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Nine stunning coastal walks around Ireland

Explore hidden coves, secluded beaches, timeless watchtowers and soaring cliffs on these oceanside routes from Antrim to Kerry

Walking the coastline brings us under the spell of the ocean – the rhythmic sound of the waves, the whispering breezes, the shimmering horizons, all strengthen our sense of connection with the natural world. As an island nation, we are lucky to have been bestowed more than 3,000km of stunning shoreline. Seventeen Irish counties border the ocean, and this means an abundance of compelling walks, with every coastal county having its treasures – hidden coves, secluded beaches, timeless watchtowers, great cliffs. Below, I have picked some of my favourite oceanside walks on a coastal odyssey from Antrim’s sublime Causeway Coast to Kerry’s unforgettable Bray Head.

Carlingford/Omeath Greenway, Co Louth

A memorable 14km (there and back) hike along a new greenway that follows the scenic route of a disused railway by the edge of Carlingford Lough. For the best experience, set out from the village of Omeath. Follow the unchallenging path, with the sea as your constant companion, while enjoying a great panorama across the water to Rostrevor, Warrenpoint and the Mourne Mountains. Above, and to the right, are the fabled Cooley Mountains, with Slieve Foy as the highest point.

At the end, stop for refreshments at the splendidly located Carlingford Marina Restaurant, making sure to sit outside on a good day. Then retrace your steps to Omeath, or continue for another 1km into medieval Carlingford.

Cliffs of Moher Circuit, Co Clare

Want to walk the cliffs of Moher, but not end almost 20km from your car? To do this, drive south from the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre on the R478. At the first junction, go right and then right again to park in Guerin’s Path Car Park (€5 per person).

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Head back to the public road, walk right and continue following the signs, with Moher Tower as your guide, to reach Nagle’s Coastal Walk car park. Arrows for the Burren Way now convey you to Hag’s Head and your first vista over the marvellously bleak line of huge cliffs frowning upon a restless ocean.

Onwards now along a well-constructed path that leads high above the forbidding precipices, storm beaches and spectacular sea arches of the wind-tortured Clare coastline, with the Aran Islands seeming a mirage to the west. As you approach the Cliffs of Moher, people will thicken around but fear not, you don’t need to join the masses. A 150m walk along Guerin’s Path conveys you back to your car, having seen the best of the cliffs on a 9km walk.

The Lighthouse Loop, Sheep’s Head, Co Cork

The lyrical line “water and ground in their extremity” has been adopted from Seamus Heaney’s poem Peninsula to sum up the Sheep’s Head experience, and it is easy to see why peninsulas act as a wellspring for poetic imagination. The landscape is a wild fusion of erratically strewn boulders, serene lakes of amplified hues and weather-ravaged hillsides.

From the trailhead, follow blue arrows past the rocky outcrops surrounding scenic Lough Akeen and then upwards to Sheep’s Head. Concrete steps now lead down to where a small lighthouse stands as if indifferent to time. Afterwards, complete the loop by following the red arrows along the north side of the peninsula while enjoying a magnificent prospect over Bantry Bay. Then return to the trailhead and the reward of refreshments in the Cupán Tae Café after an outing of about two hours.

Slieve League, Teelin, Co Donegal

Slieve League is the undoubted Queen of Donegal tourism, offering soaring cliffs with patinas of colour that attract shed loads of selfie seekers. To explore some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, begin from the upper car park at Bunglass, and follow the track leading to the summit. Unlike most mountains, the top is not the main attraction but the mighty cliffs, falling 1,500ft to the distant ocean.

Keeping these cliffs on your left, the summit climb is straightforward, apart from a short vertiginous ridge known as One Man’s Pass. Such excitement is easily avoided by traversing inland and continuing to gain the east summit. From here an airy ridge leads to the true summit, offering an expansive prospect over the Donegal highlands to the great peaks of Errigal and Muckish. Retrace your steps to Bunglass, arriving back after about four hours.

Bray Head, Valentia Island, Co Kerry

Valentia lost some of its mystique with the opening of the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge in 1971, but the upside is that the island’s austere beauty is now readily accessible. From the car park overlooking Foilhommerum Bay, purple arrows point gently uphill towards the summit of Bray Head, where a Napoleonic tower sits atop vertiginous cliffs. You are rewarded here with rapturous ocean views to the unmistakable silhouette of the Skellig Islands which, from this outlook, seem mysterious and ethereal as though belonging to another more surreal world.

Continue by following the walking arrows to join an informal clifftop path. An extensive prospect now opens north over Dingle Bay to the Blasket Islands and Mount Brandon. Next, the markers lead away from the clifftop and downhill to a stone wall. Swinging right here, your route continues following the arrows to regain the stony path near the stile encountered earlier after an unchallenging two-hour walk.

The Derrynane Loop, Caherdaniel, Co Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is a beguiling circuit, but a whistle-stop tour missed much of its hidden treasures. To explore part of this landscape, start from the car park of Derrynane House, where a green lane leads to the ocean. Go right along the exquisite strand before the great house, which was home to the Irish liberator, Daniel O’Connell. Continue along an enclosed track leading to a secluded harbour. An ancient mass path now ascends through natural woodland before dropping to a sublime little cove. Afterwards, re-join the mass path and continue to Bealtra Pier where in penal times, the faithful landed currachs before walking to Derrynane mass rock. Now, it is uphill on a minor road with outrageously photogenic panorama unfolding over Derrynane Bay and the mountainy Beara Peninsula beyond. After about 1.5km, a sign points right for the famous Kerry Way past the poignant ruins of famine-era homesteads, before descending through luxuriant woodland, to reach the Derrynane Road. Follow this back to the great house.

Raven Wood, Curracloe, Co Wexford

From the trailhead at the Raven car park follow the blue arrows into Raven Wood. Continue straight when the arrows go left, and after about 4km you will emerge on to a beach. On your right are the renowned Wexford Slobs. Reclaimed from the sea in the 19th century, they are the wintering ground for thousands of Greenland white-fronted geese. Go left, however, keeping the ocean on the right for about 1km to reach Raven Point, where you will enjoy great vistas south over the sandbars of Wexford Harbour.

Your return journey is along the famously soft, white sands of Curracloe Beach, which are generally regarded as the finest in Ireland. Be sure to ditch the footwear and walk for a time in the crystal-clear waters. When the woodland ends after about 4km, go right along a path through the sand dunes to regain the walk trailhead after a leisurely outing of about 2½ hours.

The Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills, Co Antrim

The saw-tooth coastline of North Antrim proffers glorious clifftops, secluded coves, quaint harbours and buildings of eye-watering whiteness. To explore part of this captivating coast, start from the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre and descend to the stones. Here, you are among 37,000 mostly hexagonal columns that were created by rapidly cooling lava 60 million years ago, although you will find it hard to believe this is not the work of some crazy, prehistoric giant.

Onwards then through a small gap to a secluded little bay called Port Noffer, where a large, marooned rock has been dubbed the Giant’s Boot. Now ascend a steep path known as the Shepherd’s Steps to the clifftop. Now is your OMG moment. Great views expand over the ocean from Donegal to Rathlin Island and on to Scotland. Next, go right along the clifftop to reach the Chimney Tops viewpoint. Beneath lies the poignant Port na Spaniagh. It was here the Girona – largest galleon of the Spanish Armada – foundered with the loss of 1,300 lives. Afterwards, stroll easily but, perhaps, more sombrely along the clifftop to regain the Visitor Centre.

The Donegal Camino

Day walks by the coast are all very well, but what happens if you want to go Full Monty – a week of walking where you are rarely far removed from salt water. Then it must be Donegal!

Here the restless ocean has ground out great fingery bays that meander lazily into Donegal’s deepest heartlands. You can now explore this harsh but unforgettable coastline on a series of walks taking place in the northwest during September as part of the Donegal Camino while raising funds for Cancer Care West Services in Donegal. Running from September 3rd to 9th, and supported by such Donegal luminaries as Deirdre McGlone and Noel Cunningham, the event offers seven days of stunning hiking and walking. This includes such renowned highlights as Malin Head, Mount Errigal, Tory Island and Horn Head. For more details on accommodation and fundraising, see donegalcamino.ie.