David R. Gluns/Tourism Ireland
I’m exactly one-fourth Irish but never had an urge to find the original homestead in the Old Country. “Probably a shack, no plumbing,” Granny had always told me, shaking her head. “Thatched. No heat.”
I eventually explored the Greek side of my heritage, visiting sun-kissed isles such as Mykonos and Santorini. But then I began reading books on architecture and interior design and fell in love with iconic Irish piles such as Lismore Castle and Russborough House. Perhaps a visit to the Irish motherland was finally in order. Besides, it would be fun to try something different from my usual summertime go-to, aka the glorious English countryside. Why not sample something a bit more active? So I signed up for a walking and hiking tour of western Ireland with Backroads.
The Emerald Isle adventures kicked off in Dublin with a few days at the Westbury Hotel (great dining and shopping, heaps of walking) followed by tours of the aforementioned 18th-century country estates. Wow—the sprawling interiors! The gardens!
I headed south to Cork to meet the Backroads folks, a mix of 20 Americans and Canadians ranging in age from mid-40s to late-60s. We made introductions and set off to Caragh Lake in the Ring of Kerry for a warm-up hike in the rain. Be forewarned: Ireland isn’t sun-kissed Provence; it rained torrentially at least daily on my trip. But that’s why the country is so impossibly lush and verdant.
Despite the inclement weather, we persevered, walking up mountains, ogling endless just-shorn sheep, wandering through candy-colored villages and savoring tales recounted by our occasional local guide, Mike Murphy. We also enjoyed the massive national park that envelops hikercentric Killarney, traipsed through moss-covered bogs and concocted limericks with bawdy punch lines.
I sat out a walk or two to read and take stock, and that was absolutely fine—Backroads caters to every whim. Luggage travels miraculously from one country house hotel to another. Communal dinners are sumptuous, multicourse affairs (Irish cooking is innovative and inspired!), and picnics in the hills are worthy of Martha Stewart.
After five days, I had hiked 40-odd miles and had had a few personal epiphanies while clomping about in the mud. And I resolved to return to this magical isle, rain be damned. Sadly, Granny is no longer with us, so she couldn’t point me toward the ancestral potato patch in Connemara, but never mind.