10 Sites To Visit Before You Die
Ireland is fortunate enough that it still retains many sites that have unique character and support important elements of Ireland’s biodiversity. Picking a top ten was an extremely difficult process as there are so many sites to choose from, each with its own unique features. Nonetheless, here are Biodiversity Ireland’s suggestions for 10 sites that we think should be on anyone’s ‘bucket list’ who wants to experience the best of Ireland’s biodiversity.
The limestone uplands of the Burren, Co. Clare is an extraordinary landscape of remarkable wildlife value. Here the combination of thin soils and extensive livestock grazing support wonderful species-rich grasslands, and many species are found here that occur nowhere else in Ireland. Also, plants grow here in combinations that are found nowhere else on earth. It has a stunning diversity of insect life too. It is an area one could spend a lifetime exploring (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Sheskinmore, Co. Donegal
Sheskinmore, north-west of Ardara, is a wonderfully site, mainly owned by the State for nature conservation. The combination of sand dunes, dune grassland, lake, marsh and small patches of scrub make this an extremely diverse site, and of enormous nature conservation value. In summer the grasslands here support a bewildering variety of plants, in particular orchids, and supports good populations of insects, including marsh fritillary butterfly. In winter, the area supports thousands of wildfowl and waders that have arrived in Ireland from northern latitudes to winter here. A visit to this wild and beautiful site will reward you with an unforgettable experience (Photograph: Alan Watson).
River Shannon at Clonmacnoise
The River Shannon is one of the last remaining relatively untamed rivers in Western Europe. Its natural flow supports an immensely important freshwater and riparian biodiversity, including many species and habitats that are protected under nature conservation laws because of the rarity across Europe. The broad floodplain at Clonmacnoise, with patches of remaining seasonally flooded grasslands (or callows), species-rich esker grasslands and adjacent to some of the most important remaining raised bogs, makes this a special place (Photograph: Alamy).
Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry
It is little wonder that Killarney is one of Ireland’s premier tourist hotspots, for the surrounding landscape, dominated by the rugged uplands of the MacGillycuddy Reeks and the Lakes of Killarney, is stunning. The luxuriant native woodlands here are often considered Ireland’s rainforest, for the mild and extremely moist climate, and the pure air here creates conditions ideal for mosses and lichens to flourish. Many species with a southern European distribution occur here, and it is also home to the last of Ireland’s native red deer populations (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Lough Hyne, Co. Cork
Lough Hyne, located just outside Skibbereen, was Ireland’s first marine nature reserve and has been well studied. The deep inlet is almost landlocked, separated from the open sea by a narrow channel, which greatly restricts water flow and keeps tidal fluctuation to about 1m. For such a relatively small area, the lough support an extremely diverse marine life, including healthy populations of many species which are rare or absent from other coastal areas. Snorkelling or diving (which can only be done under permit) is a magical experience (Photograph: Alamy).
Bull Island, Dublin
Bull Island, which lies on the doorstep of Dublin city centre, is one of Ireland’s key biodiversity sites. The 5km long sand bank created following the construction of the Bull Wall in 1825, and the extensive salt marsh combine to provide a refuge for thousands of wildfowl and waders in winter, and specialised plant and insect communities in summer. Bull Island is afforded more environmental designations than any other site in Ireland, and has been extensively studied. Having such an important biodiversity site on the doorstep of the capital city, makes this a very, very special site (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Mannin Bay, Co. Galway
Mannin Bay, in west Connemara, is an area of stunning beauty and rich in biodiversity. Here the extensive blanket bogs of Connemara give way to rich coastal grasslands, which are a product of low-intensive grazing by livestock. The grasslands burst into a riot of colour as the flowering plants emerge each spring, and these wonderful grasslands in turn support an abundant and diverse insect life. Some of Ireland’s rarer birds are also to be found here. The exposed shoreline at low tide, hints at the fabulous marine diversity of the shallow coastal waters (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
River Barrow, Co. Carlow
The River Barrow is the second longest river in Ireland. It is navigable from Athy to St. Mullins, and an old tow path runs along this stretch making access easy. The river flows through the rich pastoral landscape of the south-east, and the entire length of the river valley has a fantastic natural and cultural heritage. Between Ballyteigelea and Clashganny in County Carlow, where the river flows along a wooded valley, the river is at its finest. Clear slow-flowing water, luxuriant riverside vegetation and fantastic oak woodlands make this like no other place in Ireland, or perhaps in western Europe (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Brackloon Wood, Co. Mayo
Brackloon Wood is small native woodland in Co. Mayo, to the east of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. This area has had a continuous woodland cover extending right back to when woodland first blanketed Ireland after the last ice age. Subject to moist Atlantic air for most to the year, the native sessile oak, birch, ash, wych elm and holly trees are cloaked in a remarkably rich growth of mosses and lichens. Given its historic and scientific interest, the native woodland is being restored, and a walk in the woods here, is like taking a step back in history. Perhaps a site that will appeal more to the specialist, but an immensely important site nonetheless.(Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Clara Bog is one of the best remaining example of an active raised bog in Ireland, a habitat that was once extensive across the midlands but almost all of which has been damaged or destroyed. These dome-shaped bogs are fragile environments, but the provision of a board walk allows visitors to walk onto the wet bog and see at close quarters the living peatland’s hummocks, hollows and wet flushes, and all the wonderful plants that have adopted to living in this specialised environment. There are few places so unique in western Europe as Clara Bog, and is a wonderful example of excellent nature conservation work (Photograph: Liam Lysaght).