Walking and trekking
Ireland is vastly underrated as a walking destination. Even if we don’t include Northern Ireland (which we will) there is a multitude of walking options available through scenery which really does hold a a torch to the best Scotland can offer.
Starting spectacularly in Kerry, the most impressive (and highest) mountains in Ireland can be found, frequently swathed in brooding cloud but obviously dramatic in form and nature. Here two peninsulas: the Iveragh peninsula and the Dingle peninsula hoard mountains away from the rest of Ireland and privide a big reason for making the trip this far south west. Highest of them all is Carrauntooil (1,039m) balanced in height between Snowdon and Scafell Pike, but more serious in many respects than both. A swirling monster of ridgelines, steep drops and frightening neighbours, Carrauntooil is in spectacle a mountaineer’s mountain, but can be climbed by anyone with stamina, a head for heights and a brick-solid knowledge of navigation. The mountain is the crown of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a Cuillin-alike ridge on the Iveragh peninsula which include Beenkaragh (1010m), Cnoc na Pieste (988m) and Cruach Mor (932m) – all of them fine and challenging peaks.
Hereabouts the glens are thick with legend: just a glance at the map and you are confronted with disguised names which, when translated, hint at the legend in these parts: Lough Cailee (the Hag’s Lake) Lough Cumeenapeaste (the Lake of the water monster), The Devil’s Ladder. If you want to explore the Reeks, (and how could you not?) the best way up is from Lisleiblane. This part of Kerry is also the setting for the famous ‘Ring of Kerry’ – a 176km circuit around the towns of Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Caherciveen, Waterville, Sneem, Kenmare, and Killarney. As well as intermittent views of the crashing Atlantic, the mountains of Kerry at your disposal should you wish them and a landscape dotted with relics from the past such as stone circles and burial grounds from ancient Celtic settlers (many older than Stonehenge) this is a fine walk that will please any walker regardless of grade.
Also in Kerry (there’s a lot here) is Brandon Mountain, on the famous Dingle Peninsula. This sees a lot of traffic, but it is a deeply beautiful peak with superb rock architecture and staggering views, most entertaining by its east ridge.
Moving east into Mayo, walkers are tempted by a number of charismatic scenic highlights, two of which stand proud: the Galty Mountains and the Wicklow Hills. The mountains in these ranges are decidedly less dramatic than those of Kerry, but make fine, achievable viewpoints if you’re in the area and fancy some great hillwalking. Similar to the Cairngorms in nature, their respective highlights are Galytmore Mountain (919m) which has towering cliffs and a real sense of being ‘out there’, and Lugnaquillia Mountain (925m) – ‘The lug’ – which is the highest summit in the Wicklows. Hereabouts you can also find the Wicklow Way, the 132km path (part of European Path E6) which begins in Dublin and travels south west across the Wicklow uplands, through rolling hill country in the southwest of the county to finish in the smallvillage of Clonegal. Its varied landscapes make it a great catch for country walkers who like a bit of hill and town in their walks.
To the north east and to Mayo, Galway and Connemara, this is another packed area of hills for any level of walker. Here lie the Mweelrea mountains (Galway) The Nephin Beg Mountains (Mayo) and Sheefry Mountains (Galway), but the pick of the bunch sound like they should be in Scotland. For the serious hillwalker, the Twelve Bens of Connemara make for meaty challenge: despite being of moderate height, they are steep, remote and awkwardly organised but can be broken up into more do-able horseshoes. Here lies the Glencoaghan Horseshoe, and the peak of Bencorr (711m): a bare, strikingly grey mountain of sharp ridges and a marvellous position above Loch Inagh which is a sure contender for Ireland’s best mountain walk.
Elsewhere in Ireland there is plenty to occupy: the mountain of Mourne in Northern Ireland are famously atmospheric and despite being very busy in high season, make for spellbinding walking, intermittently assisted by the Mourne Wall, an ancient drystone wall which follows the main ridge. The highest peak is the impressive Slieve Donard (850m) which has views to Scotland, England and Wales on clear days, with the possibility of seeing both Scafell Pike and Snowdon from its top. Croagh Patrick (767m) in Mayo is the most climbed mountain in Ireland, and is a place of pilgrimage, with many making the journey to the chapel summit in bare feet. The Burren is an ancient, bleak landscape of limestone in County Clare which makes for fascinating geological walking (or just walking if you prefer!) and there are many beautiful lake areas in Ireland (loughs) which are justifiably popular with trout fishermen, and many have holiday cottages which can be hired for short breaks. Particularly picturesque are Loch Conn and Lough Mask in Connemara, and the beguiling Lough Derg near Limerick.
Killary Fjord in Connemara, County Galway is the only true fjord in Ireland. You can take tours into the Fjord and the nearby base of Leenane is developing itself as the outdoor capital of Ireland, with bungee jumping, kayaking, windsurfing, diving and rafting. It is also a good base if you’re spending a while and want to discover the west coast, so you’d do well to investigate it if lots of outdoor options are your goal. The cliffs of Moher – the famous Atlantic Edge – are one of Ireland’s most visited attractions, and are accessible from Shannon or Galway. They are ceaselessly impressive – a long line of eroded cliffs dropping sheer into the ocean which batters them. Frequently swathed in mist, they are an atmospheric addition to any itinerary.
Trout fishing is also big in Ireland, as is biking, with magnificent cycle routes on Dingle and Kerry. Any beer lover must make at least one pilgrimage to Dublin, and the Temple Bar district, and further up the coast there is a huge Celtic tomb at Newgrange which demands a visit.
Then of course there is Ireland’s second most famous attraction (after the Guinness brewery) – the Giant’s Casueway. Legend has it the Basaltic columns of the causeway were cast into the water by giant Finn McCool, who built the causeway to fight fellow giant Benandonner in Scotland, but fell asleep before he got there. Panicking when Benandonner got impatient and came over himself, McCool asked his wife to throw a blanket over him and pretend he was her son. Benandonner then arrived, baulked at the size of the ‘baby’, imagined how big the father must be and fled back to Scotland, ripping up the causeway as he went. A slightly more prosaic version involves columns of cooling lava, but whichever you believe the site is impressive and of huge historic interest: a Spanish Armada galleon Girona was shipwrecked here in 1558 with the loss of 1300 men, and the treasure recovered from her was the biggest ever recovered from such a ship. The causeway is one of those sites you must visit at least once in your life.
The longest river and biggest lake in Great Britain are in Ireland: TRUE. The River Shannon at 240 miles, and Lough Neagh, with an area of 292 square km.
The famous phrase from purile cartoon South Park – “they killed Kenny” – was a reference to Kilkenny Castle in Ireland’s south east, where King Kenny III was assassinated in 1550. FALSE: none of the above is true, and the name is merely a much seized-upon coincidence.
Irish Whiskey is spelt with an ‘e’. TRUE. Scottish Whisky has no ‘e’, and is typically distilled twice, whereas Irish Whiskey is distilled three times.
Must see and do
- Visit the Giant’s Causewaywww.giantscausewayofficialguide.com
- Climb Brandon Mountain and marvel at the viewswww.discoverireland.ie/southwest
- Visit the Guinness Brewery at St James’ Gatewww.guinness.com