Ireland is home to a range of fascinating facts based on its rich history, enticing mythology and chilling legends. Of course you could drive through Ireland but it’s only when you slow down that you build a connection to the land and its people and culture and traditions and history. By choosing to hike instead of drive, you’ll meet the people, hear their stories, explore the wild landscapes of their home.
As an adventure traveller hiking through Ireland, you’ll get the chance to visit so much of Ireland’s rural areas, countryside, parks and villages overlooked by coach travellers. So with that thought in mind, sit back and relax as we take you through a journey of Ireland to places such as Cork, Kildare, the Burren, Connemara, Donegal and Kerry.
Dublin’s Jonathan Swift, author of the fantastical tales related in Gulliver’s Travels, supposedly got his inspiration when looking across a lake at the ‘little’ people on the other side. He’s buried in St Patricks Cathedral, Dublin, with one of the two loves of his life. This happened as a worker during the Guinness family’s restoration of St Patrick’s Cathedral, believed the lady Stella was his true love, and buried her beside him.
Co Kildare is home to the largest tract of semi-natural grassland in Europe since the weight of a glacier flattened it during the last Ice Age over 12,000 years ago. However, it was the perfect location in 1995 for Mel Gibson and the Irish army to re-enact the battle scenes in the epic movie ‘Braveheart’. Explore Ireland’s historic Ancient East for more intriguing history!
Co Cork was home to Henry Ford’s grandfather and father, until 1847, at the height of the Irish Famine, they made the gruelling voyage from Cobh to Quebec (Cohb was also the last port of call for the RMS Titanic, where 123 passengers got on board. There’s still a museum there today in the former White Star Line office). His grandson Henry Ford, who created the Ford Model T car in 1903, established the Ford Motor Company and the famed assembly line mode of production which revolutionised the industry – and in 1917, he set up a motor plant in Cork city. Try a bit of island hopping in Cork and Kerry for a flavour of the Southwest!
Co Kerry’s Tom Crean, ‘The Arctic Explorer’ of Ireland, was a member of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition in 1911–13 in a race to the South Pole (they lost to Amundsen and ended in the deaths of Scott and his polar party). Crean’s third and final Antarctic venture was the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on Endurance led by Ernest Shackleton. It became stuck in ice and sank; Crean and three others travelled 800 nautical miles in an open boat from Elephant Island to South Georgia. On arrival, they undertook the first land crossing of the island, without maps or proper mountaineering equipment, to get aid, before returning to rescue his men, all of whom survived. Today, visit The South Pole Inn for a pint of Crean’s beer in while hiking in Dingle, both throwbacks to the famous explorer.
Belfast local CS Lewis was so enchanted and taken with Northern Ireland despite living most of his adult life in England that he based many of the magical lands in The Chronicles of Narnia off his native lands. In his words, “I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge. I yearn to see County Down in the snow, one almost expects to see a march of dwarfs dashing past. How I long to break into a world where such things were true.” He is also said to have used Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim, when creating the royal palace of Cair Paravel, and Carlingford Lough as the Narnian countryside. Try to find the Narnia of CS Lewis’ imagination while hiking in Northern Ireland along the Causeway Coast.
Co Donegal, recognised by National Geographic Traveller as the Coolest Place on Earth, is also home to a galaxy far, far away. Many of the scenes depicting Luke Skywalker’s island hideout in 2017’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi were shot on the alien landscapes of Malin Head, Ireland’s northernmost point. And from here, you can see another form of royalty: Tory Island, home to the locally-elected King Patsy of Tory Island, an artist’s island heaven. All visitors are greeted by the king as they arrive off the ferry!
Co Sligo is thick with legend. One states of legendary warrior Queen Maeve, who is buried under a neolithic cairn (she’s probably not the first occupant of the tomb) at the top of Knocknarea Hill. Another tells the story of Diarmuit and Grainne, Ireland’s own Romeo and Juliet, eternally running from the giant Finn McCool, who ultimately died in Diarmuit and Grainne’s Cave in the shadow of Ben Bulben Mountain. Both hills are amazing places to hike – check it out on our biking and yoga escape in Sligo. All of this inspired poet WB Yeats, who wrote page after page of romantic poetry largely about and inspired by Sligo.
The rural and rugged coastlines of Connemara were once ruled by the ferocious Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley. A rebel to the bone, the 16th-century Gaelic pirate ruled Clew Bay and Galway Bayfor decades, demanding tolls by all who passed. Her castles litter the islands (notably Clare Island) and shorelines. She gained several of these by marrying then divorcing her wealthy husband 366 days later (due to a loophole in Gaelic law), and keeping the castles, and also cheated the English Queen out of her share! Today, the best way to meet Grace is by paddling to the islands and hiking on shores to her castles.
Achill Island, off the coast of Co Mayo, is one of the most eerie places in Ireland. Desolate and windswept, the island contains the ruins of the Deserted Village of Slievemore. But even more chilling is the prophecy. The tale tells of an old oracle claiming ‘carts on iron wheels would carry the souls of dead Achill Islanders on their first and last journey.’
In 1894, the new railway to Achill Island was about to open. An overfull boat of emigrating potato planters overturned in the bay, and the islanders drowned. So, the ‘cart on iron wheels’ first service carried the bodies of the Clew Bay Drowning back to Achill for burial. The railway ran to Westport as normal until the 1930s, when it was deemed too costly, and its closure was announced. In 1937, another tragedy struck – a new group of emigrants to the mainland were killed in a terrible fire. The 10 victims were carried back to their native Achill Island for burial – on the railway’s very last service. The train service ended that day.
We have a range of amazing walking and hiking holidays in the stunning landscapes of Ireland. Check out below to explore our upcoming trips.
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