Discovering Ireland's Untamed Natural Beauty via 10-Day Road Trip

700-foot tall oceanside cliffs and rugged, rolling mountains reveal the true majesty of the modest island nation

Discovering Ireland's Untamed Natural Beauty via 10-Day Road Trip

Author

Jesse Huffman

Camera

Olympus XA

Film

Kodak Portra 400

Jesse Huffman is a Vermont-based writer, photographer, and video producer

Ireland is tiny, packing as much landmass as the state of Indiana. Its trim national population is smaller than Turkmenistan’s. By the numbers it sorta makes sense. In person that all falls away.

Leading up to this 10 day trip, the plan was to road trip the western coastline south to north. I spent a lot of time scouting ahead on the internet, hoping to plot an ideal tour from the Killarney National Park and Kerry Peninsula, to the Dingle Peninsula, on to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher, and then Letterfrack, midway up the west coast.

Some say the internet has blown out traveling’s natural element of surprise and discovery. But despite being inundated by photos and maps online, the moment we hit the trail in Killarney National Park, it became clear that this landscape remains immune to any digital attempts to capture and convey its diverse and boggling beauty.

We’d been given cryptic instructions by our Airbnb hosts—an extremely friendly and charming retired couple—to a “short walk” with a 360 degree prospect, just inside the park’s boundaries. After parking in the foothills, we wandered for a while, confused and unsure if we’d find the actual climb.

Down in the valley bottom, the lush biota was in full spring mode, the massive leaves, vines and mosses a mashup between the Pacific Northwest and somewhere tropical, like Hawaii. Ireland is way up in the northern latitudes (at the end of May, when we visited, the sun didn’t fully set until past 11:00 pm), but its position in the Gulf Stream often brings moderate and moist weather, fostering plant growth you’d otherwise expect to see nearer the equator.

"It became clear that this landscape remains immune to any digital attempts to capture and convey its diverse and boggling beauty."

Huffman-Ireland-3

Sticking to the main trail, we kept walking, eventually popping out of the valley and into a stark landscape of exposed Red Sandstone rock. Everywhere we looked was a sweeping geology with echoes of the American west coast and an eerie lunar or even Martian quality. Further still, a faded wooden sign pointed right to our destination—Mount Torc—and the “walk” became a legitimate workout. The trail cut back and forth across and increasingly steep fall line, and was built out of old railroad ties wrapped in wire mesh, their number too many to count.

With each push higher, the view continued to open up, all of it as intensely alien as the first time I drove from my native Vermont out west. To the south, Upper Lake nestled into green rolling hills. To the east, the rock-strewn breadth of Sandstone, etched in an offering to time and the elements. After a final push, a blast of wind announced our arrival to the summit. We crouched low, taking in the wrap-around view. My mind was blown, simply. I’d never seen anything like it.

Huffman-Ireland-15

Huffman-Ireland-16

“Walks” were hikes, it turned out.

That first tour set the tone for the rest of the trip. “Walks” were hikes, it turned out. And around every sharp bend in the road (of which there enough to keep any driver used to piloting the right side of the lane exceedingly alert), a new perspective would yield yet another form of landscape. The countryside unwound before us, a perpetual and dizzyingly diverse combination of bare rock, green abundance and ocean. We had only scribed a small percentage of the coastline, let alone the terrain inland.

Ireland is small. No one comes here for superlatives, unless you count the incredible Cliffs of Moher, which tower over 700 feet above the Atlantic. What we came for was the rugged and natural majesty of Ireland’s interface between land and sea.

Later in the trip, we found ourselves walking a well-worn foot trail south of the town of Dingle. Winding through pasture land along the shoreline, the trail climbed and then hooked around deep canyons bracketing isolated pebble beaches. Further on, the trail took us along the top of a far-ranging sea cliff, offering up towering views of the North Atlantic, reaching off raw and green to the east. Then and there, it became crystal clear to me how this place inspired pagan mythology, and the hard-driven rebellion of Irish clans against English rule.

Whether you’re in for a pint, in for the songs, out for a “walk” or just want to vibe the views, Ireland’s small size is more than made up for by its density. If you go, give yourself plenty of time to soak it up.

Huffman-Ireland-4

Related articles
Field Mag Releases New Film Photo Zine FMO2: WINTER
FM02: WINTER Is Here! Our Second Film Photo Zine Is Now Live

The follow up to our sold out SUMMER edition delivers 70 color pages of 35mm and medium format film photos from 35 of our favorite photographers

Experience the "Real Japan" by Hiking the 1,000 km Michinoku Coastal Trail
Michinoku Coastal Trail Guide: What to Know About Japan's New 1,000 km Trail

This scenic trail winds through rugged coastlines, dense forests, and historic towns, helping revitalize a region still reeling from the 2011 tsunami

Behind the Scenes at the 2023 Vans Pipe Masters on Oahu's North Shore
Photo Essay: Behind the Scenes at the 2023 Vans Pipe Masters Surf Competition

35mm and medium format film photos from the legendary Hawaiian surf competition where the world's best surfers compete for $500k in cash—and glory

Searching for Surf and Safe Passage in the Gulf of Alaska
Photo Essay: Searching for Surf and Safe Passage in the Gulf of Alaska

A two-week boat trip through surfing's final frontier brings snow-capped mountains, icebergs and sea lions, hot springs and epic vistas

Battling Altitude and Ego While Hut Hiking in the Italian Dolomites
Battling Altitude and Ego While Hut Hiking in the Italian Dolomites

Faced with the unyielding effects of thin air, one hiker learns to let go of self expectations and what should be to enjoy what is

An Off-Grid Field Test with Amundsen, Deep in the Rugged Maine Backcountry
An Off-Grid Field Test with Amundsen, Deep in the Rugged Maine Backcountry

Exploring the North Woods by float plane, canoe and on foot to discover the Norwegian spirit of friluftsliv and turn a weekend in nature into eternity

More articles
Discovering Ireland's Untamed Natural Beauty via 10-Day Road Trip

Gallery Mode

Author

Jesse Huffman

Camera

Olympus XA

Film

Kodak Portra 400

Back to article
Get Free Shipping on our New Photo Book!

Meet WINTER, a fine art photo zine full of adventure inspiration

  • 70 pages of beautiful photography
  • 35 international contributors
  • Limited-edition & hand numbered
  • Printed in NYC with love
  • Use code "ZINEME" for free shipping
Shop Now
Get Free Shipping on our New Photo Book!