Go walk: Coastal walk, Ardmore Village, Co Waterford
The coastal walk around Ardmore village has some stunning surprises, including a shipwreck and the last round tower built in Ireland
Ardmore Village, Co Waterford
Start and Finish: The seafront in Ardmore village
This magical coastal walk along rugged cliffs not only provides an abundance of bracing Atlantic air, seabirds and wildflowers, but for those interested it touches on early Christian Ireland, Napoleon, and the second World War.
It starts at the sea wall in front of the Catholic church and fine stone-built former lifeboat house. Head west along the road that climbs gently past the rock-girded beach, the harbour and pretty cottages.
Passing the Cliff House Hotel, a stile takes you onto the cliff path and the ruins of St Declan’s Church. It has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries, as evidenced by the crosses hand-scored into the stones of the building. Beyond it the path, bordered by heather and wild flowers, meanders out along the eastern side of the headland, while views open up of the serrated cliff-girded coast. If the weather is clear, the Minehead lighthouse should be visible on the farthest promontory.
As the cliff path rounds Ardmore Head, the gaunt, rusting wreck of the Samson, a twin funnelled construction ship comes into view at the base of the cliffs. It was driven in here on a stormy night in 1988 and, although the crew were all rescued, efforts to salvage the wreck came to nothing. It has become a part of the cliffscape, providing nesting for seabirds and shelter for fish. Most of the year, this area resounds with a cacophony of kittiwake calls, as the cliffs below are a nesting site for this pretty little gull.
Choughs, sand martins and rock pigeons are common in summer when the slopes are white with horse daisies, and burnet moths hover around the yellow ragwort.
The path climbs out onto Ram’s Head as the coast to the west is revealed. In clear weather you can see down as far as Capel Island off Knockadoon Head in east Cork and, beyond it, Ballycotton Island. Inland from the cliff path are two coastal lookout stations, a tall tower dating from the Napoleonic wars, and a tiny concrete kiosk built at the beginning of the Emergency in 1939.
In the next bay, look below to see a great rock arch. Ahead is a tall rustic stone structure built over a spring, which could easily be taken for an ancient holy well. It was, in fact, built in the 1920s by a man called O’Rahilly who had fallen in love with Ardmore.
A little further on you come to a fork in the path; going straight will take you further along the cliffs, but our route turns right and follows a meandering path between fields to eventually reach and follow a boreen. The 100ft Ardmore round tower soon comes into view ahead against a backdrop of the conical peaks of the Knockmealdowns and the Galtee mountains.
The round tower was one of the latest to be built in Ireland. Legend has it that it was built in three nights by St Declan himself.
In reality it was probably built when the monastic city of Ardmore was at the peak of its importance in the 12th century. It is the only round tower in Ireland to have come under siege, when it was occupied by Irish forces during the wars of the 1640s.
The cathedral nearby has a fine arcaded gable, depicting biblical stories. See how many you can identify before you head downhill again into the village, passing the old church on the left, and turning left at the crossroads to return to the start.