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Hiking & Island Hopping – My Week in Cork & Kerry

7 min read

By Eimear Quinn, Adventure Co-ordinator
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An island hopping adventure...

Looking back at 2018, I must pinch myself. In my first year as an Adventure Co-ordinator with Wilderness Ireland, I’ve been blessed by many amazing experiences, such as my first ever Wilderness Week – a multi-day hiking and island hopping excursion across Cork and Kerry.

Let me share with you some of my highlights from the trip and who knows, you may even come to see for yourself some day!

Our Guide, Donncha

Donncha O'Brien guide

Donncha (in green) taking us for a hike along a deserted beach in Cork.

To have had Donncha O’Brien as our guide was a real treasure – he knows southwest Ireland like the back of his hand! His singing and choice of traditional Irish songs punctuated each moment perfectly. Each of our days hikes were peppered with personal anecdotes that made us feel at home from our pickup in Cork city through the backcountry of West Cork’s peninsulas to Kerry’s quiet islands. There really is no other way to explore Ireland than with a skilled local guide whose heart and soul is in the region.

Sheep's Head Peninsula

Poets Way of the Sheep's Head Peninsula

The remoteness of West Cork is really felt on the Poets Way of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.

We started our hike along Sheep’s Head at Waymarker 284, up past the signal tower where Donncha relayed a gruesome tale of a desperate soldier who met his end on the peninsula. From here, we continued along a portion of the rugged yet scenic Poet’s Way looped walk – the beautiful views to our left overlooking Dunmanus Bay were scuppered by some fog but the I maintain to this day that the quiet and eerie atmosphere only added to the walk rather than took away from it. It provided an opportunity to be mindful with each step – a gentle meditative practice in this far-flung corner of Europe.

Skellig Michael & the Skellig Islands

Skelligs beehive huts

Ancient beehive huts on the Skelligs where the monks once lived…

Where do I begin? The Star Wars connection will surely heighten the Skellig Michael experience for some, but for me, the wonder lay in the sheer remoteness in which more than a few hardy souls lived. The OPW (Office of Public Works – Ireland’s main governing force to protect the country’s heritage) presented a wonderful telling of Skellig Islands tales from a few different perspectives.

The view itself is enough to make you want to stay there… well, maybe not forever but for a wee while longer at least! Fortunately, I had no issue with heights so the amble up the approximately 600 steps was thrilling and with other visitors carefully watching their steps in single file, there wasn’t a thing to distract you from taking in the peaceful, stunning surroundings quite safely.

View of the epic Skellig Michael stairs

We had just missed the famed puffins by a few weeks as they had already made off on their lengthy migratory travels. This was made up for by the ample number of gannets which graced us with their presence on the island. Even more gannets could be seen on the nearby Little Skellig – best viewed while sailing to and from Skellig Michael. One word of advice, pack some sea-sickness tablets if you get queasy on the water as it’s 2 hours by boat each way!

The Blasket Islands

Blasket Islands from Dunmore Head, Dingle

Overlooking the Blasket Islands at sunset from Slea Head.

Within 10 minutes of setting foot on the Great Blasket Island, we had sighted a brown hare, a fox and at least 50 common seals lounging out on the beach for all to see – there were also a few donkeys pottering about the old lane-ways! The weather had cleared up following a disastrously rainy morning and we took off down to the beach as the sun blazed down upon us. We learned from a local guide on the island that the seals had been brought to shore due to the stormy weather – they flopped and frolicked around as we carefully considered their every move from a distance.

Following this, a talk was provided by the OPW on the local characters that once inhabited the island, giving some background to the harshness of island life and what led to the eventual abandonment of the Blaskets as a home for many. There was freedom on this day to explore and imagine what life was like for those who were forced to leave in order to survive and keep up with rapidly changing times.

The Blaskets were abandoned in the 1950s as harsh weather conditions and an ageing population cut the Great Blasket off from the Dingle mainland more than ever. Due to their remoteness, the Blaskets served as a great peek into Irish tradition and what life was like in rural Ireland. Interestingly enough, the Blaskets seemed to have spurred a literary spree, with several writers, authors and artists coming from this small place (Peig Sayers and Tomas O’Crohan are the most well-known, having made their way onto Irish syllabi for the last few decades).

Dingle Town

Dingle pub music

Tapping the foot to some traditional Irish music – a perfect final night!

After a week of exploring remote peninsulas and tiny islands, our final night in Dingle was spent feasting on fresh seafood. Afterwards, sitting in front of an open fire with a pint of Guinness in hand, we tapped our feet in tune with the local bands playing traditional Irish music in the tiny pubs – a perfect end to an amazing trip!

Related Departures

Trip Date Price Availability Book
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 6th Jun - 12th Jun 2020 €1,9106 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 11th Jul - 17th Jul 2020 €1,9107 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 22nd Aug - 28th Aug 2020 €1,9108 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry 5th Sep - 11th Sep 2020 €1,9106 place(s) leftBook Now

Meet the Author: Eimear Quinn

“Originally from Northern Ireland, Eimear is particularly interested in gardening from a Permaculture perspective, exploring the Irish landscape, understanding the rich and wonderful world of Irish mythology, legend and folklore, and preserving Irish language, tradition and music.”

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