If you want to immerse yourself in Wild Ireland then walking and cycling are two of the best ways to do it. Each time you make your way out of a town you will begin to have your senses overloaded by the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. The sound of the wind in the trees and birds in the sky are fortified by the smell of the plants along the way (and sometimes the wonderful countryside aroma of farms!). Sometimes the most memorable parts of an outdoor journey are the things you see along the way. Albeit sometimes these sights can be only a fleeting glimpse.
Ireland is renowned for its variety of flora and fauna. Today we’ll take a look at some of the rarer fauna which you may see on a walking or cycling holiday here.
There are two types of squirrel in Ireland, the Grey Squirrel and the Red Squirrel. While the Red Squirrel is the only native creature of the two, it has been pushed towards the point of extinction for more than two hundred years. The American Grey Squirrel was introduced on just one occasion in 1911. From here it spread over most of the country, particularly the east, and the competition for food resources was catastrophic for the smaller Red Squirrel. Now, the Red Squirrel population is thought to be increasing and it is widespread around the country however, it can still prove to be quite elusive. While it is possible to see a Red Squirrel in most of the wilder parts of Ireland, the Bluestack & Sli Cholmcille Way in Co. Donegal is one of the better places. The limited amount of human development, combined with a lack of Grey Squirrels has meant that Red Squirrels have been able to survive in this area quite well.
While not exactly endangered the Puffin has seen its population decline over time. The Puffin is a seabird which nests in burrows and in cracks in steep cliffs. It is a summer visitor to Ireland with some of the birds nesting between March and September while other birds are just passing through. The Puffins distinctive beak makes it one of the most unusual looking and sought-after birds in Ireland. After spending the winter far out to sea and during nesting season they are most commonly found along the west coast of Ireland. The rocky coastline of Slea Head is one of the best places in the country to see Puffins. Slea Head is at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula and can be found on our Dingle Way itinerary.
Red Deer are the largest land based mammals in Ireland and are the only species of native deer in the country. Red Deer at one time roamed freely all over the country however, over-hunting, deforestation and the Great Famine saw their numbers decrease massively. Apart from some small herds which were introduced from Scotland in the 19th century, the only native herd remaining in the country can be found in Killarney National Park. If you are walking the Kerry Way from Killarney, your first day’s walk will take you up onto the Old Kenmare Road, just after Torc Waterfall. Not only is this stretch of the way one of the most stunningly beautiful and peaceful walks in the country it is also the best place to spot members of the native Red Deer herd.
While whales are not as common along the shores of Ireland as they are in some other countries, it seems that their numbers have been increasing in the last number of years. So much so that whale spotting excursions have sprung up all over the country. Depending on the time of year, there are a number of whale types which visit Irish waters. Minke Whales, Fin Whales and Humpback Whales are all regular visitors, while the occasional Killer Whale also appears. The quality and temperature of the water off the coastline at various times of the year can be ideal for whales as they make their vast journeys around the Atlantic. While Whales can be spotted all the way along the West Coast of Ireland, West Cork is regarded as one of the best Whale Watching locations in Europe. Most of the coastal towns and villages in this area have whale and dolphin watching excursions. What better way to get to these towns and villages than by cycling there along the Wild Atlantic Way.
For more information on walking or cycling in Ireland please contact one of our Travel Specialists