For all of you non-Irish friends and readers, I should perhaps give a brief explanation of what Tayto is. Tayto are Irish crisp (chips) makers, but Tayto crisps are not just a product. Oh no. Tayto crisps are part of our national identity, the foodstuff most smuggled out of the country to homesick ex-pats, the provender of Irish patriotism itself. Perhaps our love of Tayto stems in part from a collective memory of the potato famine of 1845, when Tayto were shockingly unavailable... ;) (Not really.)
Some people don't especially like Tayto crisps. Some, indeed, (like myself) prefer King or Walkers - but no self-respecting Irish person would ever admit that *out loud*. Tayto Crisps, and their figurehead Mr Tayto, are so popular that this book was a bestseller last Christmas.
I think it was @chiddle84 who, a few months ago, first alerted me to the latest marvel that our tiny island had to offer - Tayto Park. Despite having long been cynical enough to expect part of Killarney to be transformed into EireDisney or Leprechaun Land at any minute, at first I thought this was a joke. Then I visited the website and, once I'd finished laughing, I just knew I had to go there. A combination of a sick child and snowmaggeddon slowed down my plans, but given the mild weather this week we borrowed two extra children to entertain our own, and off we went.
Tayto Park is located just outside Ashbourne in Co. Meath, about a fifteen minute detour from the M50. The signposting is pretty poor, until you finally almost get there and encounter one enormous billboard advertising the place. Personally, I would have preferred a few more directional signs from the M50.
As you drive in, it's instantly obvious that the place is still under construction. We navigated our way to what was probably a parking space (that's our story) through a sea of traffic cones. The fact that our car park was called the Cheese and Onion car park had me laughing like an idiot.
I quickly stopped laughing when it became apparent that the whole place was deserted - not a sinner to be seen. We almost turned around and left, certain that the place wasn't open to the public yet, but thankfully we tried the door to the admissions lodge first - and lo, it was open!
As we passed through after parting with €45 for five of us we were met first by Mr Tayto.
Then the kids ran ahead to the Pow Wow playground. Admittedly this was an excellent playground, especially for older kids who were unusually well catered for.
Things went downhill a little after that. Map in hand, we set off in search of the various advertised animals in Mr Tayto Critter Country. Sadly, many of the enclosures are still empty, though we did see an ocelot and some bison. And an awful lot of chickens and bunnies. The children were especially interested in the bunnies who were playing leapfrog, but kept getting stuck... (I didn't take any pictures of those.) We also found the tunnel of goats - still sadly lacking in goats.
(Note: Not actually a tunnel of goats...)
We had lunch in the surprisingly good lodge restaurant (the Teahouse in the Treehouse is currently only open at weekends) and set off to see what else there was to see. Well, there was Potatohontas Indian Village, which consisted of 6 large, empty tipis. And there were the many, many indigenous native Irish totem poles... (No. I don't get why they were there either - apart from some spurious link with the history of the potato, perhaps?)
But that, really, was it. We walked around a bit longer, and the kids ran happily back to the playground, but then we were done - a full two hours ahead of the time we had expected.
According to the website, there are more attractions coming next year, when you'll be able to tour the crisp-making facility, see more animals and wander along more paths and trails. There's also a planned adventure trail thingy for next year, that sounds more promising.
So, would I recommend Tayto Park? Well, it's an expensive day out for just a playground, but I think everyone should see it at least once. Why? Cos it's a park. And it's devoted to Tayto. Nuff said :)