Outdoor Ireland

Photograph of Ireland's native Red Deer

Imagine a corner of Europe where otters still swim in city rivers. . . where hedgerows and fields are filled with bird-song. . . where orchids thrive in ancient meadows and along the roadsides. Imagine an island where you can walk for hours along beaches, or over moors and mountains, without meeting another human being. This is Ireland—an unspoiled refuge for nature and for those who love her beauty and her secret lives.

For the bird-watcher and amateur naturalist, one of the great charms of Ireland is its freedom for the wanderer. There are few"Keep Out" notices in the countryside (but do shut the gate!) and even fewer private beaches on the shore. The moorlands and mountains are open to the walker for many miles on end, and there are still corners of the west so little visited as to have all the atmosphere of wilderness.

A small population, often thinly settled away from the cities, has let Ireland take the natural world very much for granted. There is much less pressure on the countryside than in many more crowded countries. For instance, declining in all but the remotest areas of Europe, the otter still thrives nearly everywhere in Ireland. Even in Dublin and Cork, it fishes within three or four kilometers of the city center; in Limerick and Galway, it swims right past the city lights. The otter is the "river dog" of the Irish countryside, found in almost every lake and stream which promises fish. On remoter stretches of coastline, especially in the west, it can often be seen fishing by day.

Ireland has five internationally recognized National Parks which, apart from their scientific importance, contain some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. The five are Glenveagh, Co. Donegal; Killarney, Co. Kerry; Connemara, Co. Galway; The Burren, Co. Clare and in the Wicklow Mountains.

Coillte Teoranta, The Irish Forestry Board manages a network of twelve forest reserve parks in which the emphasis is on public use and recreation. Many of the parks were former private estates absorbing physical features and old woodlands resulting in landscapes of great natural interest and beauty.

Ireland without her wild boglands (or peatlands) would be as unimaginable as Germany without her forests or Switzerland without snow. The rolling, red-brown bogland which blankets valleys and mountains, or rises in domes from the shallow lakes of the midlands, has been part of the Irish landscape for many thousands of years. Exploring a bogland is a must-do for any nature lover visiting Ireland, a journey into Ireland's soul and natural history.

Birdwatching in Ireland is endlessly fascinating. Partly because of Ireland's low population density, habitat has remained remarkably intact. And being on the crest of Europe, the island is a migratory stop for birds from Iceland, Greenland, Scandanavia, the Baltics, the Arctic and Canada. And, now and then, a stray warbler or shorebird gets blown across the Atlantic from North America.

There are 71 National Nature Reserves throughout Ireland. The network of reserves covers woodlands, boglands, grasslands, sand dune systems, bird sanctuaries, coastal heathlands and marine areas. The number of nature reserves is increasing annually.

The countryside in between the protected areas makes for glorious exploration as well. Drive, hop a bike or even"tramp"—you'll find wild Ireland inspiring.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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