One of the things that surprised me when I was researching going to Ireland was the lack of a rights of way network, or an automatic right to access many of the hills and mountains. There are places where you can walk pretty much unrestricted such as in National parks (less than 1% of land), govt owned forestry and the few long distance trails. Basically on all other land including mountain and moorland access is at the discretion of the landowner no matter how remote it is. This obviously came as something of a shock coming from a country that has a massive public footpath network and the right to roam over most uncultivated countryside.
Access to the hills was very good in the Wicklow mountains and as far as I was aware you had a right to walk the hills. I was on the other hand a bit daunted about the access situation in Connemara which has been reported recently as getting more and more restrictive. There is a national park there but I must really put the emphasis on the word ‘park’ it is tiny and really only covers one valley and its surrounding hills. My first point of call when arriving was the national park centre to ask about access to the mountains outside the park. I was basically told that you do not have any rights to climb the hills and you should seek permission from the land owner before doing so. Are you really meant to go knocking on doors to ask to go into the hills? This gave me a dilemma, I could go and ask and risk being told no. What would I do then? What if after walking several miles down a private track you are told to ‘bugger off’? I really did not want confrontation when I my holiday!
This made planning great walks difficult as I usually like a good long walk through an isolated glen before taking to the hills. In Ireland these nearly always seemed to lead to a house. I therefore did a mammoth walk in the national park across miles and miles of bogs to get to a stunning horseshoe on the Twelve Pins. A great day but would have been even better if there was a right to access the hills from the many other valleys into the mountains. On my other walks into the mountains I ended up parking in a really remote spot out of the reach of dwellings. I felt like I may have been doing something wrong as I snuck up into the hills! Usually I would have to climb over barbed wire or deer fences, with no paths leading across farmland into the hills.
The thing is as a visitor to the area I did not know what I could and could not do. I may well have been overreacting and farmers and landowners may have welcomed me with opened arms and a cup of tea if I had knocked on their doors and just asked! Ireland on the whole is a pretty friendly place.
We then went to Achill island in County Mayo to see its stunning scenery and with the knowledge that access is good there due to a large proportion being common land.
Anyway the point I would like to make is if Ireland put in some sort of legislation similar to the UK with regards to access rights it could be one of the best walking destinations in the world. The scenery easily matches that of Scotland and the mountains are as rugged as you could wish for. You can also walk all day without seeing a single person (one of the plus points maybe due to a lack of access?) Match that with really friendly people, loads of great pubs and music and you have a winning destination.
Loads of stuff on Keep Ireland open
I will soon get around to writting up some trip reports and posting some photos.