cork)
Well, what’s Summer without a trip to Crok? Beautifully hilly Cork.
This trip we didn’t take Ethan on as Cork is far too long of a drive for the little man. Ethan was in respite for a few days so we booked a cottage (through Air B&B), called Rose Cottage in between Fota park and Trabolgan.(Middleton)
The cottage is not wheelchair friendly but we weren’t looking for one that was. It was perfect for the four of us and a place I hope the boys will always remember .
We went to Fota, which was our first time. It is accessible . We even stopped a few wheelchair users to ask them their opinions, and all had positive things to say.
Fota is amazing , I am pretty sure everyone at this stage knows it but we wanted to do more than fota, we had travelled a long enough distance and had two full days in Cork.
The monkeys in Fota are some characters, we spent almost an hour laughing at one that our boys named ’Stuntman’ , showing off his abilities while flying through the trees. We were not the only ones to gasp when he almost missed a branch.
We loved Middleton , it is a beautiful spot and how friendly are Cork people? Extremely !
We took a spin down to Cobh, that is a picturesque place if there ever was one. We hopped on the last boat across to Spike Island.
While on Spike Island we had a spot of lunch; folks bring cash, they do not accept card. Luckily we just had enough for four sandwiches, drinks and a sweet treat. Good value, 27 euro, I can remember that because that is the only cash we had on us.
Spike Island is steeped in history. You can either go with the tour guide or explore it yourself, there are enough signs to help you explore it yourself. We did it ourselves and found it very exciting to be exploring a whole island alone.
While the boat was packed coming over we really didn’t see many people on our travels.
Spike Island isn’t wheelchair friendly at all, there’s a lot of climbing stairs and going down to bunkers that no chair could pass, plus I’d have no idea how the chair would get on the boat to begin with.
It’s a three and a half hour tour of the island, it’s long enough and with only one restaurant that only takes cash be aware of that.
The boys loved it, I loved it for the history and the husband loved it for the adventure it offered.
The following day it was a toss up between Trabolgan or Leahys farm. The farm won out thanks to the advice from a lovely lady in La Trattoira Restuarnt in Middleton, who assured us the Farm was the place to go.
Well Leahys open farm, whatever the weather, it is suitable.
It’s accessible, once again we chatted to a family who were using an adapted buggy and they assured us they found it accessible and easy to get around.
I really don’t have the words for this farm.
It has everything from the history of farming to a maze that I couldn’t get out of!
They even have a camel , folks!
We took part in pig racing, driving diggers, pitch and put, story telling, petting snakes and everything in between.
The only extra cost is the pitch n put and the digger driving, which is only 2 euro.
The only downside is that it’s too far away to bring Ethan to it as I think he would really have loved the petting farm, the indoor playground , the outdoor one too for that matter, the giant ‘Twister’, the indoor funny mirrors …
We did eat here and it is exactly what you’d expect, good value for money but nothing too extravagant on the menu. There is also a soft play area for the smaller ones if you’d like to eat in peace!
It’s a family farm and there’s no denying that feeling when you meet the owner who told us tales of his childhood as we sat around a turf burning fire in the house he grew up in.
I honestly cannot recommend this farm enough.
So we are a budget kind of family. A lot of our trips just cost us the picnic and the petrol.
Birr Castle – children 5-12 years 5 euro, kids under four free, family ticket 24 euro, adult 9 euro.
Kylemore Abbey -kids under 10 – free. Family ticket cost us – 35 euro.
Connemara National Park – Free.
Dreamland – Ethan is free, as he is one of their courage children. 8 euro per adult , this money goes straight back into the charity and so I feel, 8 euro is completely reasonable fee and we were very happy to pay it .
Mungret Park– free
Curraghchase Park – 5 euro (in coins)
Marley Park – free
Wicklow Mountains – free
Powerscourt Hotel, family ticket 25 euro. Waterfall entrance fees family ticket 16 euro (we didn’t make it to the waterfall)
Cong – free (we walked around there and saw some historical sites)
Wild Alantic Way – free , but you do need a full tank of petrol!
Ashford Castle – 5 euro per adult, 3.50 per child. We didn’t pay anything as we walked in from the Cong side of it and got stuck in the mud on our way to the castle, we had no choice but to turn around as the rain fell.
Sensory Me – 8 euro for one and a half hours play, excellent value, in my opinion.
Fota Wildlife Park– 48 euro , worth it, in my opinion.
Spike Island – family ticket 30 euro (not wheelchair accessible )
Leahys Open Farm –9.50 per person , children under 2 free. Beyond a reasonable price, in my opinion.
I was not paid to write this, or asked to review. I felt these places deserved to be mentioned and gave my honest opinion. The prices may vary in all of these places but at the time of visiting, that is what we paid.
I shall be doing an Autumn / Winter list over the coming months, always with accessibility and inclusion in the forefront.
If you’d like to recommend a place for us to visit please feel free to contact me via email, we are always looked for new places to give the ‘Ethan seal of approval’ to!