Hiking and History Through Northern Ireland
- Trek along the Giant’s Causeway
- Visit the Titanic Experience in Belfast
- Hike the walls of Londonderry
- Take a boat and hike on Rathlin Island
- All accommodation and on-trip transportation
- On-trip Irish historian and dedicated bus driver
- Entrance fees, most meals, and gratuities
|Dates||May 19–30, 2014|
$3,975 (or fewer)
Please note that the trip dates have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.
When the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago, Ireland emerged from the melting ice and rose up to do battle with the sea. Today this raging of elements is evidenced by the area's atmosphere of physical isolation and its intimacy with a wild and terrible beauty. Northern Ireland's wide scattering of remote mountain villages and small towns across the vast panorama of land, sea, and sky means that forest trails, clifftop paths, mountain hikes, and pleasant strolls are literally on everybody's doorstep. The area's best known hiking trail, certainly the longest at 625 miles, is the Ulster Way.
This famous circular way-marked path runs all around Northern Ireland and has other trail systems joining it—notably from Donegal and Cavan. Few walkers can spare the month that it would take to hike the entire Ulster Way, but there are many people who like the idea of taking time to walk sections of it. During our all-too-brief 12-day exposure, we will be teased and tantalized by this ancient land. The people are proud of their rich cultural heritage, folklore, music, poetry, customs, traditions, and their rugged, often mist-enshrouded, mountains.
The first known inhabitants in the province of Ulster were nomadic boat people who crossed from Southwest Scotland over 7,000 years before the birth of Christ. The successive waves of invaders who conspired to shape the character of the modern Briton—Vikings, Romans, Saxons, Normans—all made the same mistake of finding little of value or inspiration on this lonely island. They left it largely to the Celts, who not only survived but prospered. Today the people of Ulster are as charming and delightful as their land is exquisitely beautiful.
Down in the country, where we'll spend most of our time, the pace is slow and easy-going. And when you stop at a village crossroads to ask directions, if you can hide your impatience, you'll be rewarded with colorful descriptions and lengthy stories!
To best sample the highlights of the Ulster and Connacht provinces of Northern Ireland, we have chosen a mixture of leisurely paced day hiking and sightseeing. This allows us to experience the beauty of this ancient land by foot as well as visit the spectacular castles, abbeys, and other sites of historic interest, which are liberally scattered about the countryside.
The political troubles of Northern Ireland in the past were largely confined to certain areas in some of the larger cities, and were thought by many to be disproportionately exploited by sensation-hungry media. Little of this urban problem spilled over to the rural areas, and with the peace that prevails today, the people of both Irelands are now understanding how good life can be when they visit each others' countries to shop and to "recreate," (to make over) as two separate countries. If ever there was a time to discover Northern Ireland it is now.
We travel by mini-bus, accompanied by an Irish historian who will enrich our understanding of the areas with history and regale us with stories that titillate our imaginations as we hike. Except for accommodations, our daily schedule will remain fairly flexible. Our decisions most days will be based on the weather.
The trip starts at 9:00 a.m. May 19th at a B & B or hotel in Sligo and ends in Dublin. On our last day, Friday, May 30th, you will be taken to the Dublin train station or airport (whichever you use) after breakfast to return home or to continue on to other destinations. Those who want to come early or stay after the trip will find there are many things to see and do in these two wonderful old cities. Located in the West Coast province of Connacht, Sligo is steeped in history and offers many attractions, including the County Sligo Heritage and Genealogy Center for those wanting to research their family ancestral lines originating from this area. Dublin, home of Guinness, is another fascinating old city whose origins date back two thousand years. The area surrounding the city is known as the Pale of Dublin. Early British settlers to this area considered everything within the Pale to be civilized, while everything "beyond the Pale" was rife with anarchy and barbarism.
This is the itinerary we plan to follow. If weather conditions or closures prevent us from the planned daily activities, alternatives will be pursued.
Day 1: Today we will meet in Sligo, ready to begin our trekking adventure. We will begin our warm-up hike near Ballyshannon, moving up the coast to our accommodations for the night in the Rossnowlagh area.
Day 2: Weather permitting, we take a boat trip and hike on Inish Murray, a very old monastic island and wildlife sanctuary that is located four miles from Sligo. Here we will learn about this small enclave's history, inhabitants, and its cursing stones. If weather does not permit a boat trip, alternatively, we will hike a section of the Lough Erne area.
Day 3: Today we hike part of the Blue Stacks Way. We begin at Lough Eske and hike along the lough toward Letterfad. If we are lucky we may spot golden eagles, Californian redwoods, blue hare and red deer. Flowers will be abundant at this time of year so bring your flower identification books.
Day 4: We hike in Glenveagh National Park, one of Northern Ireland's six national parks, and stop at the visitor's center to view their fabulous exhibitions and learn more about the history of the area.
Day 5: We move to Derry via Donegal. Today we will hike the massive walls of Londonderry (Derry) to learn how the people of this town survived months of isolation as they fought to keep their religious freedom. We also pay a short visit to Bushmills Distillery for a little history of Irish whiskey.
Day 6: We hike or bike on Rathlin Island, which allows us to view a seal colony on one part of the island, then to look for seabirds on another part at the RSBP Seabird Center.
Day 7: We hike the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This area was formed by ancient volcanic eruptions that created unusual interlocking basalt columns.
Day 8: We visit Carrickfergus Castle, the Titanic Experience, and if time permits, visit Stormont, home of the Power Sharing Administration of Northern Ireland in Belfast.
Day 9: We hike another section of the Ulster Way.
Day 10: Today we hike a section of the Ulster Way known as the Brandy Path, which was used by smugglers to take brandy into the hinterland.
Day 11: Today we will do one of the Boyne Valley River Hikes with a visit to the Battle of the Boyne Centre. This center will help cement our understanding of how and why Ireland became the battleground for the two rival men who claimed the throne of England and how Northern Ireland became a province of the United Kingdom.
Day 12: After breakfast and a group meeting to say our farewells, we move on to the Dublin railway station or nearby airport (depending on your mode of transportation) to reach other destinations or home.
The trip begins in Sligo, The Republic of Ireland and ends in Dublin, The Republic of Ireland. Transportation to Sligo and from Dublin to your home is your responsibility. All on-trip transportation is included in the price of the trip. If you choose to arrive early, the leader will provide you with a list of activities that you may enjoy doing before the group arrives. Please do not purchase your airline tickets before you get leader approval.
Accommodations and Food
Our lodging will be in warm, clean, comfortable bed-and-breakfasts and small, family-run country inns. Rooms are shared twins or doubles for couples. Single supplements may be available on a limited basis. Please contact the leader for further information. The first meal included on the trip is dinner on Monday. We will enjoy dinners both in our lodgings and in some of the many fine restaurants that now abound in this increasingly economically prosperous land. Vegetarians are easily accommodated, but if you have a special diet, please consult with the leader. All breakfasts and group dinners are included in the trip price. Lunches are purchased at grocery stores or bakeries at your expense. We eat our lunch along the trails when we hike or at a café or restaurant if we are touring in towns. A highlight for those who are night owls will be visiting pubs in the evening for the "craic" (meaning having a good time through fun and laughter) with traditional Irish music and dancing, especially in Donegal.
This trip is designed for the active Sierra Club member who enjoys history and hiking. Sightseeing will be mostly by foot. Hikes will be moderately paced, covering a variety of terrain, including high pastures, remote bogs, and sometimes rocky trails of varying difficulty. None of the hikes will be longer than 10 miles and elevation gains won't exceed 2,000 ft. All hikes are optional. It is green in Ireland because it rains, but the rain serves merely to make the hikes more ethereal and challenging.
We will hike almost every day so your enjoyment on the trip is dependent on your preparation and fitness level. Frequent hiking excursions that work up to our trip's maximum daily mileage and elevation gain for three or four months prior to the trip should adequately prepare you. You can discuss a fitness program with the leader if you are unable to do much hiking because of harsh weather conditions where you live. Be sure to use the waterproof hiking boots that you will bring on the trip for pre-conditioning hikes!
Equipment and Clothing
You should plan to bring travel clothing and day hiking equipment that you would normally use at home. Sturdy, well-broken-in, waterproofed boots and good rain gear are essential. A detailed list will be sent when you are accepted on the trip.
There are guide books available at your local bookstores. Three that the trip leader has reviewed are:
Steves, Rick, Rick Steves' Snapshot Northern Ireland
Sheehan, Sean, Belfast & North of Ireland (Footprint - Pocket Guides)
Fletcher, Martin, Silver Linings: Travels Around Northern Ireland
The Internet offers many websites with information about Northern Ireland. One website that is pretty comprehensive is: http://wikitravel.org/en/Northern_Ireland and there are many more.
Youtube videos are available for historical information. Check out these two:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7H9D2Xx7G8o&feature=related. There are four parts you will see each listed to the right of the viewing box.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDkk_2PjzoU&feature=related. There are six parts.
In contrast to the United States, Northern Ireland has been heavily populated for many thousands of years. Most of the land has long been used for human endeavor to one degree or another. Much of the land is in private ownership and not immune to the trappings of modern society. We will see how the people of Northern Ireland struggle to live in balance with finite natural resources, and, like us, wrestle constantly in an attempt to maintain a delicate balance. Our objective is not to point an accusing finger, but create a venue of opportunity to discuss conservation and environmental issues that affect both our countries.
Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.
Notes for Sierra Club Outings
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