We caught up with one of our Europe Specialists after her hiking journey through Ireland’s wild west coast.
As a lover of hiking and the outdoors, I have longed to visit Ireland’s dramatic mountains, stunning sea cliffs, and most of all, meet the absolutely beautiful people. In May 2018, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to be a part of our Treasures of Ireland’s West Coast group adventure.
Beginning in the charming port city of Galway, we immediately set off on our first hike through the Burren, a place I will not soon forget. The Burren is a landscape created from the upheaval of an ancient seafloor over millions of years, formed together to create an otherworldly landscape, laced with man-made stone walls first erected several hundred years ago.
The diversity of flora is immense across this vast landscape; I saw so many flowers I have never seen before!
From the Burren, we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher and then on to County Mayo, where we explored a beach that you would think would be located in the tropics. With its white sand and pristine turquoise waters, it immediately transported me to paradise.
When I used to think of Ireland, I thought of rolling green hills and rain. Now, I think of beaches, mountains, lush green bluffs filled with wildflowers, and blue skies.
After white sandy beaches, we took the ferry to Clare Island, my absolute favorite part of this trip. Clare Island is off the western coast of Ireland, situated in Clew Bay, with a population of about 160 people. This is where I left my heart.
Our Trip Leaders, Con Moriarty and Ann Curran, were able to make a fantastic picnic, set right on a bog for us (by the way, if you ever get the chance, you must try the smoked salmon on Clare Island. I crave it every day since I have been back!).
After our time on Clare Island, we traveled back to the mainland in search of more adventure—and oh, did we find it.
We were lucky enough to have incredible weather the entire trip, and the day we climbed Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, was particularly beautiful. The mountain has been a sacred pilgrimage site for the Irish and those around the world for more than 6,000 years, with people having climbed in dresses, barefoot, and in all types of weather conditions. Walking in their footsteps, as so many others before, had a profound impact on me—I felt connected with the Earth and with everyone around me in ways I hadn’t expected.
Our day hikes were thrilling, and our lodges at night were very welcoming and absolutely beautiful. Our last hotel, Lough Inagh Lodge, is situated in the mountains of Connemara. This lodge was an old fishing lodge and was packed with history, wonderful food, and good company.
From Connemara, we traveled to the enchanting Aran Islands. The views we had as we descended from our eight-minute flight (yes, an eight-minute flight!) into the islands were magnificent! There are so many stone walls covering the entire island that if they were somehow lined up, they would create a wall extending for thousands of miles. We spent the day hiking along the coast for many miles without ever seeing another person.
The cliffs on the Aran Islands are half the height of the Cliffs of Moher (about 300 feet above the sea), which means you’re able to hear the waves crash against the massive boulders below you. We watched sea birds, explored ancient ruins, and hiked along the beautiful cliffside.
During our time on Omey Island, we met Michael Gibbons, one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists. Being a lifelong archaeology enthusiast, I was hooked! Michael began to explain Omey Island’s uniqueness to us. It’s a tidal island accessible by walking during low tide, and it’s filled with archaeological discoveries. He showed us remains of entire villages, burial grounds, fire pits, fish and livestock bones, and most exciting of all, we were able to see a recently discovered human skull (from the 5th to 7th century) in a tiny rabbit hole next to the sea. Absolutely incredible!
After an extremely educational and eye-opening morning, we traveled to hike the Diamond, one of the Twelves Bens in a mountain range in Connemara.
Our last full view of Ireland was magnificent.
From the very top of the Diamond you could see a 360-degree view overlooking every place we had explored the week prior; from the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher, Clare Island to Westport and Croagh Patrick, and the Aran Islands to Connemara.
Ireland holds a very special place in my heart after this adventure. The people I met, the friendships I made, and the brilliance of Ireland’s west coast is something I will never forget. Perhaps you’ll find the same sense of place after experiencing the Treasures of Ireland’s West Coast!
—Text and photos by WT Europe Specialist Katy Andrews, Treasures of Ireland’s West Coast.