Many things are considered quintessentially Irish – a pint of Guinness, a trad music session at the corner pub, quaint villages full of friendly faces – but that’s only half of what there is to see on the Emerald Isle. One of the best ways to truly take it all in is to ditch the winding roads and hit one of its many undulating trails. Here are eight uniquely Irish sights and experiences you can look forward to the next time you go hiking in Ireland.
Yes, it does rain a bit in Ireland. Yet that is precisely what nourishes the lush, green grass giving the island its nickname. Fortunately these showers are regularly interrupted by huge breaks in the skies, providing ample opportunities for multi-hued arcs of light to bend across the land. The sight of a proper Irish rainbow (and the much welcomed warmth of the sunshine piercing the rainclouds) can be worth more than the pot of gold found at its elusive end.
Wild Sheep and Rams
Sheep are ubiquitous across the Irish countryside, but most of those along the well-trodden tourist trails are of the rather domesticated variety. It’s the almost wild strays which come replete with ram’s horns (both male and female in fact). Once you venture off the beaten path and head cross-country you’ll soon come face to face with some exceptionally Irish sheep as they wander like fluffy white clouds. One other unique characteristic of Irish sheep is their various paint jobs. In more remote areas, farmers keep track of their roving herds by spray-painting them. Some are even emblazoned with the local county’s Gaelic football team’s colours.
Thirsty trekkers along Ireland’s hiking trails are often delighted to discover that the island’s pathways boast ample drinking establishments. Whether it’s a pint, a Bailey’s or an Irish coffee to give you a caffeine boost, there’s a pick-me-up for every weary traveller. Many also double as remote guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. It’s at these that one can get the full Irish experience and wake up the next day to indulge in none other than a…
Full Irish Breakfast
Yes, you can have your fill of the traditional full Irish after a big session out the night before in Temple Bar, but you’ll no doubt feel like you truly deserve it after an entire day of hiking. What’s more, the balanced mix of carbs, protein and fats is exactly what your body needs to head out there for another solid day of adventuring among the Irish hills and mountains. And if black pudding isn’t quite your thing, in the 21st century even the most far-flung BnBs are beginning to offer vegetarian and vegan options too.
By Irish here I mean Irish Gaelic, or more precisely, “Gaeilge.” More than once I’ve been out hiking on the West of Ireland/Connemara trail only to be greeted by elderly sheep farmers who still speak Irish predominantly. So if you’re ever in doubt, a simple hello in return of “dia dhuit” (pronounced dee-ya gwitch) won’t go astray. Literally meaning “God be with you,” the phrase harks back to Ireland’s religious past. And in case you didn’t know it yet, it’s a hearty “slainte!” (slawn-cha) back at the bar!
Although one can find plenty of stone walls in other parts of the world, there’s something special about those found in Ireland. More prevalent along the west coast, the light-grey rocks speckled with white lichen glisten in the sunshine, while the snaking lines of stones contrast starkly against the vibrant greens of the land and the deep blue of a summer sky.
The legend goes that Andalusian horses intermixed with native Irish ponies when the Spanish Armada ran aground in 1588, creating what we now recognise as a uniquely Irish breed. The Connemara Pony is most commonly found throughout County Galway on our West of Ireland/Connemara trail, but they can also be seen further afield along the west coast. A rather tame breed, don’t be surprised if they let you approach quite close for a photo.
There’s quite a revivalist scene among traditional cottage enthusiasts in Ireland, meaning that you’ll more than likely see a good mix of older, decaying cottages dating back as far as the Great Famine, plus plenty of newly renovated and re-thatched dwellings. The charming homes are picture-perfect along the Irish coast, garnished with their white-washed walls plus red doors and windowsills.
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We hope that you enjoyed this guide to 8 of the Most Irish Things you’ll only see when Hiking in Ireland. For more information on a self-guided hiking tour in Ireland, just get in touch.