Ireland Photos: Walking the Western Isles

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My tour of Ireland's western isles started in the charming seaside town of Clifden. This Celtic monument near the town square honors Thomas Whelan, who was executed in Mountjoy Prison at age of 22.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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A succinct road sign near Killary Harbor, at the start of our five-mile hike.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Our five-hour-long walk along the misty fjord followed an old road built in 1846 during the Great Famine to offer relief work to locals in exchange for food. The waters are now lined with mussel farms—basically, floating strings of multi-colored buoys.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Our guide Brian serves some of the best smoked salmon to ever grace my tongue. The jovial man also owns the Abbeyglen Castle, Clifden's flat-out best accommodation (unless you got a thing against sleeping in a castle…didn't think so).  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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After hiking the fjord, we drove to Cleggan Harbour and hopped on a boat to take us to our next stop—thanks to the good graces of this boat captain.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Our second hike on Inishbofin, an island with a population of 180, was a relaxed, meandering wander along the coastline. Relaxed, that is, until one participant slipped and nearly tumbled off the cliffs. Her camera, however, did go over in series of violent clatters.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Inish Shark—or Shark Island—was once hundreds-strong fishing and farming community. But after decades of tough living the island was abandoned in the 1960s. Today, all that resides there are the skeletal remains of the stone-hewn village.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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This donkey died while giving birth inside one of the abandoned houses on Shark Island, its body leaning against the wall opposite the doorway. Over the ensuing years, the coastal wind pelted the corpse with salt water, which evaporated and calcified the body where it lies today, effectively mummified.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Our guide's sheepdog did more than keep pace with us throughout the first few hikes—but by the time we returned to the boat for the third leg of the journey, she'd worn herself out.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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En route to our next stop—the small island of Inish Turk—our boat captain tossed out a few hooks to catch a few fish as we trolled the cold waters.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Inish Turk—the smallest island we visited and by far the most geographically spectacular—is wholly dependant on traditional activities like farming, fishing, and local craftwork. The landscape is covered in mazes of walls made of loose stone.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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A rocky outcropping on Inish Turk that jutted into the ocean, affording staggering views of the surrounding landscape.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Easily my favorite spot, Inish Turk's coastline seems as if it was carved by some massive pick ax that cleaved into the rolling, ridiculously green isle to create obscenely beautiful, extreme landscapes.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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All good hikes—like all things in Ireland—end in a perfect pint of Guinness. This one poses at Inish Turk's local community center/pub, which afforded spectacular views of the surrounding islands and the mainland.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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A recently-married Irishman had escaped to Inish Turk with his friends for a weekend of fishing and ridiculous amounts of boozing. We ran into him several pints in, when he decided to let his shirt do the talking.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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En route to the mainland, we stopped at Clare Island, home to the tomb of Irish heroine Grace O'Malley (look her up—trust me) and a spectacular lighthouse surrounded by a white-wash wall. The place is on the market, if you've got a few million lying about. This view is just to the left of the lighthouse itself.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Detail of fishing ropes at the dock of Clare Island on Roonagh Pier.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
 

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