Ireland By Foot
Hiking Ireland is unlike any hiking you'll encounter in the United States. Most of the land is private, and while landowners generally are agreeable about allowing you to camp on their property, the trick is figuring out who owns which land.
We found ourselves atop vast hillsides looking down on hundreds of acres of green fields, dotted by three or four farmhouses. Which farmhouse to approach was anyone's guess. So we opted to stay in the towns where we were sure to meet some interesting characters. There is always a bed-and-breakfast to be had, and the locals are generally agreeable about letting you camp on their property if you just ask.
As our trip neared its end, we met one such character at a place called O'Connor's Pub & Bed and Breakfast in the village of Cloghane (pronounced "CLOW-han").
The sun was out in full force and Andy and I were ready for a strong Guinness stout to wash away the unseasonable heat. At midday the village streets seemed deserted. But we spotted the telltale Guinness sign on a pub ahead and knew that surely someone would be inside. We squeezed through the narrow door of O'Connor's and unbuckled our packs. But before we could even take them off our shoulders, the proprietor, Michael (pronounced "MEE-hall" in Gaelic) O'Dowd was offering us a place to sit.
"Come in, come in, wel-come to O'Connor's," he said heartily from behind the bar. "What can I get for ye?"
Michael, it turned out, had lived in New York City for a time, and pegged us as Americans the minute we walked through the door. Our stop for a refreshing beer turned into a two-hour conversation and a plan to stay at the guest house for the evening, completing our weeklong trip.
Later that afternoon, Michael insisted on taking us to a nearby lake for some sightseeing. The next morning, he piled me, Andy, his young daughter, Michelle, and two border collies, Rocky and Daisy, into his beat-up van to drive out to count sheep in his pastures high in the hills above Cloghane.
Daisy put on a show, herding the sheep in a wide, arcing circle and gathering them up so Michael could complete his daily count. Andy and I exchanged glances occasionally, smiling at how lucky we were to have stumbled upon such a treasure.
We knew we would have never met Michael if we'd rushed through Ireland in an effort to see it all. Even as a sudden downpour sent us rushing back to the dry van, we wouldn't have wished to be anywhere else. This was a true Irish experience.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication