Walking with the tides

Time your visit to this mysterious tidal island with care

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Irish Times, 10 January 2015

For years, Omey Island seemed a near-mythical place to me. Despite exploring much of the Connemara coast I had never been to this tidal island, which you can walk to at low water but which becomes cut off at high tide. Inishbofin, Inishark and Inishturk print their silhouettes indelibly on the western skyline, but Omey hides away under the Aughrus Peninsula.

You can cross the wide strand from Claddaghduff Quay to Omey around low water from roughly half-tide to half-tide. But tidal conditions vary each day, and with the weather, so ask in Sweeney’s shop and pub in Claddaghduff for local advice before setting out.

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Backpacking beyond the mountains

On Ireland’s western seaboard is a secret coast of giant cliffs, dramatic tarns, and one gloriously isolated beach. Lenny Antonelli and two friends wild camp in the ‘Back of Beyond’.

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Looking down at Annagh. Photo: Will Greene

The Great Outdoors, November 2014

You have no reason to know about Annagh. Frankly I’m even a bit reluctant to tell you. Annagh is the kind of place that makes a travel writer go ‘oh, there’s a story here’, then think twice and wonder if he should keep it all to himself. Annagh is a remote beach on Ireland’s largest island, Achill, a place of mountainous cliffs and screaming surf that is fringed by gusty beaches and capped with boggy hills.

You’ll find Annagh on a hidden coast that culminates with the highest cliffs in the geographical British Isles. But more than likely you won’t find it. You can bag Achill’s peaks and hike its trails and not see it. You can read the brochures and guidebooks and be no wiser. Far from any road, this coast was described by the naturalist Thomas A Barry as a land “beyond the mountains”; he called it “the back of beyond”.

Sitting in an Achill pub, an old islander once told me even he’d never been to Annagh. I had hiked there before, but like any compulsive backpacker, I had to come back and camp.

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Secrets of Slieve Bloom

Walk in a wooded valley in the Slieve Bloom mountains

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Irish Times, 30 August, 2014

An experienced hillwalker once told me that his least favourite range was the Slieve Bloom mountains of Laois and Offaly. I can’t recall his reasoning, but I imagine it might have been that it’s boggy and fairly flat, with no soaring peaks, and covered in forestry.

But the Slieve Blooms hide glorious secrets. Having lots of wooded rivers in one small range is invigorating, and you can explore one of these by walking the Brittas loop at Clonaslee, Co Laois.

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Those not-so-wild Europeans

Re-creating wilderness on a continent that has almost none

Sierra magazine, July/August 2014

In Ireland’s blustery Nephin Beg Mountains, the state-owned forestry company Coillte is rewilding roughly 11,000 acres of pine and spruce plantation. By thinning the canopy, closing logging roads, and establishing a system of shelters, it hopes to turn this industrial forest and parts of neighbouring Ballycroy National Park into a 27,000-acre recreational wilderness.

Coillte won’t fully liberate the forest to natural processes for another 14 years. But when it does, this will will be a rare parcel of European land unmanaged by humans. “We actually want our landscape to become one where there are no humans driving the changes,” says Bill Murphy, who’s overseeing the project for Coillte.

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Land of woods and water

Walk the woodlands and turloughs of little-known Garryland

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Irish Times, 28 June, 2014

You’ve probably heard of Coole Park, the former home of Lady Gregory and setting of famous WB Yeats poems. But you might not have heard of Garryland, which is where Yeats’s hipster cousin might have hung out: it’s just around the corner but way less visited and that much harder to find.

The whole interconnected Coole-Garryland complex must be one of Ireland’s richest nature reserves, with 400 hectares of woodland, turlough, limestone pavement and grassland. But the Garryland side sees little footfall compared to Coole.
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Fishy chat-up lines and underwater love among Arctic char

Scientists in Galway are attempting to eavesdrop on the sounds Arctic char make during courtship in the hope of protecting this threatened fish

Irish Times, 1 May 2014

What does the fish say? New research at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) aims to shed light on just how vocal a unique Irish fish is. Biologists hope to discover whether Arctic char, a deepwater inhabitant of Irish lakes, vocalise. during courtship and spawning.

Researchers hope that, by recording char in the lab, they can use its unique call to pinpoint where it spawns in lakes in the hope of offering it better protection.
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The colourful and the curious

Step into the exotic at Massey’s Wood

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Irish Times, 22 March 2014

Heading through Dublin’s southern suburbs towards the mountains, I’m always buoyed by how quickly city turns to country. My curiosity piques as housing estates fade into small fields, wooded lanes and ramshackle farmyards.

Massy’s Estate lies just beyond the reach of the city, south of Rathfarnham. From the outside it appears a typical wood, but look closer and you’ll find something much more exotic.

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A tale of two lakes

Walk the Sligo Way through woods, hills and lakeshore

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Irish Times, January 25 2014

Hiding between the wild coastlands of Mayo and Donegal, Sligo’s landscape is less dramatic but more lush and green. Benbulbin draws most of the county’s plaudits, so other hills are forgotten. The 78km Sligo Way traverses the county’s less trodden, boggy uplands. I wanted to spend a day exploring it, so headed for the village of Collooney.
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