A Fun Day Out Is Child’s Play

Published in Dublin’s Evening Herald, 17th July 2009

In which your host takes his first-born on a grand tour of her city’s and nation’s glorious and bloodthirsty past

Trinity‘Daddy, I’m bored.” Words which strike fear and temper into the hearts of even the most patient parent, especially during the seemingly endless summer holidays.  Like many five-year-olds, my daughter Madeleine has a low boredom threshold, often requiring full parental interactivity to alleviate her perceived brain-rot.

As a parent, it’s too easy to be lazy about it. Just switching on the telly, or having her running riot in a leisure centre, with its ball pools, vending machines and fast-food/slow-metabolism outlets, may let us off the hook, but it can be pretty unedifying for children — and expensive for us.  Could Dublin’s notoriously exorbitant city centre provide kids with a full, exciting, cultural and relatively cheap day out?  Madeleine and I set out early to see if this was the case.

Our tour began at 10am, in Dublinia, an attraction which brings the city’s Viking and medieval histories to life. Its newly opened Viking World exhibition comes first, with all the sounds and fury invasion entails.


Informative but wordy panels are a bit much for a five-year-old, but the video displays, sound effects and mocked-up scenes of Viking life elicit fascination, terror and, in the case of a Viking sitting on a toilet, giggles; a welcome distraction from me dodging explanations of violence, rape and pillage.

The obligatory pestering starts in the gift shop, which, among other souvenirs, sells a variety of (hardly) offensive plastic weapons: “Can I have a helmet? Can I have a sword? Can I have an axe?” Whatever happened to Barbie?

In Christ Church, the concepts of silence, ‘Do Not Touch’ or ‘No Admittance’ are slightly lost on Madeleine, making it an anxious experience, but she loves the golden treasures to be discovered in the crypt.

A chocolate muffin later, we’re in the City Hall exhibition, the complete story of Dublin in three rooms, which ties in nicely with our visit to Dublinia. We’re kindly handed a children’s activity sheet: “Can you find Walter in the glass column?” reads the first question. Oh dear, Daddy can’t even locate the glass column. Nevertheless, with plenty of costumes, jewellery and interactive, multimedia displays, the little one is thoroughly entertained and educated for half an hour.

A small breather is had in St Stephen’s Green with the traditional, straightforward pleasure of feeding the ducks and swans. A kind man offers us some bread for the purpose, while some French students, clearly repulsed by the sliced bread and processed ham sandwiches they’ve been given as a packed lunch, surrender theirs too.

Back on the culture trail, the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity proves to be a little gem. Its art works are fascinating, quirky and stimulates Madeleine’s curiosity and imagination.

She is enamoured both of the space in the room and the Spaceman exhibit. That said, coming so soon after the interactivity of City Hall, her new mantra, “I want to play the computer games” almost upsets the duties of an unsuspecting member of staff. Er, sorry about that.

After a well-deserved ice cream, it’s more art at the National Gallery.

The sheer scale of the building slightly overawes her but she’s soon asking awkwardly loud questions about the nudity of Adam and Eve and speculating on the quality of other portraits. We withdraw to view the singular style of the great Jack B Yeats. Madeleine looks utterly appalled. First, she argues that The Liffey Swim depicts “mermaids”, then indicates About To Write A Letter and declares: “He’s not a good artist — there’s black splashes everywhere.” One week at art camp and she’s turned into Brian Sewell.

Finally, with her little legs becoming all-too weary, we visit the National Museum of Ireland. While it’s still a terrible pity about the Natural History building’s closure, the archaeology provides a fascinating return to the historical element of our day. She is lit up by ancient jewellery, weaponry, cookware and clothing, and the historical context thereof.


The last place we visit is the gruesome Iron Age ‘bog-bodies’ wing – it’s CSI Kildare Street, basically .

“What happened to them?” she asks, in all innocence of her nation’s past of ritual killing. Let’s see: Gallagh Man was garrotted; Croghan Man, stabbed and beheaded; Clony Cavan Man, bludgeoned and disembowelled. Perhaps it’s a blessing she’s only learning to read.

With that, it’s time to go home. Madeleine’s sleepy head is full of exciting knowledge and a whole new set of perspectives; happily, there isn’t one place she doesn’t want to visit again.

Meanwhile, her daddy’s wallet is still remarkably intact.

Most importantly, we’ve had a great day out together, proving that, with a little effort but no great expense, Dublin can be as child-friendly and fascinating as any destination city the world over.

St Stephen's Green

4 thoughts on “A Fun Day Out Is Child’s Play

  1. Awww, this is so cute! Madeleine is beautiful btw.
    Am dying to take my nephew on a tour of the city – but he’s only just turned one, and is as fascinated by a big ballooon as he would be by a bog body!
    Lovely piece.

  2. Hi Nathalie, thanks so much for popping over, and for your compliments. It’s a great time to do this sort of thing with her – she’s always had the curiosity, it’s only now that she’s got the energy to trudge around the city. And I wouldn’t worry – once your nephew’s old enough, I’m sure he’ll be badgering his kind aunt aplenty.

    Hope everything’s great with you.

  3. Wow you fit in an awful lot for one day! Did something similar a couple of years back on DubDay (which seems to have disappeared). Boys weren’t too impressed with City Hall but they did like some of the others esp Dublinia- brought them to Kilmainham Jail as well but probably a bit too much for 8 and 10. Still keep on bringing them back to the Museum of Archaeology- quite a few special events on over the summer for kids!

  4. Tim – Yes! It was a very tiring 10-5 day for us both but still amazing what you can get through when so much is free (give or take a donation or two) – and taking into account the amount of food/drink/toilet breaks you need with a wee one too. Still, the facilities in all places were excellent too. She loved the Museum of Archaeology and she made the point herself that we have to go back to see it all. Great fun. I hear you as regards Kilmainham Jail, definitely one for older kids if not adults alone.

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