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Irish Animals and Irish Plants on the Wild Atlantic Way

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A journey along the Wild Atlantic Way will bring you face-to-face with some of the most diverse Irish animals, plants and natural environments imaginable. The west really is awake! In every region, you’ll discover wild habitats that are home to an eclectic mix of flora and fauna. We’ve compiled this list of some of the best spots for nature and wildlife enthusiasts to visit along the 2,500km route. 


On the… Northern Headlands 

There are over 815 Irish flowering plant species here, and more than 500 of these find their home on the island’s most northerly point, Malin Head. The northern position and mountainous character of the area form the ideal habitat for ‘plants of hills’, such as the delicate yellow iris and the rare Scots Lovage, which is confined to outposts of northern Europe and America.  

Yellow Iris Irish plants and fauna on Malin Head
The delicate Yellow Iris, image via Lou Murray’s Green World 

In addition to its unique flora, this region is also home to some specialised wildlife that you’ll commonly find roaming in the hilltops of Glenveagh National Park. Here Irish hare, red deer and foxes populate the forests, while rare birds such as the Golden Plover and Wood Warbler fly overhead.

On the… Surf Coast 

The table top of County Sligo’s distinctive mountain Benbulben is home to a diverse mix of plants. In recent years it was revealed that these plants have called the summit their home since before the Ice Age, having withstood the fiercely harsh conditions and making them over 100,000 years old! The height and cool temperatures of the mountain create an environment suitable for a wide range of Arctic Alpine plants, among them the beautifully delicate Fringed Sandwort.

Fringed Sandwort Irish plants and fauna in Benbulben County Sligo
Fringed Sandwort, image via Thousand Wonders

The Surf Coast also boasts one of the largest remaining native oak woodlands in the country. In Union Wood you’ll meet badgers, foxes and fallow deer amongst the tall oak trees while Ravens, Sparrowhawks and the occasional Buzzard can be seen above as you stroll through the forest trails

On the… Bay Coast 

Nestled along the Bay Coast is idyllic Mulranny at Clew Bay. Often referred to as ‘Hill of the Ferns’, this namesake comes from the Mediterranean heather that blossoms on the fringe of its seashores. On your way, look out for the magnificent giant Fuchsia which lines pathways and roads leading to the coast. The nearby Mulranny Wood is also home to a wide variety of trees ranging from birch, hawthorn, rowan, hazel and sycamore to holly, oak and ash. Under foot, you’ll find an assortment of Irish wildflower including the Sweet Vernal Grass, Yorkshire Fog, Greater Woodrush and Tormentil, to name but a few. Where the ground is shady, Ferns and woodland herbs are found in great variety. 

Giant Fuchsia Irish plants and fauna on Clew Bay
Giant fuchsia

A rare wonder of the island is found at Louisburgh, County Mayo where Shags (Seaga) find a nesting site. Earlier this year wildlife photographer Matt Loughrey spoke about his venture west to capture the beauty of this rare creature in its natural habitat. Taking great care as to not disturb this extraordinary creature, Loughrey described his navigation of the rugged and ever changing cliffs that the Seaga calls home. The resulting shots from the photographer show the bright beak and piercing neon eyes of the bird, in a manner rarely seen, with true respect for the bird and the wilderness and 
exposure of its location. 

The closely guarded eggs of the female Seaga, sitting in a notably well-constructed nest enticed Loughrey who went on to express his desire to return to the nesting site for a fifth time in 2016, to capture the hatching of the new chicks. Following this final excursion, he commented, he will have documented the Seaga fully and looks forward to directing his attention toward “another beautiful and adventurous part of the coast”. 

Ornithology in Ireland and Birds of Ireland nesting Aeaga in County Mayo
The Nesting Seaga, Image via Matt Loughrey 

On the… Cliff Coast 

The flowers of the Burren in County Clare have been the subject of much attention and intrigue for many years. Theories abound that attempt to explain the presence of some of the unusual plants in this limestone habitat. Setting this region apart is the co-existence of different ecological species, with Mediterranean and Arctic alpine plants growing side by side in perfect harmony. From the cobalt Spring Gentians to the bright yellow Hoary Rock-Rose, the Burren is a sight to behold. 

Grey seals of Ireland in Ballybunion
The Atlantic Grey Seal

Another noteworthy location for birdwatchers and animal lovers are the Bromore Cliffs of Ballybunion, where the crevices and narrow ledges of the 180ft cliffs host a diversity of wildlife. Some of the most interesting animals of Ireland can be found here, from falcons, ravens and rock doves, to Atlantic grey seals, bottlenose dolphins and sea otters who swim in the waters at the cliff base. 

On the… Southern Peninsulas 

Sitting just off the coast of County Cork, the island of Cape Clear is a natural wonder. Wild heather and gorse bloom grow untamed, while Sea Pinks and Honeysuckle populate the surrounding landscape, covering rugged hills and peeking out between dry stone walls. 

Ornithology in Ireland and Birds of Ireland Wilson Warbler Dursey Island
The Wilson Warbler, Image via Bird Note 

The attraction of Dursey Island for bird-watchers is two-fold. Leaving the shore at Bull Rock Lighthouse, you’ll see thousands of seabirds, among them Gannets, Razorbills and Puffins, while on  the island you’ll find migrants from all four corners of the world. The Wilson Warbler from North America sits alongside the Eastern Olivaceous and Red-flanked Bluetail of the Far East and Serbia. Visitors from southern Europe, the Bee-eater and Hoopoe are also known to frequent the island’s shores.

Ornithology in Ireland and Birds of Ireland Hoope on the Wild Atlantic Way
The Hoopoe with its distinctive ‘crown’ of feathers

On the… Haven Coast 

One of the finest Sessile Oak Woods in Ireland can be found in Glenagriff Nature Reserve. The name is derived from the Irish Gleann Gairbh, which can be translated as ‘rough and rugged glen’. Here, flowers from the Hiberno-Uistanian species flourish in a pattern only otherwise seen in Northern parts of Spain and Portugal. The likes of St. Patrick’s Cabbage, Kidney-leaved Saxifrage and Butterwort are just some of the notable flowers to be seen in these parts. Click here to find out some of the best viewing locations for whale and dolphin watching on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Whale watching and dolphin watching in Kinsale County Cork
Glimpse of a whale on the waters of County Cork 

Over twenty five per cent of the world’s whale and dolphin species can be found in the waters of Kinsale in County Cork. Local companies offer whale watching tours of the surrounding bays giving you the chance to get up close and personal with the very best of the sea-life that the region has to offer. 

For some more great spots along the route to spot Irish plants and animals, check out National Parks on the Wild Atlantic Way or consult our handy directory to plan your own activities or itinerary.

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