By Jessica Hergert
Last week, I got into a cab and met a woman whose love for her country was equally as beautiful as the landscape surrounding me.
She laughed and said, “We’ve truly got 50 shades of green in Ireland,” in an attempt to gauge my sense of humor. I laughed back, and we continued to discuss her life in Ireland.
She spoke with such pride for her heritage — and the land that held Irish culture — that I began to understand the significance a landscape has on a country.
I started to think back on the past four months I had spent traveling around the Emerald Isle, and I realized that my favorite memories resulted from the country’s beautiful scenery.
I have always been enamored by the outdoors and, more recently, with conquering mountains that seem to reach the sky. I wanted to not only see, but be immersed in the Ireland landscape.
From rocky coastlines and landlocked bogs to tall, stretching mountains and flat farmland filled with sheep, Ireland has every kind of landscape, always within a 30-minute drive.
In my first few weeks abroad, I went to the town of Howth. Surrounding the little peninsula was a scenic cliff walk where I was able to trek along the most amazing, yet slightly scary, cliffs.
That was the first day I knew that Ireland’s landscapes were what I would love most about the country.
In the following weeks, I took day trips around the island and saw sights I never dreamed of seeing. I was always amazed by the lushness of the green even in the dead of winter. Flowers bloomed in early February and, although it was cold and rainy, the Earth seemed more vibrant.
As the weather got warmer, I had decided to venture out on my first hike: a decently sized mountain route called Great Sugarloaf Mountain in County Wicklow.
Sugarloaf was a misleading name; the mountain was anything but a piece of cake. It was a scramble to the peak, as I fought against cold wind and struggled to find footing on the slippery rock face.
Despite my screaming legs, reaching the peak was a feeling unlike any other. I was proud of what I had accomplished, not only during the hike but in coming to Ireland. It finally felt real.
Naturally, I wanted that feeling again so I set out to do more hiking in the mountains of Ireland.
The Coomloughra Horseshoe is located in County Kerry in the south of Ireland. It’s a 7.6-mile loop that stretches over seven mountain peaks including Ireland’s tallest mountain, Carrauntoohil, standing 3,406 feet above sea level.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started the trail. It was by far the most difficult thing I had ever done but also the most rewarding. I was lucky to hike on the sunniest day Ireland had seen this year, so no clouds were able to block the spectacular views from the mountain peaks.
When I got off the trail I noticed I had actually gotten a -sunburn. The same cabbie who made the “50 shades of green” reference couldn’t help but laugh at my lobster-like face because nobody says “I got sunburnt in Ireland.”
My final hike in Ireland was truly unique. I decided to hike Croagh Patrick, a 2,507-foot-tall Christian pilgrimage in County Mayo.
Although I am not particularly religious, Croagh Patrick really was something of a spiritual experience, especially because I decided to hike the day before Easter Sunday.
The hike was tough, but I had nothing to complain about as I watched people climb the steep and rocky mountain face in their bare feet, the traditional way to complete the pilgrimage.
As my time in Ireland winds down, I am humbled by what I have had the pleasure of experiencing. There is something special about the land here and I think, in my exploration of it, I have become connected to the Irish culture in a way I did not expect.
Published in the 4/19/17 edition.