The International Appalachian Trail (IAT) Ulster-Ireland, which runs from the spectacular West Donegal to the stunning North Coast in County Antrim, is the newest addition to one of the world’s largest walking trail networks. In 1994 the idea to continue a trail along the remnants of the Appalachian-Caledonian Mountains across the political border into Canada was proposed and the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) was born. The Ulster-Ireland Chapter of the International Appalachian Trail was officially launched in 2013 and measures approximately 279 miles/449km. The new phase of the route starts at Bunglas Viewpoint close to spectacular Slieve League and passes through the Bluestack Mountains in County Donegal before crossing the border into Northern Ireland at Kelly’s Bridge.
Here the route picks up the Ulster Way where it takes through the rural landscapes of Tyrone and the Sperrins, as well as taking in the much loved Ulster American Folk Park – itself a shrine to the lasting connection between Ulster and America.
Past The Sperrins the IAT Ulster-Ireland runs north onto the world-famous Giant’s Causeway Coast and the stunning North Antrim coastline before traversing the Glens of Antrim and finishing at the port of Larne.
The walk can be completed from either direction but is most often done west to east. To get to the starting point in Donegal, it is a 3-hour journey from Belfast or 4 hours from Dublin.
As Ireland’s only coast-to-coast walk, the 279-mile route includes a great choice of long and short-distance walks, taking in every terrain you could wish for. Walkers will discover historic monuments, dramatic coastlines, rugged mountains, areas of outstanding natural beauty; and a World Heritage Site, all with geological links to the Appalachian Mountains. Points of interest include Slieve League, Bluestack Mountains, Lough Eske, Killeter Forest, Sperrin Mountains, the Causeway Coast, and the Glens of Antrim.
The route starts at Bunglas Viewpoint at the spectacular Slieve League and passes through the Bluestack Mountains in County Donegal. From the Slieve League cliffs, the trail continues through Donegal, crossing the birthplace of an Irish saint: Columba. The trail brings hikers down from the cliffs to the sandy beaches of Silver Strand and Maghera. At Glencolumbkille walkers can take in the Folk Village, a living history museum that provides an insight into rural Ireland during the previous centuries.
Both history and beauty await you, as the journey continues through Donegal’s Bluestack Mountains. Here you’ll discover the remains of an ancient 6th-century Christian settlement and as you head north you pass through the stunning English Valley, home to the scenic Lough Eske.
Lough Eske is worthy of a feature by itself. Despite its small size, its history is extensive. The powerful Ó Domhnaill clan once had a castle on the aptly named Island O’Donnell, which often held prisoners of the clan. It served as a refuge for Catholic friars after the Friary in Donegal Town was destroyed. It also is home to one of the few remaining ‘Famine Pots’, to which nationalities from all over the world donated food during the Great Famine. This includes the Choctaw Nation, Native Americans who themselves were suffering great hardship at the time.
The Ulster American Folk Park
At the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone, you can relive the story of Ulster families searching for new lives in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of America.
As the route continues through the epic Gortin Glen Forest Park, you head north bringing you to Ireland’s largest mountain range, the Sperrin Mountains. Here majestic beauty and rugged wilderness collide to produce truly stunning results.
Causeway Coastal Route
At the end of the Sperrin Mountains, the route begins to drop down along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route. Here you’ll pass Mussenden Temple, built on the cliff edge in 1785.
The locals' ancestors must have quite literally loved living on the edge of life because a short detour from the route leads you to another cliff edge phenomenon in the form of Dunluce Castle. This medieval castle is perched on the edge of a crumbling cliff, above pounding waves. It’s easy to see why it provided the inspiration for Antrim author C.S. Lewis to create the castle of Cair Paravel in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Proceed along the Antrim coast and you reach the stunning geological wonder of the Giant’s Causeway. After the Giant’s Causeway, you’ll reach another one of Northern Ireland’s finest attractions, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
About the IAT Ulster-Ireland
The initiative is part of a cross-border project funded by the Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020 and is part-funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the European Union. In the Republic of Ireland, the project is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development delivered by Donegal Local Development CLG, on behalf of Donegal Local Community Development Committee in partnership with Donegal County Council through grant aid received under The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development in Ireland 2014 - 2020 “Europe investing in rural areas”.
Recent updates to the route include installed pieces of art, new trail furniture and updated information panels, and improved facilities at many locations. All of the artwork being added to the route has been designed by local artists and sculptors. The piece below is titled ‘Recycled Seat’, created by Redmond Herrity. It acts as a functional sculpture by providing a place to sit, while interpretation can range from the comical to a serious recognition of environmental challenges.
Recently, work has progressed on a sculpture which will be placed at the Ulster American Folk Park, the interactive museum chronicling Ulster’s historic emigration relationship with America. Titled ‘Murmuration’, the sculpture draws inspiration from the patterns of migrating birds as a comment on the experience of human migration. The shapes are derived from the words of the people who have made the journey.”
It is hoped the investment in the IAT Ulster–Ireland will generate a significant level of interest in visiting the trail and encourage people to take the next step of the International Appalachian Trail. For more information about booking your clients on the IAT Ulster-Ireland, visit www.iatulsterireland.com