No ‘Right to roam’ in Ireland

by backpackingbongos

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.

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7 Responses to “No ‘Right to roam’ in Ireland”

  1. In my experience, most landowners who own mountains don’t mind you walking on them (as long as you don’t damage their fences!), but if you ask them for permission they will have to say “No”, to avoid any possibility of them being financially liable if you hurt yourself while on their land. They prefer to keep you as a trespasser for legal purposes. The staff as the national park centre know this, but of course they can’t tell you, again for legal reasons.

    • Thanks for the info Pete. Worth bearing in mind if I return to Ireland for a spot of hiking (I should as its a cracking country).

  2. Yes, very bizarre. It’s put me off coming to Ireland, let alone investing in property there. If only it was more like the UK and other EU countries!

  3. I’m really pleased someone else agrees with the feeling that I got when touring Ireland. I very mistakenly expected it to be like the more remote areas of England, Wales or Scotland. Their approaches to settlement layout and distribution are pretty odd. Although we were cycling, we expected to find plenty of places to camp but found that just about everywhere near a road was overlooked by a house. We did find the hospitality to be excellent however.

    PS love the blog, been following it for a while – you inspired me to start my own!

    • Thanks for the comment, good to hear that the blog inspired you 🙂

      Ireland is a lovely place and I would really like to go back, particularly to backpack. Shame the access is not as good as much of the UK.

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