It’s all to play for on the west coast of Ireland! From roaring waves to rugby’s modern gladiators, from the fastest game on grass to the world’s finest links golf courses, the Wild Atlantic Way is a sporting paradise. Get stuck in or watch from the sidelines – the experience of a lifetime awaits.
Surfing: Making waves
Not long ago, Irish surfing was the best-kept secret in watersports. No more. Kelly Slater has hit the emerald waves; National Geographic dubbed Bundoran one of the world’s best surf towns, and the monster slabs crashing off Sligo’s Mullaghmore Peninsula attract some of the best big wave surfers in the business. It’s not all about the pros, mind you. With top surf schools dotted along the coastline, this is one sport in which beginners can well and truly immerse themselves. Gotta love that wild Atlantic washing machine!
Hitting the smaller waves in Bundoran, County Donegal
Cycling: On yer bike!
You don’t have to be a champion cyclist to get the most out of the scenery on Ireland’s west coast. Itineraries and cycleways range from the Great Western Greenway (a 42km route following the course of the old Westport to Achill Island railway), to the Ring of Kerry and the Inishowen Peninsula Coast Cycle. It's tailor-made for two wheels.
Taking a break on the Great Western Greenway Cycle in County Mayo
Rugby: Ruck n’ roll stars
You want sporting theatre? Try Thomond Park, Limerick’s sporting fortress is the home of Munster Rugby and the setting for several ‘miracle’ matches, including a famous victory over the All Blacks in 1978. This triumph by Munster was the only game New Zealand conceded in their tour of the Northern Hemisphere that year. Meanwhile, Connacht Rugby is a growing force based in Galway City, while grassroots heroes include Dingle’s Rugbaí Chorca Duibhne - the most westerly club in Europe. “We’re very like the scenery you see around us,” they quip. “We’re rugged; we’re rough around the edges… but we’re beautiful on the inside.”
Adventure sports: Adrenaline buzz!
The Wild Atlantic Way isn’t just an epic 2,500km touring route. It’s a springboard to adventure, a natural playground where visitors can hike, bike, surf and kayak their way to adrenaline-fuelled awesomeness. Adventure operators here are world-class, and their offerings are as diverse as the terrain. Go coasteering in Kerry. Try Stand-Up Paddling in Sligo. Climb rocks in Donegal. It’s Ireland at its most unforgettable. If you’re a competitive type, why not time your trip around an adventure race? From Gaelforce Mountain Run and Connemarathon each spring (both in County Galway) to Quest Adventure Race in Achill, County Mayo and Quest Killarney in County Kerry, there’s lots to choose from. See the Wild Atlantic Way Directory for more events and Irish sports.
A thrill-seeking climber on a daring ascent in County Donegal
Gaelic Football: Keys to the Kingdom
Dozens of All-Ireland titles (the premier annual competition in Gaelic football), almost 100 All Stars (awards given to the best player in each position) and enough legends to form an anthology (look up Maurice Fitzgerald, Páidí Ó Sé and The Gooch to get a taster), Kerry is the undisputed Kingdom of Gaelic football at County level. Undisputed in Kerry, that is. Cork, Galway, Mayo and Donegal have all had their say in crunch clashes over the years – and the rivalries extend into Ireland’s AIB Club Championship too, which sees teams from a town and village level battle it out before the final on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s grassroots sport at its greatest, with tough-as-boots players, passionate local supporters and epic homemade sandwiches…
In any town or village you find yourself in, ask around for the local GAA pitch, and on any given weekend, you’re pretty likely to catch a match. Or revel in the buzz of a county clash in a larger stadium like Páirc Uí Chaoimh in County Cork or Pearse Stadium in County Galway. For these games, see the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) website for tickets.
A player competes for possession in a GAA football match
Road Bowling: The original street sport
Start with a winding West Cork road. Add a brace of 794g solid iron bowls, a stick of chalk, a pair of strong-armed contestants, and let them loose. Watch the spectators flock and the bets flurry as the pair face off, mining grit, skill, strength and tradition in an effort to reach the finish line with the fewest throws. The scenery is the stadium. The sport is particularly prevalent in County Cork and Castlebar in County Mayo, but check the Irish Road Bowling Association website for exact fixtures.
Spectators watch as an iron ball hurtles down the road, image via Dee McEvoy
Hurling: The fastest game on grass
If hurling – an ultra-physical game whose teams face off with machete-shaped sticks and rock-hard sliotars (a cork and leather ball) – sounds like an ancient form of combat, that’s because it is. Hard-wired into Ireland’s DNA, it’s been played for centuries and is more popular than ever today. See it live at county-level in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in County Cork, Páirc na nGael in County Limerick, Pearse Stadium in County Galway or Cusack Park in County Clare, the last coastal county to win the All Ireland Championship (in 2013). There’s more to it than the Cliffs of Moher, you know. Again, see the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) website for tickets.
Lining up to take a sideline pass during a traditional hurling match
Golf: Links that click
Did you know Ireland boasts one third of the world’s links golf courses? Or that Bill Clinton dubbed Ballybunion Golf Club his favourite course? Played along the coast, spotted with sand dunes and swathed in sea air, links is one of the purest forms of golf - and the Wild Atlantic Way fits it like a glove (“I designed the first nine,” as Arnold Palmer said of Tralee Golf Course, “But God designed the back nine.”) From the dunes of Donegal to unique coastal beauties in Kinsale and Kenmare, you’re spoiled for choice. Check out the Wild Atlantic Way directory to find a course for you, or read our tips to 18 Great Golf Holes.
Seaside tee-off in beautiful Ballybunion, County Kerry
Handball: Hands-on tradition
Hurling and Gaelic football get the lion’s share of the press, but GAA Handball can be just as skillful, entertaining – and certainly just as fast. All you need is a ball and a wall and off you go. Fixture and events information can be found at GAA Handball’s website and if you’re mobile while travelling, stop by Green Acres Caravan and Camping Park by Loop Head Peninsula to try it yourself.
Didn’t see your favourite sport listed here? Check out the Wild Atlantic Way Activities Directory to see Irish sports you can watch or take part in during your stay. Or explore more golf, fishing, horseriding, surfing and cycling.