Dervla James Conlon lives in Easkey, Co Sligo, where she runs the café and grocer Pudding Row (puddingrow.ie)
“Poll Gorm is our local sea swimming pool, and it’s just beautiful. It’s not always visible, which is what I love about it — you can drive or walk the coast road when the tide is in, and you’d have absolutely no idea that it’s there. If you time it right, when the tide is out, the sea has basically been pared back, and deposited seawater in this pool.
“When I was a child, it was just a valley of stones and seaweed. But the locals have rebuilt the wall, and since then it’s become my favourite place. I honestly feel it’s the most beautiful part of Easkey. I can see my house from there, and it just embodies home for me. The smell of the seaweed always reminds me of home.
“There’s also a lovely walk called the Laundry Walk. It leads to the river, and it’s where the women would wash all of their laundry, back in the day. It’s a very short walk, but it’s beautiful. There’s wilderness either side of you, with hedgerows, wild garlic and primroses everywhere. In the summertime, it’s buzzing with bees and flowers.
“Even the sea road itself is gorgeous. It’s completely untouched, in a nice way. On a sunny day, you can see right over to Slieve League, Benbulben and Knocknarea. After Easkey Castle, there’s a really lovely cliff walk. You’d have to be very careful doing so, but you can follow it right along the coast up to Dromore West. You just feel so free over there… there are no electric fences, no walls. You’re just walking over these wide, open cliffs.
“What I love about Easkey is that it’s beautiful in all extremes. When the water is wild and crazy and spraying white foam all over the place, it’s beautiful. And when it’s calm and still, it’s also beautiful. The sea has always been a big part of my life. I didn’t appreciate it when I was growing up, but since I’ve returned, it’s been my saving grace. I feel so lucky.”
Cliodhna Prendergast is a writer and photographer who lives in Ballynahinch
“Roundstone is the place that tends to get busy, as everyone hits the more popular beaches of Gurteen and Dog’s Bay. But there are so many other places to go — you’d never ever be stuck for a quiet beach in Connemara. Even on Gurteen Bay, it’s only the car park that’s busy — there are three sections to the beach, but there’s never anyone on the last one. At Mannin Bay, you can walk for miles to the left. It could be the middle of August, but you’d get to a beach out there where you wouldn’t see a single person.
“Right along the coast, practically every little road you drive down leads to the sea. Often, our swimming group would swim on Bunowen Beach on a Saturday morning, and there’s a fish market right there on the pier. They do everything — fresh turbot, brill, scallops… the lobster is still in the water at the beginning of the market, and the fisherman just lifts it right out for you.
“Another beautiful beach for a swim is Glassilaun, up on the Renvyle peninsula. There’s a beautiful little green island right in front of the beach, and the drive to get there is lovely, too. You’ve got the sea and the cliffs all the way around you, and you drive right alongside the lake. The mountains come right down to the lakeshore, and it’s jaw- dropping.”
“There are loads of little food trucks starting up now, with more popping up even in the last month. Dooncastle Oysters (facebook.com/pg/Dooncastle-oysters) has started a fish truck on the lake at Kylemore, where you can get fish and chips and oysters, of course. There’s another fish and chip truck in Kilkieran that’s been there all winter, and it’s absolutely amazing. The portions of fish are huge — one between two people would almost be enough. There’s another little food truck in Roundstone, called Good Stuff Roundstone (@goodstuffroundstone). It’s a great spot, because the restaurants will be jammers in the summer.”
Kris Goodbody is the co-founder of the adventure company Big Style (bigstyle.ie), and lives near its Atlantic Lodge in Killadoon
“The further you get from Louisburgh, the emptier the beaches are. You’ve got all these little gems along the way. A friend of ours started Horse Back West (@horsebackwest), taking people on adventurous horse rides out on the beaches. You set off from the seaside stables and ride down through a couple of fields to White Strand beach, which is empty. You can go down the beach for a few kilometres, right to the mouth of Killary Fjord, which is just incredible. I’ve gotten into horse riding because of them.
“Mweelrea Mountain, which is the highest in Connacht, is a gorgeous hike. On the southern side of it, you’re looking down at the Twelve Bens, all the way to Connemara. To the north, you’ve got Croagh Patrick and the sweep of the bay towards Achill Island. It’s incredible.
“There’s a lake called Doo Lough, and it looks just like a glacial valley. It’s surrounded by these huge hills that form a ring around it. The views are spectacular, and there are loads of waterfalls coming down it. You’ll never find anyone else up there.
“The White Strand is a great hidden gem. Silver Strand is reasonably well known, and well sign-posted. But just before that turn, you’ll find a handwritten signpost that leads you to White Strand. At the end, you’ll find a giant stretch of white sand with a 200-year old shipwreck. You have to wade through a small river to get onto the beach, which goes up and down with the tide… you either have to roll your trousers up to your knees, or take them off!
“There’s a really cool thing going on down here at the moment, with horseboxes being converted into coffee trucks. There’s one set up in Killeen village on the weekends, called Melody’s Brew (@melodysbrew). She’s from Cross Village and she does coffee and cakes, and it’s just perfect. It was something that was simply never there before.”
South Donegal/North Sligo
Conor Maguire is a big-wave surfer who lives in Bundoran. Last October, he surfed Ireland’s biggest wave in Mullaghmore
“My favourite spot is up around Slieve League. We went kayaking around there a while back, and it was amazing. We just stuck the kayaks in the water at Teelin Pier. The coast there is just magical — we were right under the huge cliffs, which was crazy. You definitely feel pretty small. There were loads of sea caves along the way, which would be inaccessible if you didn’t have a kayak. It was quite special — not that many people would have been there before. The cliffs are quite textured, and there’s loads of heather growing, which changes colour with the seasons. There’s a bit of swell, and if the wind’s blowing it can be a bit of a struggle. But if the wind’s light, it’s just dreamy.
“I think the wave quality here in Bundoran is probably one of the best in Europe, if not the world. It’s incredible. Mullaghmore in Sligo is its own little paradise, too. When the waves are good there, it’s probably one of the top five big wave spots in the world. The place is steeped in history. There’s the castle perched on the headland, and it’s pretty idyllic.
“That whole bit of coastline is stunning. People often do the loop road that goes around the Mullaghmore headland, and it’s a beautiful cliff walk. But there’s a bit of coast down in front of the castle that you can walk along. Nobody really goes down there, but it’s just stunning. You have the best views of Slieve League and there’s no one around, it’s a paradise. You can just dander along the little coastal path, happy out.
“Bundoran has turned a corner, and there are so many great cafés all of a sudden. There’s The Salty Fox (@thesaltyfoxcoffeeshop) up at Tullan Strand, which does really good coffee, classic toasties and fries. One of my really good friends Noah Lane, a professional surfer from Australia, opened a café here with two other friends called Foam (foambundoran.com). It’s right beside the surf shop where I learned to surf, and it’s epic. They do really good food, like veggie ‘sausage’ rolls, dhal, pulled pork sandwiches. They specialise in coffee, too.”
Dee Kelly lives in Fethard-on-Sea, where she runs the café Grálinn (@_gralinn_)
“We’re on a little peninsula on the tip of Wexford, called Fethard-on-Sea. There’s rugged landscape all around the peninsula, and it’s wild and beautiful. I don’t know why, but it’s always blessed with good weather. In the summer, we tend to have the lowest rainfall and the bluest skies.
“There’s a beautiful walk around Hook Lighthouse, though that’s where it gets the busiest. But people don’t necessarily know that there’s a beach road walk along the coast, where you can walk right along the cliffs from Carnivan to Baginbun. There’s a loop that brings you right back to the village, and it’s really beautiful. One half of the walk is on the road but surrounded by fields and strawberry beds, then the other half is right on the coast. It’s one of my favourite walks.
“There are several walks that stem off from Tintern Abbey, too. There’s a great loop called the Bannow Bay Trail, which takes you down right by the sea along part of the Wexford coastal path. There’s a bar halfway through the walk, The Vine Cottage Bar (vinecottagebar.ie), where you can stop for a pint and refuel. It’s a really nice spot — a proper country pub. It’s very cosy, and they do nice food, too.
“There are just so many nooks and crannies along the coast — you’re spoiled for gorgeous beaches. They’re all beautiful and wild, but I love Dollar Bay. The sun sets right in front of the beach, so that would be my favourite for an evening stroll. It’s set in a bit of a cove, which is why I like it — there are cliffs coming out from either side, so the water is so clear. That’s the one I’d go to most for a swim. On some beaches, you’re walking out for miles before you’ve gotten to the sea, but not here. It’s perfect for swimming.
“The more popular beach is Baginbun and it is beautiful, with really yellow sand, and there are yoga classes (livinoffthehook.com) held on the beach during the week. It’s a beautiful setting, then everyone goes for a dip at the end of class.
“I like to take a picnic down to Slade Harbour, on the tip of the peninsula. It’s on the big looped walk around Hook Head, and there are loads of spots to hunker down. A lot of people call into the café and take their coffee and a doughnut down to the harbour, sit there and have a picnic then go for a bit of a walk on the beach afterwards.”
Nadine Reid is a TV presenter who recently moved from Dublin to the village of Ramelton, in northern Donegal
“I did a lovely walk recently, from Rathmullan beach up to Rathmullan House. It’s called Batt’s Walk. There’s a bit of a secret garden, foresty vibe — there are lots of different things happening along the way. You see all these houses that look like they should be in the Hamptons, these beautiful glass-fronted homes in the hills. And the shells… I’ve never seen a beach with such endless shells.
“I went to visit the Highland cows in Mullaghderg (@myhighlandfold) and that was my most magical Donegal moment so far. Literally, tears came to my eye, they’re just stunning… I’ve never known something so big could be so peaceful.
“My favourite beach at the moment is Dunfanaghy. To me, it’s the cold Caribbean. The water looks unreal, but it feels damn cold! I haven’t adapted to the temperature of the water yet, but it looks stunning. When you first walk through the entrance, it feels like the parting of the seas. Then when you walk round to the left, it almost feels like a secret beach. You feel like you’re in a completely different place. For that one moment, you can just drift away.
“If I do fancy a takeaway, there are two places that I really like. Johnny’s Ranch (@johnnysranchramelton) does the best fish and chips I’ve ever had — he gets his fish from Killybegs, too. He’s won loads of awards, and he’s such a lovely wee man, so friendly. His family even sent me a bottle of champagne and flowers when I moved in.
“There’s another food truck called Foodie Campers (@foodiecampers), and it does incredible fish tacos. I can’t believe it’s all on my doorstep — I thought I’d have access to nothing.
“My favourite coffee is from Bambi and Bean (@bambi.and.bean). It’s run by a young lad called Matthew, who has his own truck that his dad drives in every morning. He does the best coffee and he always promotes other local businesses — he has local juices, vegan hot sauce, cakes and buns from local bakeries. He always has a little something extra, and there are always queues of people there.”
Tom Edwards is a musician and co-founder of Stone Valley Roasters (stonevalleyroasters.com) in Clonakilty. He lives in Rosscarbery
“A couple of weeks ago, myself and my wife decided to start driving west, on a bit of a hunt to find beaches that weren’t your typical choices. We found a couple of really nice ones, in the Castletownshend direction. On the way to Skibbereen, there’s a beautiful beach called Tragumna.
“We found another one out in Union Hall, called Squince, which is a pretty odd name. But it’s a beautiful beach — perfect for swimming and kayaking. It’s isolated and pretty sheltered, so the water is crystal clear. The past four times I’ve been out there, the water has just been perfect for leaping into. It overlooks Rabbit Island, which has wild sheep and horses living on it. My current goal is to eventually kayak over there — it has its own little beach, so it would be incredible.
“As soon as you drive out west, you find so many beaches. That’s the thing with West Cork — it still blows me away just how many beaches there are, and cool little spots you can discover.
“There’s a food truck called Craft at the Celtic Ross Hotel (celticrosshotel.com) in Rosscarbery. They do amazing food, and they sell our coffee, too. They have different specials on every day, and they do themed food weeks as well, with things like Japanese pancakes or Middle Eastern tagines. It’s just across the road from the Warren, so it’s a great spot after a walk.”
Andrew Malcolm is a forager and walking guide who lives in Lismore
“Caliso Bay is a little cove that you probably wouldn’t know about unless someone told you. It’s a lovely beach on its own, but if you’re intrepid and wanted to go across the rocks, there are private little beaches further along the shore. There are raven nests too, and a good selection of wild, edible plants like scurvy grass, which is very rich in vitamin C, and tastes just like wasabi. There’s plenty of rock samphire and sea rocket, too.
“I have a kind of affinity with Caliso Bay, in that I almost always see otters when I get there. It’s a very good place to spot them. I do whale watching tours along the Waterford coast, and I’ve seen otters three miles out to sea with the whales, which is strange.
“Another little beach further up towards Ardmore is Goat Island, which is a tiny little cove where some of the locals go sea swimming. There are a few nutcases in Ardmore who go swimming every day of the year, and did so before it became fashionable! That’s a lovely little spot.
“There’s another beach just around the corner from Ardmore called Curragh Strand, which was my serenity spot. I always went there after finishing a day’s work, doing my foraging for the Cliff House Hotel. Ardmore has become a little more popular over the last few years, but if I used to go even in the height of summer, it would be unusual to see anyone else there. There are a few more people around now, so it’s not just my beach any more.
“There’s a very special little cove, between Ardmore and Dungarvan, called Ballymacart Cove. The road to get there is incredibly winding, it feels like it must have been a smuggler’s cove at some stage.”