In the days before you could get everything anywhere, Tayto crisps were a home comfort that Irish people living abroad would crave. In the 1990’s pub-owners in London would bring back cases to serve in London’s Irish pubs, and if you asked a young Irish person living New York which food they missed the most, they would likely be torn between their Mammy’s soda bread and Tatyo’s Cheese n’ Onion crisps.
Fast-forward 20 years and you can get Tayto crisps at pretty well any speciality store, and what’s more, on your next visit home to Ireland, you can visit one of Europe’s greatest amusement parks, Tayto Park, just outside of Dublin, in County Meath.
Yes, that’s right. An amusement park. In honour of the potato. In Ireland.
The amusement park itself was the brainchild of Ray Coyle, a potato farmer and entrepreneur who was hit badly when Tayto stopped buying his potatoes in the early 1980s. Heavily in debt, he decided to raffle off most of his farmland, selling tickets for £300 (About 600 Canadian dollars) each. Once he had paid off his debts to the bank, he started up a number of his own snack companies, eventually becoming rich and buying out Tayto in 2005.
In 2010, Coyle opened up Tayto Park, inspired by American theme parks like Hershey Park. It has since become the sixth most popular paid-for attraction in the Republic of Ireland, according to Fáilte Ireland, the Irish tourism agency.
On a recent visit to Dublin to visit my Irish aunties and cousins, I couldn’t resist taking my children aged 3 and 8, to Tayto Park. What better way to connect with their Irish roots, than to spend a summer day on amusement rides with the thousands of Irish families who come to Tayto Park each day! Here are the highlights of our experience:
1. A separate area for big and little kids
Kids get so frustrated when they get to a ride and see the “you have to be this tall” sign, particularly if they are not tall enough! Tayto Park has solved the problem by creating two parks within the park: The Eagle Sky Adventure Zone for older children, and the Eagle’s Nest, for the little ones. It worked really well for our family, My husband spent the day with our daughter on the big kid rides, while I took it easy with the three year old. At the end of the day, we met to compare stories!
2. The Cú Chulainn Coaster
Cú Chulainn is a mythological Irish hero and the namesake for Ireland’s first rollercoaster and Europe’s largest wooden rollercoaster with an inversion (that means going upside down). This one is for the big kids only.
3. Zip line
My daughter’s favourite experience was the zipline, Ireland’s longest and fastest zip wire. The lineup was also pretty long for this attraction, but safety precautions seemed well observed, and the smile on her face at the end of the ride was worth it!
4. Tayto Factory Tour
A ticket to Tayto Park includes a tour of the Tayto crisp factory, where in a clever interactive exhibit, you can pretend you are a potato chip moving along a conveyor belt! Did you know that 10% of Ireland’s potatoes go to the Tayto factory? Or how about this fun fact: it takes precisely one potato to make one bag of crisps!
5. Mr Tayto (and friends)
Tayto Park is the home of the fictional mascot, Mr Tayto whose picture is featured on every bag of crisps. Mr Tayto makes regularly scheduled appearances at select times throughout the day, so you and the kids can hug him and take a photo. Say “cheese and onion!”
6. Free bag of crisps on your way home
After spending thousands of dollars on flights and about €100.00 (150 Canadian dollars) on park entry and wrist bands, we felt sympathy with anyone that has been in debt. However it was a sweet gesture, and very comforting to receive a free bag of crisps on our way out of the park – a rite of exit for every single visitor!
IF YOU GO:
Tayto Park Tips
Eating at the park can be expensive. I was lucky that my Aunty Mary sent us out the door with a loaf of her delicious soda bread. If you don’t have a generous Irish aunty, stop at a grocery store for provisions before you enter the park.
Bring sensible shoes and sunscreen; the park is enormous, and you will do a lot of walking
Buy the wristband. It’s a good deal
How to Get There
If you are driving, use a GPS. The park is in a place called Kilbrew. It’s quite rural with farms and villages and windy roads. You may get lost. We did.
If you’re not brave enough to get behind the wheel in Ireland, I don’t blame you. Bus Eireann provides a daily service from Dublin city centre to Tayto Park that departs from Berford place.