10 walks around Ireland with a great place to stop for lunch

For a memorable day out, these routes are sure to whet your appetite

It’s the time of year when the sap rises, our countryside unfurls gloriously and we face the sweet prospect of long evenings, when the sun simply refuses to set. Summer is here with all it bestows, and after two years of Covid restrictions, the vision of exploring where we want, when we want, as we want is an enticing one.

Much work has been undertaken recently to improve our trail network, allowing us an even deeper exploration of the outdoors. A multitude of low-level and waymarked trails around Ireland are now ideal for those who enjoy a bracing ramble, free from the danger of becoming lost, benighted or exhausted. And another bonus to literally whet your appetite: many of these trails pass some of our best eateries.

For a memorable outing in the Irish countryside, head off on one of these spirit-raising walks. Break your journey by pausing for a relaxing trailside repast en route before continuing, reinvigorated, to complete the ramble.

Glenariff, Co Antrim (9km)

Combining spectacular views with scenic mountain trails, this waymarked 2.5-hour walk is most memorable for its waterfalls. From the trailhead, ascend steeply on a switchback track to a highpoint where views expand across the North Channel to the Scottish mountains on the Mull of Kintyre. Gaining open moorland, a bridge leads above the Inver River to where mining took place in prehistoric times. Here, it is an easy saunter downhill while enjoying distracting prospects across the Antrim plateau to the ancient Sea of Moyle. In the glen, the Laragh Lodge Restaurant with its extensive menu makes for a convenient refuelling stop before exploring the Glenariff River gorge. This is gained by a wooden walkway, giving access to your day’s highpoint: the spectacular Ess-Na-Grub and Ess-Na-Laragh waterfalls.


Start/finish: Glenariff Forest Park car park, Waterfoot

Muckross Loop, Co Kerry (10km)

At the heart of Killarney National Park, Muckross Lake Loop makes for an easy but memorable ramble. The 10km outing begins from Muckross House, where you pick up waymarkers for the walk. The unchallenging trail then meanders the peninsula that separates Muckross Lake from Lough Leane. Here, the ancient yew woodlands at Reenadinna are a good place to spot Ireland’s last surviving native red deer. Continuing by the water’s edge, you stop to refuel at Dinis Cottage Tea Rooms, which is a true gem. Enjoy a light lunch alfresco, while watching boats laden with visitors skilfully navigate the Long Range river. Refreshed, it is on by the lakeshore to cross the N71 twice before continuing through the serene grounds of Muckross to regain your start point.

Start/finish: Muckross House, Killarney

Lough Avalla Farm Loop, Co Clare (6km)

Nature lovers will appreciate this hugely varied outing through an abundance of habitats. Start on a green lane leading towards the Jeunken family organic farm before the route veers right into a hazel forest and passes a holy well. Upwards then to gain spectacular limestone karstlands, which in summer are a perfusion of wildflowers. Fractured limestone benches now lead to a Neolithic burial cairn offering immense vistas over the Burren landscape. As the trail gallops beneath some immense cliffs, your eyes are drawn to the scene-stealing contours of limestone on Mullaghmore Mountain — the aptly titled Queen of the Burren. The route then traverses timeless farmlands before decanting near to the Jeunken farmyard. There is now an opportunity to refuel at the atmospheric tearooms where you help yourself to tea/coffee and home-baking. There is no charge, but visitors can make a voluntary donation before departing for the final 20-minute ramble back to the trailhead.

Start/finish: Gortlecka Crossroads, Mullaghmore

Bianconi Loop, Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary (4km)

Ideal for newbies to outdoor walking, this loop gets its name from 19th-century Italian emigrant Charles Bianconi. The Michael O’Leary of his day, he developed cheap passenger transport throughout Ireland. From the Christ the King statue, follow the blue arrows into the Nature Park. Descend steps and tag a woodland trail for about 1km to reach a substantial forest track. This old Coach Road between the Glen of Aherlow and Tipperary was once used by Bianconi’s cars. Descend for 300m to reach a junction where you go right. After 800m, exit to the Aherlow House Hotel car park and pop in for refreshments. Afterwards, follow the hotel avenue hotel to the public road. Go right along the grassy bank, then veer into the forestry. Follow this woodland trail to reach a junction where you rejoin the outward route. Go left and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Start/finish: Christ the King statue, Aherlow

Flaggy Shore Loop, Co Clare (6km)

This 6km outing tags minor roads with virtually no ascent. From Newquay, keep the coastline on your left to gain the Flaggy Shore which is famous for its fossil-rich limestone pavements. Pass Mount Vernon house, which was the summer home of playwright and folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory. Her literary friends, Shaw and Yeats, came here and, unsurprisingly perhaps, found a wellspring of inspiration for some of their finest works. It was Heaney, however, who famously observed a slate-grey lake “lit / By the earthed light of flock of swans”. This is Lough Murree, which is still home to a bevy of swans. Soon after, a fuel stop is provided by the Linnalla farm cafe where the famous Linnalla ice cream is produced. Satisfied, retrace your steps to the Flaggy Shore, go right, and left again at the next T-junction for a direct return to Newquay.

Start/finish: Newquay lies on the N67 between Bellharbour and Kinvarra

Causeway Coastal Route, Co Antrim (16km)

Cloaked by myth and mystery, the Causeway Coastal Route stretches 52 exhilarating kilometres from Portstewart to Ballycastle. A must-do for discerning hikers, the best bit links the Giant’s Causeway with Carrick-a-Rede. It offers towering cliffs, secluded beaches and numerous historic landmarks along with incomparable views of Rathlin Island and the Scottish Mountains. Immediately beyond the Causeway, one treasure follows another: Benbane Head, Dunseverick Castle, Portbraddan, the glistening sands of White Park Bay. Reaching postcard-pretty Ballintoy, you will doubtless be ready to refuel at the atmospheric Roark’s Kitchen with savoury bites and renowned home-baking. In finer fettle, you now tackle the short cliffside push to Carrick-a-Rede.

Start: Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, Bushmills

Finish: Carrick-a-Rede car park, Ballintoy

Graiguenamanagh to St Mullins, Co Carlow (12km)

Steeped in history by the River Barrow, Graiguenamanagh is a true scene-stealer. Walk downstream from what locals call Graig, and notice slow-motion time begin drifting indolently by as you get close and personal with one of Ireland’s great waterways. The river soon forms a gorge with steep woodlands tumbling colourfully towards slow-flowing waters. Onwards then past the riverboat community Ballytiglea where mist often creates a floaty river light as saltwater first meets the cooler river water. After 6km Mullicháin Cafe appears, offering an extensive menu and riverside dining. Afterwards, visit the nearby remains of St Mullins Abbey, which once ranked in importance beside Clonmacnoise and Glendalough. Retrace your steps to Graiguenamanagh after a splendid outing.

Start/Finish: Graiguenamanagh bridge

Kerry Way, Glenbeigh, Co Kerry (9km)

A bracing walk that follows the Kerry Way left and then right along a minor road. Veer right at a T-junction to gain a picnic area, where a forest path climbs steeply. When this levels, pursue a trail around the flanks of Rossbeigh Hill before dropping to the serene Curra Road. This rises gradually to offer a magnificent panorama across the great mountains of Iveragh. At the first junction, follow the signs right for Rossbeigh. Beyond a highpoint, your route makes a great sweeping descent with a breathtaking vista over Rossbeigh Strand, Dingle Bay and the Slieve Mish Mountains. Refuel, alfresco, at the magically situated Rosspoint Bar. Then, follow the Kerry Way parallel to and above the Glenbeigh road, before descending to the picnic area encountered earlier and retracing your steps to Glenbeigh.

Start/Finish: Towers Hotel, Glenbeigh

Cloonamore Loop, Inishbofin, Co Galway (8km)

From the trailhead, follow red walking arrows and ascend to a crossroads. Continue pursuing the arrows for 2km to reach a stile on your left. Cross this to join idyllic laneways leading you on an exploration of the island’s memorable northeast. Afterwards, ramble the eye-wateringly white sands of East End Beach, which could be straight out of a Greek Islands brochure, while banqueting on unforgettable views of the Connemara Mountains. At a picturesque row of fisherman’s cottages, head right for the Galley Restaurant which makes a wonderfully scenic pit stop. Then follow the arrows back to the pier, while stopping en route to explore the 7th-century monastery founded by St Colman.

Start/finish: The Pier, Inishbofin

Oulart to Blackwater, Co Wexford (20km)

A memorable trail that takes a deep dive into Wexford’s history. From the trailhead, follow the blue arrows uphill before veering left across Oulart Hill. Visit the impressive Tulach a’ tSolais monument, dedicated to the 1798 Rebellion before footing it downhill by the historic Fr Murphy’s Well and serene woodlands, while enjoying expansive views of the Wexford countryside. Pass the thatched House of Stories. Then follow 3km of the unaltered medieval coach road that once linked Wexford to Dublin. Continue along quiet country roads before the route doubles back along a lane to gain Unyoke.

Pause here for refreshments at the well-appointed Trading Post cafe, before continuing along a gravel lane marked with the purple arrows for Siúl Ladhrú. This eventually gives way to a quiet back road arching through tranquil countryside before emerging to the R744. Go right here to finish in the busy village of Blackwater.

Start: Oulart GAA grounds

Finish: The Bridge, Blackwater

John G O’Dwyer’s latest book, 50 Best Irish Walks — Easy to moderate is available in bookshops and from currachbooks.com