Ireland is a country whose environment is a part of its soul. Glaciers have cut its valleys and rain gives way to sunshine, bringing verdant pastures and sprouting forests. Torrentially swept cliffsides are witness to the apathetic currents of both wind and ocean. Ireland's environment is what makes the country appealing, diverse, and magnificent.
About 300 million years ago, Ireland was not in its current position. The island was actually a desertlike mass in line with North Africa. With the shifting and movement of Earth's tectonic masses, Ireland drifted north. Over the subsequent 250 million years, it settled in its current position on the globe.
Measuring roughly 500km (310 miles) in length and 300km (185 miles) in width, Ireland is an astonishingly multifarious land where one lush valley is replaced with craggy landscape. Nowhere is this more apparent than in County Clare and the lunar landscape of the Burren. The area looks barren to the untrained eye, but a myriad of plants found nowhere else in Europe call the place home. Equally noted for their sublime perilousness are the nearby Cliffs of Moher, and to the north, the Slieve League of Donegal, followed by the gargantuan columns of the Giant's Causeway.
Geologically speaking, Ireland is a relatively flat island surrounded by a ring of mountains, the most prominent formations being in the southwest. Ranges vary from granite, limestone, and basalt, among other elements. A good portion of the plains is made up of swaths of bog, an acidic wetland of peat.
Trees are not as abundant as they once were in Ireland; birch, beach, and oak once covered the rolling hills. The Killarney National Park is home to a wonderful oak forest. The Avondale Forest Park in Wicklow or the Castlewellan Forest Park in Down are both fine examples of working arboretums. In Cork City, Fota Island offers wonderful nature-based adventures.
Impressive in their own right, hiking Ireland's mountains is a worthwhile adventure. The highest peak is County Kerry's 1039m (3,409 feet) Carrantuohill, located in the Macgillycuddy's Reeks range. Other ranges of note are the Twelve Bens in the Maumturks range of Connemara, the Derryveagh Mountains and Bluestack Mountains of County Donegal, the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, and the Sperrin and Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland.
Ireland's Bog Lands
Ireland's umber-colored quagmire regions make up over 20 percent of the country's landmass. The bog is viewable in the midlands and also in the hinterlands of Counties Kildare, Cork, and especially Counties Mayo and Donegal. In various regions, the peat is cut, dried, and burned in fires.
Surprisingly, Ireland has an array of flora and fauna that makes it a true anomaly in Europe. Ireland's position makes it favorable for all sorts of plant varieties to exist, including the cliff-topping sea campion and the bog-loving water lobelia and bogbean that sprout lovely white flowers. Alpine, Arctic, and Mediterranean varieties thrive in the Burren.
Gardens throughout the country display the island's diversity to visitors. The most impressive are Mount Stewart House in Northern Ireland, National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, and the Mount Usher Gardens and Powerscourt Gardens, both in County Wicklow. Another impressive collection can be visited on Garnish Island (Ilnacullin), a microclimate hosting an exotic garden of ornamental plants in County Cork.
An assemblage of fauna abounds in Ireland. In the Aran Islands, for instance, gray seals call the Atlantic waters home. Otters can be observed in the rivers, lakes, and most often in the rocky surface waters along the coasts. For animals of the larger variety, red deer have been reintroduced into the Connemara National Park, are abundant in the Killarney National Park, and the Glenveagh National Park. Hill walking throughout the countryside, you are sure to spot rabbits, including the swift Irish hare, along with the occasional hedgehog.
The most popular form of animal spotting in Ireland is dedicated to bird watching. Most species migrate from Iceland, Greenland, Africa, and the Arctic. Both shearwaters and the scarce corn cake are feathered visitors, as well as puffins, whooper swans, and white-fronted geese (best seen in the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve).