Near wild heaven: Four Irish paradises
The runners-up in the ‘Irish Times’ Best Place to Go Wild competition
The Fermanagh Lakelands is a haven for anglers, with its abundance of Loughs and Rivers
Runner-up: Beara Peninsula, Co Cork and Kerry
Where is it?
Straddling Kerry and Cork, the Beara Peninsula runs from Kenmare in the north to Glengarriff in the south, running west for 48km. Traverse the peninsula via the Healy Pass or take the long route around by Kenmare Bay and Bantry Bay. The nearest train station is Killarney and buses will take you to the main towns, meaning a car or bike (only for the incredibly fit) is essential if you really want to go wild here.
What’s its appeal?
The Beara Peninsula has a very varied landscape. Entering from Kenmare the land is relatively flat but builds up into bare, rugged mountains and incredibly green, wooded hills as the road winds along the coast and up into the mountains near Lauragh. There are multiple rivers, streams and waterfalls running from the mountains into lakes and Bantry Bay. Once over the Healy Pass, the mountains gently roll down into the southern part of the peninsula. The coast has a built-up environment with plenty of houses – unlike the interior which is much more wild and unkempt. Country cottages are dotted on the hills and thousands of sheep roam the mountains. Streams run down the side of the roads, there are a few crumbling old stone walls denoting fields and the forests are dense.
What can you do there?
Walking is a big draw here, with countless markers for walkers and guides such as Hillwalk Tours Ireland (hillwalktours.com) and West Cork Walks (westcorkwalks.com) taking you to Dursey Island, the Beara Way and around the peninsula. Go sailing and sea kayaking with Star Cruises (staroutdoors.ie) in Kenmare, which also has an inflatable platforms and water slides. Bikes are available to hire in Kenmare and Glengarriff and horse riding is also available in centres in Kilmackillogue, Allihies, Castletownbere and Bantry Bay.
Where can you stay/eat/drink/unwind?
You can go camping with Beara Camping, 13km from Kenmare (bearacamping.com). Cloonee Lake House, near Tuosist, has the most incredible views over Lough Cloonee, tel: 064-6684 205. For food, Jam in Kenmare (jam.ie) comes highly recommended by locals, as does Josie’s Restaurant (josiesrestaurant.ie) in Lauragh. Rachel Collins
Runner-up: Clare Island, Co Mayo
Where is it?
Clare Island – former stronghold of the pirate Grace O’Malley – guards the entrance to Clew Bay in Co Mayo. A 20-minute ferry crosses twice a day in the off-season and five or six times in summer. The mainland harbour is at Roonagh, seven kilometres west of Louisburgh (clareislandferry.com). The island, covered in short grass and bog, has two challenging hills and dramatic valleys with undulating landscapes. The cliffs along the north of the island are unfenced.
What’s its appeal?
It has all the qualities of a wild destination but is approachable, welcoming and has amenities to suit all kinds of travellers. There’s a commitment to developing the island as a positive, sustainable destination. Most of the 160-or-so inhabitants live on one side of the island, leaving the other completely wild. 111The line between the two feels like the end of civilisation. Bar the presence of electricity, motors and the odd shed or house, Clare Island has changed little in 100 years.