Walking up an appetite: Our favourite Irish walks with good food at the end

Roz Purcell on Slievenamon

Nothing beats a good meal after a hike in the great outdoors. Here, food writers and hikers share their favourite walks around Ireland, with a great place to refuel at the end. You can share yours here; a selection may be published on irishtimes.com.

Roz Purcell

Model and food writer
The walk Slievenamon
The food Dooks Fine Foods
My favourite walk won’t come as a surprise to those who know me. It is the walk I grew up with – and still enjoy and still slightly struggle on. It is the Slievenamon, mountain of the women, summit walk in Tipperary.

I think when I was growing up, I had such a fascination with the mountain and its name and origins because of the folklore tales behind it. I remember walking the mountain as a child, and asking my aunt to tell the story again.

As the story goes, the Irish mythology hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill was a ladies’ man, and he stood on top of the summit and declared he would marry the first woman who got to the top by foot. Cheating, he gave a shortcut to his love, Grainne, who went on to win.

The walk starts from Kilcash community hall, following a road up along to a mountain trail, where the steep ascent begins. With the summit in sight and the valley below, it is magical on a clear day, and on a misty day it is mysterious.

The walk itself is challenging. I never remember it being tough as a kid, but it is one that makes my legs cry out a little now. But you will be rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment once you reach the top, where you will find ancient burial cairns.

Heading back down the same route that you came up, watching your every step, you really start to realise just how steep you climbed. Take time to take in the view of the valley and the towns of Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel and Fethard.

It’s a 45-minute hike up and 20-30 minutes down. Hunger will start to set in along the way, and that brings me to my next port of call. Just a 20-minute drive away you’ll find Dooks in Fethard. I can travel the world, but still nothing beats coming here for a family breakfast or dinner.

Roz Purcell on Slievenamon
Roz Purcell on Slievenamon
Dooks Fine Foods, in Co Tipperary
Dooks Fine Foods, in Co Tipperary

I have quite a sweet tooth and when you first enter Dooks, it is hard not to get distracted by the row of desserts to your right, all beautifully presented, with mounds of oversized scones and home-made treats scattered in between the perfectly iced cakes.

The daily specials are always fantastic, from the home-made soups to Ottolenghi-style salads – no surprise as the chef owner Richard Gleeson worked with Yotam Ottolenghi himself in London. Just make sure you finish it off with one of the giant home-made chocolate cookies.

Diarmuid McSweeney

Cofounder of Gym+Coffee
The walk Kilmashogue to Fairy Castle
The food The Hazel House cafe, in Tibradden
My favourite hike in the Dublin area is the walk from Kilmashogue up to Fairy Castle. Quite often the Ticknock approach can be quite busy at weekends, and so starting from Kilmashogue forest makes for a nicer beginning and also a longer walk. The start is an easy walk through the forest, part of the Wicklow Way, before a steep incline takes you on a gravel path. Once above that incline, you join a rough path leading up to Fairy Castle.

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I really enjoy this hike for so many reasons – it is easily accessible from Dublin, it is two hours in length, so doesn’t take all day, it is suitable for all ages, and the views of Dublin city, Dublin Bay and the Wicklow mountains are sensational on a good day. The loop back to Kilmashogue through Ticknock forest makes it quite satisfying too, instead of a simple up and down on the same path.

Whenever I do this hike, I always finish it with a breakfast or brunch in The Hazel House cafe in Tibradden in the Dublin mountains. I love coming here especially in the winter time – the colder the better. The Hazel House’s unique atmosphere and setting make it very welcoming, just what you need after a long hike. The chatter in the cafe makes it feel like a hub of activity at the weekend, everyone recounting their various biking, hiking or climbing trails from the mountains and forests on its doorstep.

Diarmuid McSweeney at Kilmashogue. Photograph: Laura Hutton
Diarmuid McSweeney at Kilmashogue. Photograph: Laura Hutton
Diarmuid McSweeney at the Hazel House cafe. Photograph: Laura Hutton
Diarmuid McSweeney at the Hazel House cafe. Photograph: Laura Hutton

My chosen meal here is very much a treat after a tough morning, so I’ll order the Avocado Smash. Last year, I ran this route every Sunday when training for the Connemara half-marathon, so on those occasions I ordered a bowl of porridge with all the trimmings. Soaking wet from the run, tucking into porridge and chatting to everyone else in the cafe, it’s easy to feel pretty happy about your healthy Sunday morning.

When The Hazel House was struck by fire in March I was devastated, but it’s so awesome to see the team and community rallying around to get it reopened so quickly.

Marie-Claire Digby

Irish Times journalist
The walk St Mullins to Graiguenamanagh river walk
The food Mullicháin Cafe, St Mullins
It is no accident that St Mullins is a place of pilgrimage, and I’m not talking about the Co Carlow village’s impressive collection of ecclesiastical monuments. This ancient place, beautiful and steeped in history as it may be, is on the way to nowhere – you really do have to have a reason to go there, turning off the road connecting New Ross with Borris and Graiguenamanagh and dipping down to where the river Barrow meanders past, on its way to the sea.

For some, it is the ruins of the early Christian church, monastery, round tower, high cross and holy well, that are the draw. But for me, there is another pull at work, the lure of a stroll along the towpath and riverbank, followed by lunch at the Mullicháin Cafe, a former grain store just steps back from the water.

The walk is easy, there are no inclines, and the surface is a compacted grassy path almost all of the way. An Bord Pleanála’s recent rejection of plans to replace the path with a hard surface means that it will stay just like that, as nature intended.

The Mullicháin Cafe in St Mullins
The Mullicháin Cafe in St Mullins
Picnic tables at the Mullicháin Cafe in St Mullins
Picnic tables at the Mullicháin Cafe in St Mullins

As you walk, passing a lovingly restored and maintained lock keeper’s cottage and a community of gaily painted residential riverboats, you’ll pass anglers intent on their task, and other walkers too. It’s a well-trodden path, but most walkers surrender to the peace and quiet, content just to nod companionably at others along the way.

You can follow the path all the way to Graiguenamanagh, and back, if you’re feeling energetic, and the round trip will take about three hours. Local taxis will come to the rescue if that’s too far – or if hunger gets the better of you.

Whichever way you tackle it, make sure to plan a stop at the Mullicháin. Inside, you’ll find a homely cafe spread over two levels, with cosy nooks lined with shelves of books within easy reach, comfy sofas on which to rest weary bones, and a children’s play area.

But, for me, the best seats are outside, at the picnic tables on the beautifully kept riverbank, where you can really absorb the majesty of this place, bounded on one side by the Blackstairs mountains and on the other by Brandon Hill. You are in Co Carlow here, on the St Mullins side, but just across the dark stretch of water is Co Kilkenny – the nicer side. But I would say that, coming from Inistioge.

As you look at the menu – and meet the resident dogs – plan your post-walk meal carefully, making sure to leave room for one of Emer’s cakes. Emer O’Brien and her husband Martin left Harold’s Cross in Dublin 11 years ago to set up home and shop here. The cafe is now managed by their son Mark, and Emer is sharing baking duties with pastry chef Kirsty, but you’ll still find Martin buzzing around, filling many roles, but always having time for a chat with customers.

The menu is a simple one of soups, salads, quiches and pizzas, with almost everything made on site. “We get our smoked salmon and prawns from Duncannon Fish Company and our breads from The Bakehouse in New Ross, but Emer makes our pâté, quiches and hummous, and we’ve a man up the mountain who gets up at 5.30am to pick salad leaves for us,” Martin says; the “man up the mountain” being organic grower Nick Hill.

Lenny Antonelli

Writer and author of East of Ireland Walks: On River and Canal
The walk Western Way, Aasleagh Falls to Houston’s Bridge, Co Mayo
The food Keane’s Bar, Maam Bridge
Keane’s Bar of Maam in Connemara is a rather singular place, known to many walkers in the west. The allure of its roaring fire and cheese toasties is so strong that, when planning walks, I often find myself subconsciously choosing hills and trails within an easy radius of the place. Or even making a detour when I’m not that close.

There are endless hills to be climbed near here, but there is beauty lower down too. For a fresh perspective on this well-walked landscape, I love the 6km stretch of the Western Way along the Erriff river from Aasleagh Falls to Houston’s Bridge. The falls are at the head of Killary Fjord on the R335, just inside the Mayo border, off the Leenane to Westport road (N59).

From the falls, the trail follows the south bank of the river under the graceful pines of Aasleagh Lodge, then eastward under Ben Gorm and the Devilsmother. Long riverside trails are rare enough in Ireland, and it is a joy to spend time here beside such a wild river.

Lenny Antonelli
Lenny Antonelli

The Erriff is rather special too, getting a rich run of salmon – see if you can spot any jumping the falls – and a lovely place to watch anglers fly-casting in season. The trail is well marked, mostly keeping to the bank as the river winds its way through bright, lush fields and patches of rougher ground.

The waymarkers eventually bring you to Houston’s Bridge, just off the N59. You could leave a second car near here, or turn around for the return walk to Aasleagh. From there, Keane’s is about 17km back towards Galway, on the R336 between Leenane and Maam Cross. This elegant building, beside Maam Bridge, was built in 1820 by the Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo, who lived here while he designed the roads, bridges and harbours of Connemara. The walk will take about two hours each way.

If you can, get yourself a seat in one of the big chairs by the roaring fire in the back lounge at Keane’s, which oozes character, its walls adorned with trophy fish, framed angling flies and other memorabilia. It’s a classic place to meet locals and other walkers and share your day’s adventures.

Order yourself a toastie – it’s pretty much all they serve anyway – and lash on the mayonnaise and mustard. After a long hike, it’s pure comfort food. And if you’re lucky enough to not be driving, the Guinness is some of the creamiest around. Just be careful not to get too comfortable by the fire or you might nod off.