Friday, October 5, 2012

Walking in Ireland: An Introduction

Ireland ranks among the world's best walking holiday destinations. For its relatively small size, the region offers a diverse selection of landscapes for the walker to explore. 

Where to Walk in Ireland

Walking areas in Ireland can be categorised as follows:

Walking Guidebooks & Maps

When planning your walks in Ireland, you are advised to refer to the best walking guidebooks and maps available. For details of the most highly-recommended Irish walking publications, select one of the following categories:

  Irish Walking Maps

Walking Clubs in Ireland

By joining a walking club, you can introduce a social element to your walking. As well as walking events, many clubs have a packed social calendar. Most clubs arrange at least one trip each year, allowing its members to sample places and activities outside their local area. It is also becoming increasingly popular for clubs to offer basic mountain skills courses to its members.

Irish Walking Events & Challenges

A wide range of walk-related events are held all over Ireland throughout the year. These include walking festivals and challenge walks organised by local walking clubs, communities and charities.


Ireland is relatively low-lying for an island of its size, only reaching a maximum height of 1,039m above sea level. In comparison, the similar-sized islands of Cuba, Iceland, Mindanao, Hokkaidō, and Hispaniola reach elevations within the range of 1,970m to 3,100m above sea level – although these islands are all located in more geologically active regions of the planet. Evidence tells us that Ireland once had mountains comparable in height to the present-day Himalayas. 


Ireland’s summer falls during the months of June, July and August when maximum daytime temperatures can reach about 25°C. Despite sharing the same latitudes as parts of Canada and Russia, Ireland only occasionally experiences severe wintry conditions. This is due to the Gulf Stream – a warm water current originating near Florida – which travels in a general northwest direction across the Atlantic. An extension of the Gulf Stream – the North Atlantic Drift – passes Western Europe, thereby maintaining Ireland’s temperate climate.

The Irish winter falls during the months of December, January and February. On average, there might only be two or three days of significant snowfall during the year in low-lying areas. On higher ground, however, snow may remain for a few weeks.

Ireland is one of the first European landmasses to receive weather systems from the Atlantic. These generally bring intermittent spells of rain at any time of year, and the majority of rainfall occurs where weather systems meet the mountain ranges along the west coast.

There is no defined wet or dry seasons in Ireland, although the summer and winter months generally receive slightly less rain than the spring and autumn months.

Daylight Hours

Located between the northern latitudes of 51° and 56°, Ireland experiences a wide range of daylight hours throughout the year. The amount of daylight available needs to be taken into account before planning a long walk, otherwise there is an increased risk of finishing in darkness during winter months

The winter solstice occurs every year on or near 21 December. In the northern hemisphere, this is referred to as ‘the shortest day’ because it is the day on which the sun spends the shortest time above the horizon. In Ireland, on the shortest day, the sun rises at about 8:40 a.m. and sets at about 4:10 p.m. providing approximately seven-and-a-half hours of daylight.

The summer solstice occurs every year on or near 21 June. In the northern hemisphere, this is referred to as ‘the longest day’ because it is the day on which the sun spends the longest time above the horizon. In Ireland, on the longest day, the sun rises at about 5:00 a.m. and sets at about 10:00 p.m. providing approximately seventeen hours of daylight

Clothing & Equipment

Always dress sensibly before setting off on a walk. In Ireland, it is best to assume that it could rain on any day. Always take a waterproof layer into the mountains. Windproof clothes can significantly reduce the cooling effects of winds on exposed summits. It is advisable to use more thin layers of clothing rather than a few thick ones as it allows more flexibility and easier control of body temperature.

Never assume that it will be a hot day at the summit of an 800m mountain just because it is 25°C at sea level. It will be a few degrees colder up there, and a strong, chilling wind could easily bring temperatures down to single figures. Best to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Always keep a hat and gloves in your rucksack, just in case.

In the mountains, walking boots will provide support to your ankles when crossing uneven terrain. A good well-fitted rucksack will prevent injury to your back and shoulders. For crossing boggy ground, waterproof gaiters for the lower legs are a worthy investment. Walking poles can make things easier by transferring some burden from the legs to the arms, especially on longer walks - don't forget to shorten poles for uphill walking and extend them for downhill sections.

Always carry spare food and plenty of water, especially on a hot day. When venturing into the hills or a large forested area, always carry a map and compass (and / or GPS). Just in case the worst should happen, don't forget your mobile phone - although don't rely on always getting a good signal.

To help you find the start point for a walk, an in-car satnav unit can be a useful investment. Satnav-compatible start point coordinates for walks in Ireland can be found in the Irish Walking Routes section of the Ireland Walking Guide website.