Exploring & Hiking Ireland
The country of Ireland has long been a place I wanted to, and also needed to visit. Nearly 10 years ago, my youngest sister moved to the midland region and quite fell in love with the region and has stayed put ever since. Knowing I was making this trip, like all my other trips working and otherwise, I began to research what to do for the short periods of time I could carve out both for solo adventures as well as a few where I dragged my family along for. Let it be known, they too were grateful and enlightened by stepping outside their comfort zones and embracing the greatness of nature.
Cliffs Of Moher
First stop after a late night flight into the Shannon Airport was the Cliffs Of Moher. The Cliffs are iconic here and frequented by tourists. At more than 700 feet high over the ocean floor, they are a must see. While visiting I passed both groups of those coming in on tour buses and a few people passing through while backpacking the land. Along the 12km stretch are two highlights, the OBrien Tower and the Branaunmore sea stack. We got lucky when visiting on a clear and sunny day and as I left with my family, I vowed to come back one more time and hike the entire length of the Cliffs. However, when I retuned a storm of wind and rain and thick clouds rolled in cutting my hike short. It is well known that the Cliffs are most always windy and foggy, so if you perhaps get a clear day to visit, I highly recommend it. Further north, are the Slieve League Cliffs, which I did not get a chance to visit but were highly recommended as well. If you want to skip the crowds, head there instead.
Lough Key Forest Park
Located just down the road from my sisters place is the Lough Key Forest Park. It spans nearly 2,000 acres and has dozens of trails throughout the park. There is a visitor center and cafe and sits on a large lake. There are a few historic buildings on the property including an unrestored castle on an island. Camping is also available.
A short drive and ‘hike’ in, the Glencar Waterfall is a must see if in the area. It also sits just across from another lake and at the bottom of Kings Mountain. A 50 foot high fall, you walk along a paved trail to a viewing point, which of course was just not good enough for me. I opted to hike through and across the stream to reach the bottom of the falls which opens up at the bottom much like a shallow cave. If you happen to visit Glencar Falls, there are a few other landmarks in the area worth visiting like Parkes Castle and the Creevelea Friary.
By far, my most favorite thing I did on the trip. Cuilcagh Mountain is a 665 meter peak that is located near another popular tourism destination, the Marble Caves. If you plan to visit be sure and use your navigation to the Marble Caves. The hike starts out through vast and rolling hills along farming land where you will pass dozens, if not hundreds of sheep along the way. I started early in the morning, 8:30A and was glad I did because as I was nearing the end of my hike droves of people were coming in. The hike to the fairly new boardwalk and stairs seemingly takes forever. Along the trail you will climb over livestock gates as well as a few signs detailing the land and why the boardwalk and staircase was installed. The total hike is 15km and as you near the end to ascend the peak, the staircase begins. The first part can be a killer, but I felt like the lead up to the staircase was the hardest part as I was anticipating this new and unique experience. The boardwalk and stairs is also known as the Legnabrocky trail and was built to protect the blanket bog aka peatland in the area from erosion. Peatland is especially moist land that with rain because like a marshland, which at some point make the area dangerous and unable to be explored.
This day in particular was a cold one and as I hiked up to the peak the boardwalk itself was icy and slick. The views along the way were absolutely breathtaking. To get up high and see the green and rolling lands of the Irish country was remarkable, and everything you think of when you think of the Irish country.
In a word: amazed. The coast of Ireland that lies along the Atlantic Ocean is called the Wild Atlantic Way. It starts in the Southern most peninsula and stretches all the way up to the line of Northern Ireland. Highlights include the Skelligs, the Cliffs Of Moher, Keem Bay, Sligo, Fanad Head, Malin Head and this, Downpatrick Head. I felt that when researching where to hike, explore within two hours where I was in Carrick On Shannon, there wasn’t much intel or places that were much frequented close to where I was. It took some digging and creativity when planning on itinerary. But… when I discovered this astronomically large sea stack just off the coast I had to see it. I made the 90 mile drive with my sister and when we arrived we were literally speechless. It was perhaps the first time I had come in contact with nature’s wonder that I just could not speak. The 126 foot high natural sculpture sits conveniently right off the cliff’s edge in a small coastal town in Mayo. We spent nearly two hours here on the land just taking in the view and the waves of the wild ocean below. Also on the site is a statue of St Patrick himself. The name Downpatrick is derived from a time when St Patrick himself founded a church here. You can still see the ruins of the church building, a stone cross and holy well here today.
My last and final destination and perhaps the most Irish feeling of all the things I stopped to see while on my week long venture. The castle is a round tower house with a small courtyard enclosed by a wall. It is currently closed and unrestored but a must see as it sits on a hillside just across from the Atlantic Ocean. Full disclosure, I absolutely hopped a fence to get closer to it but did not enter the castle. There is much history tied to the castle, in the 16th century it was granted to the to Sir O’Brien. During the Spanish Armada in 1588, a Spanish fleet shipwrecked off the coast and it’s 170 survivors were captured and hanged at Doonagore Castle. The castle had started to fall into disrepair by the early 1800s, and was repaired, but again deteriorated by the middle of the 19th century. If you choose to visit the castle, it’s just mile up the road from the Cliffs Of Moher, making visiting both convenient and a great way to spend and end the day.
So, there it is. My Ireland itinerary. My only regret was not being able to make it further into Northern Ireland. Much of Ireland’s most iconic sights are in the Northern most part of Northern Ireland and lie within and around the Giant’s Causeway. I opted not to make the trip that far in order to stay closer to my family but also because the driving in Ireland is quite difficult. The narrow country roads are extremely hard to navigate and you don’t see the light in the morning until just after 8AM. With the short days, I snuck in as much sightseeing and adventure as possible. Thanks to everyone who followed along and sent in recommendations!
For more information on discovering Ireland, visit www.discoverireland.ie