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

The Fermanagh Lakelands is a haven for anglers, with its abundance of Loughs and Rivers

Sat, Jun 7, 2014, 01:00

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.

What can you do there?
Clare Island is one of the most activity-oriented places in Ireland: rock climbing, abseiling, informative and inclusive guided walks, coasteering, scuba diving, yoga practice, horse whispering (yes), snorkelling, orienteering, raft building and nature walks are all on offer. You can rent both bikes and kayaks (from Brigid O’Leary on 098-25640 or 086-2228478). See clareisland.ie and clareislandadventures.ie. A new study centre is being built to take advantage of Clare’s unique topography and natural habitats – the island was the subject of the Praeger Survey in 1908, which explored the island’s zoology, botany and culture. 

Where can you stay/eat/drink/unwind?
The Blue Guide Lighthouse, which has gorgeous rooms and serves good food. clareislandlighthouse.com. The Go Explore Hostel (€18/€22) has very clean eight-bunk dorm rooms and twins. It also serves food, hosts traditional music sessions and has sensational views from the terrace. goexplorehostel.ie. There are self-catering options and eight or nine B&Bs or guesthouses.

Fionn Davenport

Runner-up: Donegal coast, Ardara to Killybegs
Where is it?
Situated on the most westerly coast of Donegal, the coastline area from Ardara to Killybegs is vast, remote and secluded; taking in the Slieve League cliffs, Malin Beg and Glencolmcille.

What’s its appeal?
Once you get here, you’ll realise it was worth the journey. Banked by the Atlantic with only small scattered bungalows dotting the hills, nature really does seem to have taken its course here in quite a dramatic way. Swathes of perfumed bluebells cover fields, roadsides and riverbanks alike. Wheeling seabirds, jumping salmon and majestic golden eagles accompany the rugged landscape – bogland dancing with wild cotton, a cliffy coastline with magnificent beaches, and choppy waters home to the occasional dolphin.

What can you do there?
One of the best ways to explore this wilderness is on an electric bike, which you can hire from irelandbybike.com – a perfect alternative to the pedal bike as it allows you to cover much more ground while still feeling the fresh air on your cheeks. You can also hike with sliabhliagwalkers.com who take off once a week around the Sliabh Liag cliffs over to Malin Beg beach and cove. You can also take a boat (sliabhleagueboattrips.com) or a sea-kayaking trip from Teelin Pier; or, if you’re brave enough, Paddy the skipper can take you diving in the crystal clear waters. One of the more unusual activities is sea stack climbing, organised by uniqueascent.ie, and is not for the faint-hearted. 

Where can you stay/eat/drink/unwind?
The Slieve League Lodge in Carrick is nice for dinner (slieveleaguelodge.com), as is Nancy’s bar in Ardara which is famous for its seafood menu (nancysardara.com). There are many B&Bs in the area, such as Teach Gleann Dobhair (gleanndobhar.com), nestled in the Glencolmcille hills. If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, Lough Eske Castle (solishotels.com/lougheskecastle) or Harvey’s Point hotel (harveyspoint.com) are about an hour away, near Donegal Town. Róisín Finlay 


Runner-up: Fermanagh Lakelands
Where is it?
The rivers, lakes and canals of the Fermanagh Lakelands district – with Enniskillen at its core – form part of one of Europe’s longest network of inland waterways accessible for cruising. Cliffs, rocky outcrops, bogland, woods, lakes, rivers and uninhabited islands all cut through the limestone landscape. The Marble Arch Caves – a Unesco-designated geopark – are the main tourist attraction and the most developed aspect. Lough Navar Forest is a large upland forest with native broadleaf woodland. Aghameelan Viewpoint and the Magho Cliffs offer great views. 

What’s its appeal?
You meet few other people. The population is low, habitation sporadic and the landscape varied. Look to one side and you are taken in by the beauty of the mountain and the rugged terrain; look to the other and you have a panoramic view of water, islands, cliffs and bog. Nature has been allowed to flourish and conservation work focuses on restoring the geopark to its natural state.

What can you do there?
The website fermanaghlakelands.com lists the myriad activities available. Among them are an extensive network of walking trails, guided tours of the stunning Marble Arch caves involving a short boat ride and a walk through the caves lasting about 70 minutes. There is also canoe, cruiser and barge hire (lustybegisland.com, cruise-ireland.com, riversdalebargeholidays.com) and it is also an ideal spot for camping. Trannish Island Bothy provides shelter, kitchen and bathroom facilities plus barbecue, fireplace and tepees – see sharevillage.org.

Where can you stay/eat/drink/unwind?
Belmore Court and Motel in Enniskillen, surrounded by lakes and golf course offers hotel rooms and self catering, motel.co.uk. Also in Eniskillen, five-star Lough Erne Resort is set on a 600-acre peninsula with stunning views, lougherneresort.com.

For food, try Tully Mill on the edge of the Florence Court Estate, which is known for its Sunday roast. Doireann Sweeney

For more information on any of the above places, see discoverireland.ie

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