Friday 17 August 2012

Wild Camping In Ireland

Irish campsites charge anything from seven to twelve euros for a solo touring cyclist to pitch a tent for a night. Many campsites are noisy and located close to towns. A bit like the suburbs only with everyone in tents and caravans. If this sounds like hell and you’d rather watch the sun go down listening to bird song and the wind blowing, out in the countryside, wild camping is a viable alternative in Ireland.

Wild Camping Mullaghmore, Co Sligo
Much of rural Ireland is sparsely populated, very quiet and has very low crime rates. There are no dangerous wild animals. If a few precautions are taken it’s a very safe place to wild camp. Most land on the island of Ireland is privately owned. However many farmers will give you permission to camp a night on their land if you ask.

If you camp on privately owned land without permission, be discreet, use a small dark tent (dark green or camo is good) and pitch in an unobtrusive place. Do it far from houses, make no noise, light no fires, damage no property and leave no rubbish behind. Make sure livestock do not have access to your campsite, you don’t want to wake up with a herd of curious cattle in your camp. Arrive late and leave early.

If you are asked to leave do so quickly and politely. In Irish law trespass is a civil matter not a criminal offense. It will only become a matter for the Garda (police) if you refuse to leave when asked.

There are two types of common land in Ireland bogland and upland. Not all bogland and upland is commonage but a lot of it is. If you camp discreetly in bogland or upland you will very rarely be disturbed. In hot dry weather (not very common in Ireland) there areas are prone to wildfires, so be very, very careful with any naked flame.

Public land can be a very good place to camp if you arrive early and leave late as public sector staff generally work office hours. Good campsites can be found at places where the public have access to lakeshores, seashores, river banks and canals. A lot of the woodland plantations in Ireland particularly on the uplands are state owned. Many have forest roads with barriers that exclude motor vehicles but can be bypassed with bicycles. In a wooded area in dry weather be very careful with any flame.

When wild camping in woodland and bogland you will meet the midge. The midge is a tiny blood sucking fly. Its bite does not transmit disease, nor does it cause serious pain or swelling except to those rare people who have an allergic reaction. It is however very itchy when they are actually biting and they bite in great numbers. They stay out of bright daylight and only bite in the open on very dull days and in the evening twilight, but at Ireland’s latitude summer evening twilight is long.

Sitting in the open where midges are active is very unpleasant. If your camp is full of them you will have to get into your tent and close the insect proof mesh door. If your wild camping with just a tarpaulin or a bivy bag make sure to also have a mosquito net for midges. Midges fly very slowly, so if you keep moving they will not catch you and if you are in a windy place they get blown away.

I often camp wild but I also use campsites. Campsites are secure, your gear can be left unattended, you can go to the pub and not worry about your equipment. Sometimes when touring in mountain country I like to stay two consecutive nights at a campsite and spend the day in between cycling an unloaded bike in the mountains. More fun than hauling a fully loaded bike up a mountain.


  1. Irishwildeye, my wife and I are coming to Ireland to hike the Beara Way in late June. We were hoping to just pitch the tent, weather permitting, in the evenings, no fires, nothing left behind, no bother to anybody. That sounds, strictly speaking, illegal but doable, except maybe for the midges and the rain. Are we naive in thinking we can backpack our way around the peninsula rather than take a self-guided walking tour where accommodations are booked for us? I don't mind staying in B&Bs some nights, but I hate to come into town every night just to sleep. I'd like to wake up overlooking the mountains and sea. We have bugs here in Vermont too, so unless the midges are awful, we're pretty rugged. Would appreciate any advice you have.


  2. I don't know Beara but your idea sounds good, go for it, should be a great experience. Your idea is not illegal, in that trespass is not a matter for the criminal law, it is a civil matter. If anyone asks you to move on do so and that will be the end of the matter. But I doubt you will be moved on, Irish country people are usually very friendly and we are delighted to see visitors as we really need the money right now. The only place you need to be careful is when camping on enclosed farmland, make sure you are not in a field that cattle have access to. If you do want to camp on privately owned farmland, it's best to ask the farmer for permission (make it clear you are only staying one night and will be gone in the morning), most Irish farmers don't mind the public having access to their land. It is also a good way to meet and get into conversation with local people.

    Go ahead with your plan, you should have a great time, if the weather comes good the west coast of Ireland is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

    The midges are an irritant rather than a danger, so you'll be fine.

  3. Hello,

    I am planning a long distance hike across Ireland on the E8 route this spring (probably March). I have wild camped on one trip down the north Cornish coast in England in the past, but not for a long time and this post has helped me relax and think clearly about wild camping. With the length of the route and the budget I have I expect to wild camp with some frequency...

    The route starts at Dursey Head and ends in Dublin along the following ways, Beara Way, Kerry way, Blackwater Way, East Munster Way, South Leinster Way and the Wicklow way.

    Do you have any advice or knowledge along these paths regarding sights to see, good (wild) campsites or... anything really...?

    1. Anthony, sorry for the delay in publishing your comment, I'm just getting over a long illness.

      Not a lot of advise I can offer you on this route, as I've never really toured this part of Ireland, I'm more familiar with the west coast. But it sounds like a great trip.

    2. Sorry to hear about the illness. I hope you have recovered well. Thanks for your reply. :-) I have started posting some information on my blog if you are interested in the route. anthonyconstable,

  4. irishwildeye, thank you for taking the time to post this article. I'll be camping wild in Killarney in about a week, so your advice was very helpful.

  5. Hi! I just wanted to say thank you for the article! I'm planning to walk the Kerry Way and I've also been looking for good routes in County Mayo. I've back packed a little in England but never in Ireland and never by myself. I'd love any advice you have!