Commune with nature in Ireland’s National Parks
The six National Parks of Ireland (www.npws.ie) are an environmental treasure. They are not just scenic wonders and important tourist attractions, but also social and historical hubs for natural heritage, conservation and economic development. Yet some of them are overlooked by visitors. How many of Ireland’s national parks have you visited?
Managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Environment, the six parks comprise 1.5 per cent of the total land mass of Ireland. They are also governed by international standards laid down by the International Union of Nature Conservation, to preserve the extensive natural plant and animal communities and scenic areas. Containing rare plant, animal and marine species, they are also protected under the EU habitats directive. Here is a round-up of the six Irish national parks:
Killarney National Park – the most popular member of Ireland’s national park system is in Co. Kerry. A 26,000-acre area of pristine lakes, woodlands and mountains, it is a natural magnet for artists, photographers, poets and tourists. The focal point of the park is the world-famous Lakes of Killarney, flanked by the McGillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, and Torc Waterfall, 60 feet of cascading waters.
The woodlands thrive in a luxuriant medley of oak, birch, yew, ash, cedar, and juniper. Smaller flora include holly, fern, rhododendron, and arbutus (the strawberry tree), Killarney’s native plant. Red deer, black Kerry cattle, and other animals roam freely while over a hundred species of bird fly overhead.
For the human species, there are at least four sign-posted nature trails and countless garden-rimed walks and paths including a Cherry Tree walk. It is a “green zone” in the truest sense. Man-made attractions in the park include Muckross House & Gardens, a splendid 20-room Victorian mansion built in 1843; Muckross Abbey, the ruins of a friary founded in the 1440’s; and Ross Castle, a 15th century fortress.
Wicklow Mountains National Park – is the only one of Ireland’s national parks on the east coast of the island. With 49,421-acres, it extends over most of County Wicklow and contains large areas of mountains, lakes, rivers and blanket bogs. The open vistas are interrupted only by forestry plantations and the winding mountain roads.
Fast-flowing streams descend into the deep lakes of the wooded valleys and continue their course into the surrounding lowlands. The most visited area is the scenic Glendalough Valley where the 6th century monastic settlement of St. Kevin is located, and the Glendalough Wood Nature Reserve provides protection for the landscape and wildlife, from rare orchids to the peregrine falcon.
The Burren National Park – Often referred to as Ireland’s rock desert, this park is part of an amazing 100-square-mile barren area like a lunar landscape, occupying part of western Co. Clare. Massive sheets of rock, craggy boulders and potholes are visible for miles in an almost moonscape-style pattern, yet this area is also a setting for pocket lakes and streams, set amid hills, turloughs, valleys and mountains, as well as an vast assemblage of wildlife and greenery.