No one can deny that we've just come through a long, relentless and unforgiving winter. And now that the entire country is getting reacquainted with long and sun-dappled evenings, thoughts invariably move towards fitness and the great outdoors. Given Ireland's bounty of great walking trails and scenic spots, it's fairly easy to combine the two ...
The Cavan Walking Festival (May 2-11) is a must-do for fans of themed walks, rambles and hikes. Local guides bring their wealth of knowledge to the weekend, as participants choose from a number of different activities. There are night walks (including an atmospheric dusk walk in the Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre), nature walks and even treks with an archaeology theme. There is also a historical ramble around the grounds of the Castle Saunderson Estate (castlesaunderson.com) on the programme, while experienced walkers can tackle Cuilcagh Mountain or hike up Slieve Rushen.
Elsewhere, set your compass north for the Dungloe Walking Weekend, (May 2-5) in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht. Locals and visitors alike convene – regardless of fitness levels – for four days of rambling around the windswept wilds of the county (including a trip to Arranmore Island). And, best of all, there are refreshments aplenty to be enjoyed at the finish line.
Over in Galway, meanwhile, it's possible to tackle a mountain climb during the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival (May 2-4). Take in the untamed beauty of Mweelrea, Kylemore or explore the new Delphi Trails. After so much exertion, the barbecue and ceili at the Leenane Hotel (leenanehotel.com, 095 42249) is the perfect place to soothe those weary limbs.
Loop Head Walking Festival (May 2-5) in Clare features a number of beautiful coastal paths and roads at Kilkee, Kilredauna and Loop Head. Walking aside, the weekend's organisers have thought of everything with a great programme of social events on offer (including welcome drinks and a group breakfast). As you soak up the absolutely stunning wild Atlantic scenery, why not brush up on your hiking skills, too. You can choose from a guided cycle, the Kilkee Cliff Dawn Walk, or even workshops on Nordic walking and coastal foraging.
See loophead.ie/ events
It stands to reason that Offaly's Slieve Bloom would be the stunning backdrop for the annual Hill Walking Festival (May 2-5). Starting from community centres in Kinnitty and Clonaslee, these walks take in a number of local gems, including Brittas Lake, Glinsk Castle and Knockbarron Woods. And if you want to appreciate nature at its most beautiful, unspoiled and utterly serene, make sure you rise bright and early for the breathtaking Birds before Breakfast walks.
In Tipperary, the Glen Of Aherlow Walking Festival (May 30-June 2) will be in full swing along the River Aherlow and on the wooded ridge of Slievenamuck. After all the walking-related hard work, there is, of course, plenty of cracking nightlife to be sampled in nearby Cashel and Cahir.
All year round, Trail Kilkenny organises a number of brilliant trails around the beautiful medieval city. Try the Castlemorris Wooded Walk, or, alternatively, trek from Kilkenny city to Bennettsbridge Trail, which brings walkers through the picturesque Nore Valley. And to make a proper weekend of your time here, there is also no shortage of bars, restaurants, cafes and hangouts in this buzzy city.
Bring a gang of like-minded friends to West Cork, where history, scenery and the all-important craic are in abundance. A long-distance walking route on the Beara Way boasts a number of historical and archaeological sites that stretch on out into the Atlantic Ocean. The route hits a number of colourful towns and villages, including Castletownbere, Kenmare, Allihies, Ardgroom and Eyeries. Alternatively, you could branch a little off the beaten track and head for Bere Island or Dursey Island. West Cork is also a Mecca for gourmands, so foodie heaven awaits after all that trekking.
This year's Sliabh an Iarainn Walking Festival in Leitrim may have already come and gone, but walking enthusiasts can still sample the area's spectacular 16km walk. Start off at Aghacashel, cross the summit of Sliabh An Iarainn and finish up with some much-needed R&R at the Lough Allen Hotel (loughallenhotel.com, 071 964 0100). For a much gentler experience, walk along the canal from Battlebridge to Drumshanbo. It's perfect for those who want plenty of scenery for their money without having to head for the hills.