Set in a peat bog that feels miles from anywhere, Lough Boora Discovery Park in County Offaly is a wonderful attraction for outdoors lovers and families with kids. With 50 km (40miles) of pathways that offer routes that accommodate a short stroll to a lengthy cycle, the Lough Boora Parklands host different types of visitors. Wild, natural and peaceful, these wetlands are visited by a range of species, from dragonflies to the endangered grey partridge. Of particular interest for children are the old abandoned peat trains, a delightful route through the woods called Fairy Avenue, a large Stone Pyramid and other charming sculptures and attractions that lie along the pathways.
FREE to enter (although there is a 2euro parking fee), upon arrival at the Discovery Park visitors will first encounter a modern visitor centre and café. Opened in 2014, the centre has helpful staff that offer maps and information on different routes that can be taken around the Parklands. The building serves as both the start and end point for all routes, so although it serves fine coffees and other refreshments, you may want to hold off on them until after you've taken your route around, when you'll need them. Toilets are also available in this building.
Adjacent to the visitor centre is a bicycle hire facility. There are different types of bike available -- small ones for the kids, if they want them, but also adult bikes with small trailers, for small children who want to be towed along!
Sky Train and Peat Wagons
About half a mile (0.8km) from the visitor centre, and past the first lake, are the peat wagons and the Sky Train. The old wagons are abandoned little trains, still on the disused tracks, that used to carry peat along this bog. The parklands are sponsored by Bord Na Mona, an Irish semi-state utility company that was originally responsible for the mechanised harvesting of peat in this area, beginning in the 1940s. Children enjoy playing and posing for photographs on these stationery trains, and on the Sky Train, a longer, curved set of wagons that bends skyward -- which is in fact a sculpture created by Irish artist Michael Bulfin.
Further on, about 1.5 miles (2km) from the centre, is the Pavillion, a large wooden stage that serves as a resting / picnic spot. There are tables here, and a larger shelter -- but no bins. If you're going to have a snack break (recommended if you're walking!), just remember to take any wrappers or other trash back with you.
Opposite the Pavillion is the Boora pyramid. About 20 feet / 6 metres high, it is made from stones that have been recovered from the bog. Created by local artist Eileen McDonagh, the stone pyramid is fun for older children to climb. At the top of the pyramid, the exact co-ordinates of the location are etched into the highest stone. It's fun to photograph these if you reach the top, and type them into Google Maps later.
The Fairy Avenue was created in 2015 by the Irish Fairy Door Company. A narrow route through the woods, the avenue contains the houses of the 14 fairies who live in the Boora Park -- their brightly-coloured doors can be seen high up in the trees, along with explanatory signs and other fairy accouterments such as washing lines and swings. This attraction is particularly delightful for younger children. There are a couple of different ways to reach Fairy Avenue, but the best way is to go right (toward the pyramid) from the Pavilion. This way, you will have to pass by other features such as a crawling tunnel, a couple of green igloos, a maze and a wishing chair before reaching the avenue. After exiting, you will see a fairy ring on the right, before reaching the Pavilion again. At this point you may want to turn back for the visitor centre if you are on foot -- but if you have bikes, there are more pathways and attractions to explore.
Lough Boora Discovery Park is open seven days a week, 365 days a year Entrance FREE Parking Fee €2 euros per hour. First 30 mins free. Visitor Centre Cafe Summer season opening hours Monday to Sunday: 9.30am – 6pm Winter season opening hours Saturday / Sunday only: 11am – 4pm