• Saint Patrick’s Day

    On the 17th of March each year Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated in Ireland and many other countries around the world. In fact, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival globally. The day originally was a commemoration of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, but it has grown into a celebration of all things Irish, particularly Ireland’s heritage, culture and the millions of Irish diasporas who are scattered around the globe.

    St. Patrick

    You may be surprised to hear that Saint Patrick was born in Britain. When he was young, he was captured by Irish pirates and was sold as a slave in Ireland. While in captivity in Ireland, he was put to work as a shepherd. During this time, he grew to know the Irish people and learned the Irish language. After six years, he escaped and returned home. Years later, Patrick travelled to Paris where he studied and became a cleric. He then returned to Ireland and set about converting the Irish people to Christianity. As part of his teachings, he used the shamrock to explain the concept of the holy trinity, each leaf representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This tradition was handed down through Irish generations and the shamrock is now synonymous with Irish identity. People wear it every year on Saint Patrick’s Day.

    There are multiple locations across the island of Ireland that are associated with Saint Patrick. Here is a small selection of some of these places.

    Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo

    Croagh Patrick Mountain is located about 5 miles outside Westport. The mountain has a distinctive conical shape and scree covered slopes that sparkle under the sun which allows it to dominate the skyline of the Clew Bay area. Here, Patrick climbed to the summit of the mountain where he fasted for the forty days of Lent. This gave rise to the name of the mountain – Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain. Each year in July thousands of pilgrims’ flock to the mountain and climb it honour the Saint. Some even climb the mountain barefoot.

    Croagh Patrick, County Mayo, Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way.
    Croagh Patrick, County Mayo

    You can feel the energy of the place when you stand beneath the mountain. Our 8-Day Explorer Tour visits here on the route into Westport, and our guests get the opportunity to experience the place first-hand.

    St Patrick's Chapel, Croagh Patrick.
    St. Patrick Chapel, Croagh Patrick

    Lough Derg, Co. Donegal

    Lough Derg is a lake in Co Donegal. On the lake there is a small island where Saint Patrick went to pray and reflect during his time in Ireland. Because of this, it is known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory and it has been a site of uninterrupted pilgrimage for over 1500 years. The pilgrimage takes place over three days on the Island. It is a programme of prayer, fasting, walking bare-footed and undertaking a 24-hour Vigil.

    Without shoes and sleep and with little food, pilgrims are confronted with the essential aspects of life, an experience which can enable them to discover their hidden strengths and rediscover what really matters in life. Many people find that their pilgrimage to Lough Derg helps them to deal better with life’s ordinary struggles”.

    My father has completed the pilgrimage many times, and I have completed it myself on a few occasions. Each time I completed the pilgrimage was a different experience. It was always worth-while, but some were more challenging than others. You are given a ‘Lough Derg’ cup when you join the pilgrimage, which you use to enjoy the Lough Derg soup (hot water with a dash of pepper!) When I hiked the Appalachian trail in 2013, I took my Lough Derg cup with me. Perhaps as a little inspiration to help me through the challenging times on the trail.

    The priest who oversees the island on Lough Derg completed the pilgrimage in 2020 to continue the 1500 years of uninterrupted ritual.

    Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo

    Downpatrick Head is a spectacular headland in county Mayo with fantastic views out onto the Atlantic. Here, Saint Patrick founded a church. The ruins of which you can still see today alongside a statue of Saint Patrick. Translated as the broken fort, Dun Briste is a sea stack close to the edge of the cliffs, which is 63 metres by 23 metres wide, 45 metres high and 228 metres from shore. In 1393, it was separated from the coast as a result of high seas and violent stormy weather. Old annals say people who lived there were taken off using ships ropes.  ‘Dun Briste’ is best viewed from Downpatrick Head.

    Dun Briste is associated with the conflict between Saint Patrick and the pagan chieftain or pagan God named Crom Dubh, who refused to convert to Christianity and attempted to throw Patrick into his everlasting fire. Patrick picked up a stone from the ground and scratched a cross on it, then he threw the stone into the fire. The fire collapsed into the sea forming a blowhole known as Poll a Sean Tine, meaning ‘the hole of the ancient fire’ Crom Dubh retreated into his fortress on the top of the cliff, but Patrick struck the ground with his crozier, the stack and his fort were separated from the mainland, leaving Crom Dubh isolated on the stack and devoured by midges.

    Folklore & Legends of Ireland

    Like many other cultures, the legends and folklore tales of ancient Ireland have been passed down through the generations through story telling. This has been a great way to keep traditions alive. In the centuries after Saint Patrick, Monasteries flourished and Ireland became the stronghold of Christianity in Europe. After the decline of Christianity in Europe, missionaries from Ireland helped bring Christianity back to the people. It was also in these monasteries that many of the old folklore tales and legends were first written down. The endings of the tales were sometimes changed, by the Monks who wrote them down, to have the hero of the tale meet Saint Patrick, where Patrick converted them to Christianity. One of my favourites of these tales is the tale of Oisín, his love for Niamh and their journey together to the land of Tír na nÓg, a magical land of eternal youth. It goes something like this.

    Many years ago, in Ireland, there lived a great noble warrior of untold strength named Oisín, son of the epic hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill. One day while out hunting with his father’s tribe the Fianna, Oisín came across the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The woman introduced herself as Niamh, the daughter of the King of Tír na nÓg. As their eyes met they instantly fell in love, but Niamh was bound to return to Tír na nÓg.

    Unable to bear leaving her beloved Oisín, she invited him to come back with her. Oisín pleaded with his father to allow him go with Niamh. Fionn granted him permission under the condition he never forgot his own people and that he would return. He left his family and fellow warriors behind, and crossed over the sea with Niamh to the realm of Tír na nÓg. In Tír na nÓg he received all of the gifts it was famous for, everlasting beauty, health, and of course, the ultimate happiness with his new love. 

    As time passed, he began to miss the family he left behind. Overtime he couldn’t bear the loneliness for his homeland, for his friends and for his family any longer. Niamh gave him her horse so he could travel back to Ireland to see them. She warned him that he could not touch the ground, or he would become mortal again, and would never be able to return to Tír na nÓg.

    Oisín travelled across the water to his former home. As he travelled through the land, he discovered that everyone he had once known was gone and the land had changed beyond recognition. Riding through the countryside, he came across three men who were trying to move a large boulder. As Oisín was of unmeasurable strength he knew he could help them. Knowing that he could not touch the ground he leaned to the side gripping the horses reins tightly and pushed the boulder. The three men looked on in amazement as this lone man moved the boulder that the three of them could not. As he did this, the straps securing the saddle of the horse couldn’t take the pressure and snapped.  Oisín fell to the ground and he instantly transformed into an old man.

    The three men took Oisín to a cave to rest. They brought a holy man to pray over him. This holy man was Saint Patrick. Oisín told Saint Patrick all of the old stories and legends while Saint Patrick told Oisín of Christianity. Through Oisíns and Patricks conversation they discovered that 300 years had passed since Oisin had left Ireland; although to Oisín it seemed only like 30 years. Oisín, grew weaker and weaker. Before he passed, Saint Patrick baptised Oisín.

    Should you visit Ireland today and travel along the world-famous Ring of Kerry, you will come to a small seaside village called Glenbeigh. An ocean break out to sea causes waves to crash, these waves are known as Oisín and Niamh. Inland from here in a remote and rugged area, through it runs a scenic road, called Ballach Oisín, which translates as ‘the way of Oisín’. Eventhough the tale may sound fanciful, the couple still live in the landscape and memory of Ireland. Should you wish to walk in the footsteps of Oisín, both my 5-Day Hiker Tour and the 6-Day Adventurer Tour travel through this area.

  • Hiking and Biking on the Beara Peninsula

    The Beara Peninsula is a magical part of Ireland and it is one of Beyond the Glass Adventure Tours favourite sections of the Wild Atlantic Way. The Peninsula is located on the southwest coast of Ireland. It lies between the Sheep’s Head Peninsula to the south and the Iveragh Peninsula to the North. Here is a little information about Peninsula and a couple of hiking and biking recommendations.

    The name Beara:
    The name ‘Beara’ originates from a time when Kings and Chieftains ruled Ireland. According to legend the king of Ireland Owen Mór lost and got badly injured in a battle against his great rival Conn Céad Cathach (Con of the hundred battles). Owen was nursed back to health on the western tip of Beara. When he had recovered, he readied his ship and crew to set sail on the Atlantic Ocean. He sailed south to the kingdom of Castile in Spain. Here he requested the assistance from the King of Castile to help him win back his lands from Conn Céad Cathach. While in Castile, Owen fell in love with the King’s daughter, Princess Beara. He returned to Ireland, bringing the princess with him. When he won back his lands, he named this region in her honour.

    Cycling in West Cork.
    Cycling in West Cork.

    Hiking on the Beara Peninsula:
    The land here is rugged. There is a line of mountains and hills stretching the length of the Peninsula. It is threaded by trails and quiet country roads and has mile after mile of Atlantic coast line. All of this combined makes it a perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
    The Glengarriff Nature Reserve lies to the north of the town of Glengarriff (Rough Glen). In the reserve there are a range of looped scenic and accessible walks. On these walking trails you will be trekking through native Irish woodlands of Oak, Ash and Holly. Lichens coat the trees and ferns line the streams and rivers. There are rewarding views over the majestic landscape.
    Dursey island is on the western tip of the Beara Peninsula. It the only Island in Ireland that is connected to the mainland by Cable Car. There is an excellent looped walk that runs all around the Island. The trail is signposted and it takes 4 hours to complete the hike. There are no shops or accommodation on the Island. So, bring food and take note of the times of the last Cable Car off the island.
    If you are more adventurous and prefer a challenging hike there are a number of harder hikes. One of the best of these is on the fantastically named Hungry Hill. Hungry Hill is near the village of Adrigole and it is 682 meters high. It can be seen from much of the peninsula and beyond. There are a number of approaches you can take to climb the mountain but care is required as there are some cliff faces that pose a danger. Be prepared for changeable weather. Navigation and compass skills are essential.

    Biking on the Beara Peninsula:
    Castletownbere is the main town on the Peninsula. It is a great location for lunch, dinner and refreshments! West of the town the landscape is rugged and dramatic. The roads are narrower and therefore much quieter and ideal for biking. On leaving Castletownbere turn right on a minor road on the western end of the town. From here the road rises steadily and views of the ocean unfold. After 10 minutes cycling you will arrive at the Derreenataggart Stone Circle. The entrance is marked by a small sign post that can often be obscured by the hedge overgrowth. If you are not looking out for it you could easily pass it by. Irish stone circles date from the bronze age and this one is definitely worth visiting. From the Stone Circle there is a section of beautiful cycling with sweeping bends and adrenaline inducing quick descents. The route re-joins the R572 and continues west. Soon you will reach the Buddhist retreat centre of Dzogchen Beara. The entrance is marked by a number of prayer flags. Visitors are welcome and it is worth calling in to see the amazing setting and have a bite to eat in their café.

    Views from Dzogchen Beara
    Views from Dzogchen Beara

    From here there are two options. You can return the same route to Castletownbere, enjoying the treat of it being almost entirely downhill. For a longer cycle, continue west on the R575 to the village of Allihies, followed by Eyries. The colourful villages of Allihies and Eyries are pretty places to stop along the route. From Eyries return to Castletownbere via the R571. This is a testing but very rewarding cycle.

    Allihies Village, West Cork.
    Allihies Village, West Cork.

    Another great biking option is around Bear Island. Bear Island is a ten-minute ferry journey from the mainland. From Castletownbere cycle east on the R572, 4 Km to the small harbour to board Murphy’s ferry to Bear Island. The ferry lands at the village of Rerrin. Here there is a small shop and café. From Rerrin cycle east to explore the abandoned British Military Batteries. From the Military Batteries you can cycle the length of the island to its western tip. Although the island is hilly, most of the cycling is not too strenuous and any steep sections are easily walked. There are fantastic views out to the Atlantic, across to Sheep’s head and back to the mainland. The island roads are quiet, winding and in the spring and summer they are lined with wild flowers. All of this brings a sense of peace and tranquillity. From the western side of the island you can take a ferry with the Bear Island ferry company which returns to the town of Castletownbere.

    Beyond the Glass Adventure Tours favourite way to explore any region along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, including the Beara peninsula, is through one of our hiking and cycling tours. Our tours get under the skin of Irelands wildness and rugged beauty. If you are interested in joining our guided hiking and cycling tours of Ireland we would be delighted to hear from you. But no matter how you explore or what it is that you are searching for, the Beara Peninsula will not leave you disappointed and will have you longing to return long after you leave.

  • Autumn reflections.

    As Summer turns to Autumn the natural world slows and the preparation for Winter begins. Farmers fill their barns with crops, animals gather and store food for the oncoming winter and trees begin to shed their leaves. This year, as summer passes, I too find myself taking stock. When I set-up Beyond the Glass Adventure Tours, I had the ambition to take people into the Irish outdoors to enjoy the wild beauty and natural wonder that Ireland has to offer and to immerse visitors in the history and culture of Ireland.
    Joining a Beyond the Glass Adventure Tour is a journey into the outdoors, where you will go ‘beyond the glass’ to spectacular off the beaten track locations. You will enjoy activities in breathtakingly beautiful locations along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. On our tours most of the time is spent in the outdoors, be it by the ocean, on a mountainside, on a forest trail or in a National park. The activities are pursuits almost everybody can enjoy – hiking, cycling and boat trips.
    When you take part in a Beyond the Glass Adventure Tour you soon get into a nice rhythm. Each morning after enjoying a leisurely breakfast there is the day’s activity, such as a coastal walk, a mountain hike or a cycle through one of Ireland’s National Parks. This is followed by lunch and a visit to one of the Wild Atlantic Ways signature discovery points, which include castles and other historic sites. Each day includes a drive or a boat trip through magnificent scenery. In the evenings there is time to enjoy local food, a Guinness and traditional Irish music, before you retire for the night to rest for the next day’s adventure.
    Our tours can be an antidote to the busyness of today’s world; although they do not completely avoid it, you will come to some busier places where you will encounter tourist vying to take selfies. But the tours are designed to maximise time spent outside, give the richest experience of Ireland and take place in off the beaten track locations.
    Importantly, while participating on our tours there are no penalties for taking your time. If you move slower and end up at the back of the group; this gives you the landscape to yourself and more time to soak up the views. If a person is delayed getting to the tour vehicle or a boat does not leave at exactly the correct time, It’s no problem, it’s Irish time, it’s your vacation time. An example of this occurred during day 7 of a 2019 8 Day adventure tour. The day began with an hour’s drive from Roundstone to Connemara National Park. While on the drive and within a few miles of our destination we came upon a traffic jam (A traffic jam deep in Connemara on a Sunday morning is not a regular occurrence). We soon learned the cause of the traffic jam was a minor car accident. There was no one injured but before we could progress the cars had to be cleared from the road, which we were told would take 15 minutes. Our wait ended up being closer to 2 hours. I wanted this day, like all days of the tour, to run smoothly and the participants not to be inconvenienced. I was a little concerned about the impact of the delay, but I had no need to worry. Yes, there was slight impatience and occasionally I was asked how long more the wait would be, but in the main everyone was relaxed. During the wait some chatted with locals who were also caught up in the traffic jam, some took a nap in the bus and others walked the roads and enjoyed the colourful hedgerows. By now the participants had spent 6 days on vacation in the outdoors and were more in tune with the rhythms of nature rather than man made clocks. They were not put out, It was another experience on their journey through outdoor Ireland. After we got moving the day continued with a slightly altered plan.

    We live in a time when the speed of life seems to have changed, shifted-up through the gears to super quick. It can feel frantic with ever changing work targets, news feeds that change hourly and Instagram changing by the second. Constantly evolving technology can feel unavoidable as its incorporated into our lives. But we can go ‘beyond the glass’ of the office PC, the office window and the screen of our device and step outside to spend time in nature. Time in nature can be a grounding experience and allow us to sync with the rhythm of the natural world, where the earth still takes 24 hours to complete one revolution and ~365 days to circle the Sun, and the lunar cycle continues to cause the ebb and flow of the tides. Perhaps with each venture to the outdoors we may gain a little more awareness and when we return to our busy worlds, we may move a little slower and steadier. Each Beyond the Glass Adventure Tour is a unique venture into the wilds of Ireland. Maybe you will come join me on one of these adventures soon?