In Ireland, you walk for many reasons. You walk to the store for milk when the carton is empty and the kettle is boiled. You walk to the pub, where friends that know your order are waiting. And sometimes, when you’re standing in the harbor of an island off the coast of County Mayo, you walk to reach the lighthouse.
On an overcast July day, after a feast of a seafood lunch, my husband and I set out from the harbor of Clare Island for a long walk to the lighthouse. It was a quiet walk with few other people and only a car or two. We passed wildflowers of every color, a couple curious horses that were happy to be fed long strands of grass, and plenty of comical sheep dotting the hillsides. The only thing we had to do for that afternoon was walk, at whatever pace we pleased, and be back to the lighthouse in time for dinner.
This experience formed the beginning of my recent cover story for the New York Times: Keeping the Fire of Irish Lighthouses Alive. During my trip to Ireland over the summer I went to two places I had never been before: Clare Island off the coast of County Mayo and Fanad Head, at the far northern reaches of County Donegal. We slept in former lighthouse keepers’ quarters and got to catch a glimpse into their lives, listening to storms at the edge of the Atlantic.
In 2015, a trail of lighthouses in Ireland called the Great Lighthouses of Ireland launched. It showcases 12 gorgeous lighthouses all around the coast — each is worthy of inspiring a trip. One of the questions I’m asked most about Ireland is how to get off the beaten path. Each of these lighthouses leads the way beyond places tourists regularly visit. The journey to reach them is half the fun; expect narrow roads, cozy pubs, and traffic jams caused by herds of slow moving sheep. It’s exactly the Ireland most travelers dream of finding.