In Ireland, we look to the skies more than we should as a centre point to our conversations however when do we ever think of what lies beneath our feet, let alone how it got there. I bet you didn’t know that Irish landscapes are home to some of the most diverse rock types and features in the world. Today I am going to delve back to my budding university geologist days to give you all the knowledge of what makes each Irish landscape unique and exceptionally beautiful.
Did you know the oldest rocks in Ireland date back 2 billion years? This is pleasantly young in comparison to the fact that the oldest on Earth date back 4 billion years. Over such a mind-boggling number of years, you can imagine there have been a few changes to the Irish landscape since. Even today the Earth’s surface is still moving and changing. For example, did you know the Atlantic Ocean grows each year by a few millimetres, this means we are moving further away from our American friends…although very slowly. Earthquakes and volcanoes are a testament to these changes, thankfully none of these occur in Ireland today, making it now one of the most stable places on Earth and ultimately a beautiful place to live or visit. Here are some of the Irish landscapes:
The ‘Caledonian’ is a term used for a period of intense mountain building that affected present day Northwest Europe and the Eastern United States. This would have happened 460-480 million years ago and would have resulted in today’s mountains of Connemara and Donegal to once be of Himalayan proportions. These oldest mountains of Ireland would have risen sharply out of the sea at a time when almost all the country was under water. Over the millions of years that have since passed these mountains have been eroded significantly by the elements and are mere shadows of what they once were. Regardless of this, the present day Bluestack Mountains on the Slí Colmcille way, as well as Ireland ‘holiest’ mountain Croagh Patrick, the Maumturk Mountains and the Twelve Pins of the Connemara Western Way were formed. Hiking in Connemara will lead you to some of the most beautiful wild and remote Irish landscapes left in Ireland today.
Formed at the same time as the mountains of Connemara and Donegal, the Caledonian South-East includes the Wicklow Mountains. These mountains are one of the largest continuous mountain ranges in Ireland. During the time these mountains were being formed, magma from the Earth’s mantle unsuccessfully tried to make its way to the surface but instead cooled formed Granite rock below the surface and is today known as the Leinster Batholith and is the largest of its type in both Britain and Ireland. It extends from South Dublin through Wicklow, part of Kilkenny and Carlow. The granites are now exposed on the surface due to natural weathering which has resulted in the lovely rounded mountain tops and boggy surface of the Wicklow mountains. Hiking the Wicklow Way will guarantee you spectacular views, an insight into early Irish history at the monastic site of Glendalough and sights of the Irelands tallest waterfall ‘Powerscourt Falls’ at 106m.
The Munster Ridge and Valley Province
The Munster Ridge and Valley Province is associated with the counties of Cork and Kerry. The mountains of the Mac Gillycuddy Reeks, Knockmealdown and Comeraghs formed 250 million years ago making them significantly younger than the mountains of Wicklow or the Northwest. Unsurprisingly Ireland tallest mountain, Carrauntoohil at 1038 metres is located in Kerry in the Mac Gillycuddy Reeks. The impressive sandstone mountains and limestone valleys in this region run East-West in direction. The mountains, especially in Kerry have been accentuated by glaciation in the last ice age and this has resulted in the spectacular scenery that you associate with this country. The old river valleys in the west of the county have since been flooded by rising sea-levels and this has resulted in the mountainous regions now appearing as peninsulas such as the Dingle, Sheep’s Head, Beara and Ivreagh Peninsulas that jut out to sea with breath-taking scenery unlike anywhere else in the island of Ireland. Hiking in Kerry and West Cork is guaranteed to be an experience you are unlikely to forget.
The Central Plain
The Central Plains of Ireland are generally made up of Limestone, which formed when the country as we know it was under a warm tropical sea approximately 350 million years ago. The rock itself is made of millions of bones and shells of marine creatures laid down over thousands of years and it is for this reason that preserved marine fossils often can be seen in exposed limestone rock. Today, limestone rock has been uplifted and exposed due to weathering in the Burren region of County Clare. The soft nature of this white-grey rock can be seen by the rugged surface consisting of ‘clints’ which are the slightly harder flat surfaces and ‘grikes’ which are the deep groves. Hiking the Burren Way, you are guaranteed to be inspired by this amazing unique landscape. Other sights to be seen along this route include the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, beautiful beaches as well as the nearby Aillwee Caves which are not too far from the route.
The Antrim Plateau is one of the newest landscapes in Ireland, forming just over 65 million years ago. The unique landscape of the North-Eastern Ireland was formed back when the Atlantic Ocean began to form separating North America and Europe. Lava poured freely over the surface, cooling slowly and resulting in the formation of a large flat plateau and of the hexagonal pillars and columns recognised today internationally as the Giants Causeway. The mystical landscape has always been a feature of Irish folklore and legend. Hiking the Causeway Coast way, is sure to transport you to another world, where you will be blown away by sheer cliffs, the UNESCO approved Giants Causeway, beautiful sandy beaches and the adrenaline fuelled Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
As you can see, Ireland for a small island offers some of the most diverse landscapes in the world. Every corner of the country has something special to offer you in terms of fresh air, break-taking views and luscious green scenery. Going for a hike or cycle in Ireland will definitely be a walk or cycle to remember because after all ‘Ireland Rocks!!!’.
For more information on walking in Ireland please contact one of our Travel Specialists