Beyond the Blarney

Along, Up, and Under the Emerald Skin
Redefine the luck of Irish and discover the active world of the Emerald Isle. VIEW SLIDE SHOW

Quick! Name three activities that spring to mind when someone says "Ireland."
Kissing the Blarney Stone? Photographing centuries-old castle ruins? Shopping for woolen sweaters in Donegal or Killarney? Maybe sipping a pint of cool Guinness while listening to fiddle music in some smoky Dingle pub? If you've visited Ireland, one or all of those ventures were probably requisite components of your vacation.
But a new type of Irish experience has emerged in recent years, one full of craggy, wilderness adventure, far from the tour buses and the "Kiss-me-I'm-Irish" gift shops. Two thousand miles of hiking trails have now been linked across remote sections of countryside. Hundreds of rock-climbing routes have been established, some of them etched precariously above crashing waves. Scores of adventure travel outfitters have set up shop to guide the way to the best mountain biking trails, campsites, and kayaking routes. University researchers are cataloguing the nation's vast underground network of caves and catacombs. And, the hefty salmon plying the Shannon River are enhancing rural Ireland's reputation as one of Europe's hottest fishing destinations.

There are two primary reasons for the delayed explosion of outdoor tourism in Ireland. First, unlike America's system of public-access state and national parks, Ireland is largely a country of private property, which had traditionally kept much of its land technically off limits. Second, in a nation formerly comprised largely of farmers, the lush landscape had been more a source of income than recreation.
But the burgeoning high-tech economy, funding from the European Union, and, ironically, growing urbanization have all helped transform the nature of tourism in Ireland. Combined with a youthful vitality and renewed entrepreneurial spirit, a new outdoors-focused mentality in Ireland has begun opening up more of its untainted backcountry to resourceful explorers. So, instead of smooching the Blarney Stone, try grabbing or tramping some real Irish rock as you hit the track less trodden.

Neal writes for Outside magazine, Men's Health , and the Washington Post Magazine . He is currently finishing a biography of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, and is starting a second book on moonshine, bootlegging, and the early days of NASCAR. Neal lives in Asheville, NC, with his wife and two sons.

Published: 6 Dec 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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