A self-confessed over thinker, planning and even packing for something as simple as a two-night hotel break can get my head in a spin. Throw entertaining an energetic two-year-old into the mix, and my fraught nerves might go into hyperdrive altogether. But of course, most of the things I worry about never happen.
Thankfully, and for the sake of my sanity, Dún Laoghaire recently offered us all a delightful taste of Dublin far removed from all the hoi polloi of the city centre. The beautiful coastal town, brimming with history, charm and intrigue, is both the perfect base from which to explore Dublin city at a more enjoyable pace and a holiday destination in its own right. Some two hours from Belfast our boy napped in the car pretty much the whole way, before slowly opening his eyes as we swung around the capital via the M50.
Waking from such blissful slumber can go either way, but thankfully the sights and sounds of a bustling Dún Laoghaire, including the bright lights of a vintage funfair was more than enough to thwart a toddler meltdown in the back seat. That, and of course the majestic sight of The Royal Marine Hotel which harks back to the glory days of the good old Irish seaside. As the late afternoon sun kissed its beautiful bay windows and the glistening Irish Sea, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone – especially those with a young family – would torment themselves with airports and often unpredictable foreign travel. And before you mutter, well hot weather, I’d happily choose a pier walk under a brolly over melting into a puddle of Factor 50 somewhere in the Mediterranean right now.
Although you can’t pin all your hopes on warm weather here, you’ll certainly receive a warm welcome at The Royal Marine Hotel. The lovely staff at reception were all smiles for our child, which helped coax him out of his shell as he got to grips with the comings and goings of a grand hotel. A quick pit-stop in the hotel’s playroom also paid dividends – and all that running around gathering crayons, stacking books and playing peek-a-boo in a tent had built up my appetite.
It was off to the Hardy’s Bar and Bistro for a gastronomical delight featuring two anxious parents wishing that their child kindly “got back in his shell” as he thundered his way past fellow diners. After all didn’t Oliver Hardy famously say, “If you must make a noise, make it quietly” and this was really too nice-a-place in which to make “another fine mess”.
Thankfully our hosts ushered us off to a quiet corner where our child did his very best audition to impress the restaurant’s namesake tipping his cup of colouring pencils out like a cuckoo clock until he was hushed by the prompt arrival of his kids’ meal. Again the staff at The Royal Marine don’t need any cues when it comes to managing families. They’d everything covered from bringing out the high chair to scoops of ice-cream served up with a sprinkling of friendly smiles without even having to be asked. They really do know a thing or two about entertaining youngsters. And that meant that mum and dad could start to unwind and enjoy a delicious meal comprising starters of soup and calamari, and mains of rib eye steak with a marvellous red onion jam and the most delightfully peppery pepper sauce and succulent pork belly.
Deciding to quit while the going was good, it was goodnight and back up to our Junior Suite housed in the old historic part of the hotel. Our little boy just adored views of the water from its enormously elegant windows and of course the two glittering chandeliers above him. And after just one more session ascending and descending the hotel’s magnificent staircase like he was in training for Kilimanjaro, he was also out like a light in his comfy cot.
Breakfast with all the trimmings was served in the elegant Dún Bistro and again, delightful waiting staff asked if we would like some pancakes brought to our table for the boy. Apparently Queen Victoria enjoyed a 16-course breakfast in the hotel. I dare say she would have had one almighty case of indigestion if she was trying to get though 16 courses while also entertaining her nine children. And of course, all without the aid of Cbeebies and Nick Cope’s Popcast on repeat.
Our buffet breakfast provided the right fuel for a dip in the hotel’s ambient pool which offers family swim times. The warmer water and more relaxed pace certainly proved more popular with a toddler than the teeth-chattering icy escapades in our local pool back home.
It’s easy to while away the hours in Dún Laoghaire with numerous walks, smatterings of shops, a plunge at nearby Forty Foot, a play session at People’s Park followed by an ice-cream at Teddy’s all within walking distance of the Royal Marine Hotel.
In saying that, the city centre is easily accessed courtesy of the DART, a station just moments on foot from the hotel. In search of some me time, I took a solo trip to check out one of the city’s newer attractions, The Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) which is located just off St Stephen’s Green in the historic setting of UCD Newman House. A return DART ticket to Pearse Street Station cost €5 with journeys every 15 minutes or so. After that, it was a short meander down Grafton Street where there’s always lots to see.
The museum plays a thoughtful homage to the many Irish writers, past and present, that have made their mark on the global stage or “a constellation of authors” as I overheard a guide saying. I chose to peruse the exhibitions at my own leisure which pay tribute to all the old favourites – including Copy No.1 of Ulysses – and then newer writers like Sally Rooney, author of course of Normal People. You can read a letter from James Joyce to WB Yeats or all about the “Committee of Evil Literature”. You can then scribble some of your own lines or nab a few to take home.
The museum’s gardens offer another refreshing respite from the hustle and bustle of the city centre where amongst rows of lavender and roses, one could let their imagination run wild.
Little ones can also enjoy a special excursion from their hotel base, including the nearby Airfield Estate in Dundrum. It’s an oasis of calm in the city and Dublin’s only working farm and gardens. There’s lots of hands on things for youngsters to get stuck into here, all overlooked by the magnificent Airfield House where you can also learn all about the admired Overend family, their charitable work and their love of cars. You can of course marvel at the cars, including a Rolls Royce, restored to their former glory in the estate’s garage. We checked out the new World of Soil Exhibition where an “Erosion in Action” feature kept our child entertained while mummy embarrassingly answered some questions about food waste. It’s great to get children interested and asking questions about nature, food production and the environment. And an exhibition like this is a great place to start.
They can admire the pigs, goats, Jersey cows and watch the milking – or just jump in a muddy puddle and destroy their new Converse shoes. There’s a playground and then the Overends Kitchen where you can savour some great-tasting food straight from the farm and nab some treats to take back home.
But it all begins and ends at Dún Laoghaire and at The Royal Marine Hotel – the perfect base from which to make unforgettable memories as a family. Grand, yet unassuming, The Royal Marine Hotel is brimming with history and heritage yet is also relaxed and welcoming. Friendly and knowledgeable staff are just very thoughtful and have a very natural way of welcoming families like us. All the right ingredients for a perfect family break, My Way.