We’re going to the Zoo, how about you?

Dublin zoo has been a longstanding fixture in my home town, having opened its doors to the public way back in 1840 (although it was established in 1831, making it the fourth oldest zoo in the world). For generations, families have made the trip to the Phoenix Park (the largest urban park in Europe, see I do some research for my blog!) to get their fill of exotic and wild animals. Certainly I remember many trips during my own childhood when I was fascinated by the large tiger continuously prowling behind a huge glass screen and amazed by the sea lions as they splashed about their enclosure. I also seem to remember polar bears who liked to spray passersby with the fountain in their enclosure but unfortunately they had to be shipped off to Hungary in 2003 citing issues with their shared living space (I know that feeling). I can also remember the great excitement around the visit of the giant pandas to Dublin, ah Ping Ping and Ming Ming how I miss you (subnote; my favourite teddy as a child was a panda or Big Panda as I liked to call him). Although I do remember being unimpressed by the moniker “giant” pandas as they looked normal sized to me. It was only later that I realised they were only “giant” relative to their red panda cousins!

After my childhood years, visits to the zoo became less common with just the occasional trip alongside foreign visitors over the years who were looking for a few hours to kill. This all changed 11 years ago with the arrival of our first child and by the time numbers 2, 3 and 4 came along, we were fully signed up family members (excellent value €190 for annual family pass). Fortunately my return to the Zoological Gardens Dublin coincided with a significant upgrade project which created a number of much larger open spaces where the animals have much greater area to roam and mingle. Predators are obviously kept separately, so zebras can mix with giraffes and ostriches but not with lions, hey this isn’t the movie Madagascar! So now the zoo includes areas such as the the African Savanna, the Kaziringa Forest Trail (home to the much loved elephant herd), the Gorilla Rainforest and the Orangutan Forest. The viewing areas are excellent and provide good access to the animals without being obtrusive. My favourite renovated area is the Sea Lion Cove which allows you to see these wonderful creatures (still a favourite) underwater so that you can marvel at how gracefully they move, a bit like yours truly in my prime on Dollymount beach!!

We made our return to the zoo this week after the Covid 19 enforced break. Things are a bit different but the overall experience remains the same. You have to book your time-slot in advance and you are immediately greeted by a bank of sanitiser stations. Dublin zoo has implemented a very well signposted one-way system which I thought might cause problems but actually turned out to be a god send. Previously the biggest headache at the zoo had been trying to decide which animals we’d visit first. Each of my three boys have very definite ideas on how to traverse the 69 acres that make up the zoo and invariably one of them ends up annoyed and in a huff for the rest of the trip. But this time around I just had to shrug my shoulders and say “we have to go this way so let’s keep moving folks”. The indoor spaces are off-limits so no reptile house including crocodiles and snakes but all the other main animals were taken in by the one way system. We got to see a baby gorilla and a baby sea lion which is always lovely. I tried to engage the boys with my tales of seeing Californian Sea Lions on the wharves of San Francisco but they looked at me like I had two heads!

For me, the best thing about Dublin Zoo is seeing the wonder and amazement of my younger kids whenever they spot an animal, whether it be a nimble spider monkey, the hulking rhinos, the very cute humboldt penguins or the numerous ducks that have made the lake in the zoo their home. In fact we spotted seven ducklings beside the Gorilla Rainforest and that was nearly the highlight of Ella’s (3) day. It’s also nice that the older kids get to share in the enjoyment of their younger sibling. This time round my second boy Lochlan (9) was less enthusiastic about the zoo trip (he has developed a phobia of walking more than the length of a football pitch) but once we got there he was swept along by Ella’s buoyant mood and he even decided to become her personal guide complete with commentary and lifting service.

We spent an enjoyable two and a half hours in the zoo, the place was even cleaner than usual and the moist Irish summer meant that the foliage was lush without hindering views. The animals always look healthy and well cared for, evidence of this can be seen on The Zoo tv programme. Staff are friendly and happy to provide information about the facilities and the animals such as the fact that Dublin Zoo is home to the oldest Tapir in the world, Marmaduke is 35 years old but doesn’t look a day over 29, a bit like myself!

Surviving Easter (Part 2)

I had now reached week 2 of my Easter challenge. Bloodied but not beaten by my torn quad muscle, I knew that I required a different approach to successfully navigate the second half. I am a proud man but it was abundantly clear that I needed help, so on the Tuesday after Easter Monday I did what any good Irish son does in his hour of need, I headed to my parents’ house (the place that is still called Home on my mobile phone). As a family, we are very lucky to have both sets of grandparents nearby in Dublin, I still argue the toss with my in-laws about whether Shankill really is in Dublin but they are reachable by travelling on the M50 so that is all that really matters! Anyway the kids love seeing their grandparents and vice versa, or at least the grandparents do a good enough job of faking it! As an added bonus, the garden in my folks’ house is sufficiently long for the boys to happily while away a couple of hours taking pot-shots at each other with footballs, tennis balls, rugby balls or when things get testy, pretty much any object that comes to hand. My dad has a never ending supply of gadgets which he regularly replenishes in Flying Tiger, now that Hector Grey’s is no more (feel free to google search Hector Grey’s if required but in short, think of Flying Tiger but organised in a much more scattered and much less commercial way). These amuse and amaze the kids in equal measure. Tuesday’s visit to my parents followed a familiar pattern. As soon as the boys’ energy levels began to drop in the back garden (normally signalled by one of them trying to take the head off another one) and Ella started to get a bit grumpy, my mum produced her party-piece, crackers and cheese. It is a strange thing that crackers at home are only moderately sought-after but as soon as we enter my parents’ house, they become some kind of food of the gods, a modern day ambrosia. I must say, all of us were refreshed and replenished by the experience and I could now see a path through to the end of the week.

On Wednesday I went for an old reliable, the zoo! Well at least I thought it was an old reliable until Aaron went on over his ankle running down the mound surrounding the zoo car park within 60 seconds of arrival. I just about managed to coax him to his feet and despite the howls coming out of him I was pretty sure he was going to live. I can confirm that he certainly is not blessed with his mother’s high pain threshold (4 natural births without any pain relieving medication). Then as we ambled towards the main entrance, I noticed that Oscar’s tracksuit bottoms were on back-to-front, I mean did he not notice the dubs crest on his backside! I tried to get him to do a quick change at the side of the path but he was having none of it so it was back to the car. I could feel a Roy Keane tinged red-mist starting to descend upon me and the thought of packing up and heading back to Glasnevin did cross my mind, but Ella’s plaintive little voice asking “Daddy will we see animals?” pulled me back from the brink. The zoo is great and has improved immeasurably over the years. One of the benefits of having 4 kids is that I continuously get to see it afresh through a new set of young and wondrous eyes. Also, now that the boys are a bit older they can help push Ella around in her buggy so it’s win-win!

That was Wednesday successfully negotiated and on Thursday, I received a welcome wild card, the offer of a play-date for all three boys at the same time, jackpot! In my slightly frazzled state I was more than happy to depend on the kindness of strangers / parents from St Pats BNS, thank you Gillian! Again it was a win-win situation as the boys could sense that my mindset had changed from one of expansive new ideas (or my Leinster rugby frame of mind) to one of keep everything on a tight leash and hopefully we’ll get through it (my Munster rugby frame of mind). With the sound of nerf bullets flying past my ears as I dropped the boys off, I knew that I was another step closer to the weekend.

Friday was swimming with Ella day. Ella has weekly water babies classes and has been going since she was a couple of months old (as did all the kids thanks to the foresight of their mother). I now get to enjoy being in the water with her as she splashes to her heart’s content. The boys got to come and see her which was nice for them too, cue lots of waving from the viewing area and applause whenever Ella stuck her head in the water.

I had survived, I had made it through the fortnight and now all I had to do was start researching summer camps and fast (as I type I can see Niki doing up one of here dreaded To-Do lists). Was there any real secret to my survival, I don’t think so, a few new things, a few old things and plenty of help from friends and family. In the end I’ll certainly remember it fondly (mostly). Oh and we may have played quite a bit of minecraft!