Forest Walks

Ireland has a rich resource of Woodland Walks as evidenced in Donal Magner's book 'Stopping by Woods: A Guide to the Forests and Woodlands of Ireland'.

Stopping By Woods by Donal Mager





Copies of this publication are currently OUT OF STOCK

With kind permission from the Author, FORESTRY.IE would like to introduce the public to some of the Woodland Walks described in the book.

[Note: Observe Government and HSE Covid-19 guidance on social distancing and congregating in groups at all times.]



Exploring Ireland's forests and woodlands - by Donal Magner

Ireland's 350 recreation woodlands were never more important to the nation's health and wellbeing


Although Ireland has only 11% of its land under forests or less than a third of the European average, we have a large number of recreation forests and woodlands open to the public. This is largely due to a visionary decision by the State to become directly involved in restoring the country's woodland resource in the last century which led to an open forest policy. This allows the public to use the forests for recreation and today this policy is enshrined by Coillte, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and some local authorities while a similar approach was adopted by the Northern Ireland Forest Service (NIFS) and other agencies.

Discovering Ireland's forests

The numbers of Irish people and tourists who visit these forests is increasing year-by-year. Our woodlands are now explored by nature enthusiasts and seasoned walkers who make 29 million annual visits as estimated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Forest Statistics Ireland 2019. These visits are normally spread throughout the year and go almost unnoticed. But during holiday periods and during time of crisis - such as the Covid-19 pandemic - they are placed under pressure, presenting crowd congestion problems for foresters, parkland managers and the Gardaí.

Advice on avoiding the crowds

The advice to forest walkers is to be creative in planning your visit. By all means visit the high profile woodlands and forest parks but there are others waiting to be explored. Two tips to avoid the crowds and get more enjoyment from your forest visit:

  • Explore the hundreds of lesser known woodlands around the country; and
  • Vary your visiting times

The hidden forests

There are at least 350 forests and woodlands with excellent roads and trails in Ireland and many more that people can explore with a little local knowledge. The first piece of advice is remember Robert Frost's "road not taken". For example, when visiting Co. Wicklow, instead of concentrating on popular venues such as Glendalough, Avondale and the Glen of the Downs, explore the other two dozen less popular but equally rewarding woodlands.

Dubliners can also explore forests at their doorstep. While the county has low forest cover, it has a good spread of woodlands such as the Massey Estate, Cruagh, Carrickgollogan and the Hell Fire Club but there are plenty others and don't forget the county's and city's network of wooded parks such as Malahide, Marlay, Newbridge and St. Anne's.

But every county has open forests. Some are small and sufficiently intimate to walk without losing sight of fellow travellers; others are large and remote providing complete solitude, often linking up with national walking trails that traverse forest and mountain.


The second piece of advice is to change your routine. There is no longer any need to get into your car and slavishly join thousands of others on Sunday to reach a destination that may be closed because of crowd control. Instead, go in midweek to avoid traffic chaos and where social distancing is not an issue. Walk your favourite forest at sunrise, to the sound of birdsong, far from the madding crowd. The lure of the wood is still strong, especially for a people who feel the need, more than ever, to communicate with nature.

What you will see

While a small number of Ireland's forests contain the remnants of ancient woodlands, most were established since the middle of the last century mainly for economic reasons by hard working foresters and forest workers. The main objective is to produce wood, so they often contain a high percentage of conifers but the National Forestry Inventory discovered 53 different tree species comprising 21 conifers and 32 broadleaves, in addition to a diverse flora as half of Ireland's forests have vegetation cover greater than 90%, excluding trees.

All these forests are managed as a multipurpose resource with wide ranging benefits including enhancement of landscape, ecology, heritage and the soul.

About the Author

Donal Magner is a forester, forest owner and journalist based in Wicklow. Forestry editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, he is the author of Stopping by Woods: A Guide to the Forests and Woodlands of Ireland. He is editor of the Forestry & Timber Yearbook and and co-author of publications including Glimpses of Irish Forestry, Woodspec and Devil's Glen: Sculpture in Woodland, featuring a foreword by the late Seamus Heaney. He holds a Masters Degree in forestry from UCD, while his MA from DCU explored Irish forestry as observed by poets from the Gaelic to the contemporary era. A recipient of the RDS-Forest Service Judges' Special Award for his contribution to Irish forestry, he serves on forestry policy and advisory bodies in Ireland.

Dublin Forest Walk

The below extracts of 'Stopping by Woods' are published with kind permission of the Author Donal Magner


Because County Dublin is dominated by the nation's capital and satellite towns, it is easy to forget that it has a considerable number of forest and wooded parkland. Outside of the capital, the landscape is characterised by agricultural land in the north, rising to the Dublin Mountains, south of the city where most of the major forests are located. The coastline stretches from Balbriggan in the north, to the Hill of Howth before sweeping around Dublin Bay and south to Killiney Bay.

Dublin is the third-smallest but most densely populated county in Ireland and has only 6% of its land under forests. As a result, heavy demands are made on its forests and parklands, especially at weekends. The forests in the Dublin mountains and uplands include Cruagh, Massey, Hell Fire Club, Ticknock, Kilmashogue and Tibradden. Others, such as Barnaslingan and Carrickgollogan are located close to the Wicklow county boundary. A number of the mountain forests are being developed in partnership between Coillte and community groups such as the Dublin Mountains Partnership.

The county has a number of old estate woodlands and urban forests, managed by the various Dublin local authorities. The Phoenix Park, which is the largest enclosed public park in Europe has a rich variety of groves and parkland trees. Although small in area there are many beautiful wooded parks including Ardgillan, Newbridge, Malahide and St Anne's, north of the Liffey, and Marlay, Fitzsimons and Tymon to the south. The National Botanic Gardens, which the State acquired in 1877 has over 20,000 plant species including native, naturalised and exotic trees.

The following are the main Dublin recreation forest and parks:


Tibradden, also known as Pine Forest, probably because Scots pine was planted around this area in the past. The oldest pine now in the area is around 100 years old dating to the 1910 plantings. The name Tibradden, meaning House of Bradden or Bruadáin (Teach Bruadáin in Irish), refers to the cairn which is about 1 km southeast of the entrance (E) and car park (P). It may have been the burial place of the chieftain Bruadain.

Edge of Tibradden Scots pine bracken

There are some mature beech on the left hand side of the trail at the beginning of the walk, close to the entrance (E). Continue along this route close to a car park that is being constructed (1). There is a pleasant stand of mature Scots pine here and farther on Sitka dominates although the area also has Japanese larch.

Walkers can veer to the right at the next junction (2), heading to the south (3) and back to the car park (P). Alternatively, take a longer walk from the nearby junction (4), heading to the southeast and eventually leaving the forest. This walk traverses the Mountain Access Trail and Wicklow Way.
A number of developments have taken place in recent years to make Tibradden more accessible and also to encourage walkers to explore other forests nearby, the Dublin Mountains via the Wicklow Way and other trails. Much of this has been facilitated by the Dublin Mountains Partnership involving Coillte and a number of agencies and community groups.

The forest is predominantly coniferous, but there is a good herb layer especially where the trees are mature. Plants include bracken, bilberry, bramble and gorse, along with heather in the uplands. In addition, Tibradden has a number of archaeological features, including O'Connell's Rock and a cairn at the summit.

Nearby Cruagh wood is also worth exploring - the entrance is 1km to the east. There are 4.5 km of walks in Cruagh with fine views of Dublin city and bay, and nearby hills, mountains and forests. Massey Wood can also be reached through Cruagh.

How to get to Tibradden: take the R115 from Rathfarnham for 2.5km and continue on the R116 (road to Glencullen) for a further 4.5 km. The entrance is on the left. (OS Discovery Map No. 50; grid reference O 139 227.)

Click on the links below to download maps:



Wicklow Forest Walk

The below extracts of 'Stopping by Woods' are published with kind permission of the Author Donal Magner


County Wicklow is regarded as the home of Irish forestry. It has maintained its links - however tenuous - with the great primeval forests. Three semi-natural woodlands managed by the NPWS in Glendalough, Vale Of Clara and Tomnafinnoge illustrate Wicklow's rich woodland heritage. Although the Royal Forest that once existed around Glencree is long gone, efforts are being made to recreate a native woodland in Cloon-Oak Glen and to introduce and conserve native species in Knocksink as well as the People's Millennium Forests in Ballygannon.

Wicklow was the focal county of the State's drive to restore Ireland's forests when Avondale was purchased in 1904 along with land around Rathdrum and later Glendalough and Aughrim. New forests were established on poor mountainous sites such as Glenmalure, Glen of Imaal, Roundwood and Glencree. On more low-lying and hilly sites, forest establishment took place on old woodland estates, especially along the eastern side of the county from Shelton in the south to Delgany in the north, which includes Kindlestown and the Glen of the Downs.

Forest cover in Wicklow, at 18% of the land area, is 60% higher than the national average. As a result, it has the highest density of recreational forests in Ireland and a strong wood culture, which extends beyond the forest, to include timber and related industries such as sawmilling, forest nurseries, tourism, furniture-making and woodcrafts.

The following are the main Wicklow recreation forest and parks:


Tomnafinnoge Wood came to national prominence in the late 1970s and 80s when most of the best oak was felled in what was left of the ancient forest of Shillelagh. But in truth, the exploitation of the mainly sessile oak woods in south Wicklow began at least four centuries earlier. Iron smelting, which lasted until 1767, contributed enormously to their decline, while Shillelagh oak was prized for shipbuilding and large-scale timber construction projects.

Edge of Tibradden Scots pine bracken

The estate, which was the Irish seat of the Earls of Fitzwilliam, was restored over time and, if anything, was underused for timber during much of the last century. When it was sold to the Bridgewater Company in 1976, the wooded section of the estate covered over 500 ha, which included 175 ha of broadleaves, mainly oak.
The new owners decided to develop it and sought felling licences to clearfell the woods. When these were refused, they sought compensation from Wicklow County Council. The Council was unable to provide compensation so permission was granted for clearfelling, which took place over a number of years. Public protests followed and eventually the government intervened - the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey took a personal interest in the project. The remaining wood at Tomnafinnoge, covering an area of 66 ha was saved and is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

There is a car park (P) at the main entrance and a 200-m boardwalk to the bridge (1), which spans the River Derry. The river holds salmon and trout and is regarded as a good spawning river for the Slaney, which it joins 16 km to the southwest, near Clonegal.

Continue on this route, which was once the main road into the estate. The vegetation is typical of a semi-natural wood and includes bilberry, bracken, great wood rush, bramble and wood sorrel. The shrub layer contains holly and hazel, coppiced in Tomnafinnoge in the past for charcoal-making.

You can take a walk to the left from here (2) via a forest path that runs close to the boundary where there are fine oak and beech trees. The beech may be removed over time, the species is not native to Ireland. However, beech is a naturalised species and has been in Ireland for four centuries and may even date to Norman times, so there is a historical, if not ecological, case for its retention.

You can explore this section of the wood or return to the woodland road and continue on for about 200 m and turn left where there are two fine oak and beech specimen trees (3). Take the pathway for about 100 m (4). Then veer right until you come to an area where rhododendron (5) has been cleared to allow the oak to naturally regenerate. This species of rhododendron - R. ponticum - is a native to the Mediterranean and unfortunately is an invasive shrub capable of inhibiting natural regeneration.

There is evidence of some natural regeneration of sessile oak in Tomnafinnoge. Where oak fails to propagate naturally, the area is planted with seedlings grown from acorns collected from the best individual trees (or seed trees) growing in the wood.

On the right of the pathway, shafts of sunlight reach the forest floor in spring encouraging the growth of a thick, lush carpet of bluebells (6). Further on there is massive beech, probably 180 years old, and, at the boundary (7), a mixed conifer and oak plantation was established by the owners after clearfelling. Take an undefined pathway to the right and follow a ditch - for about 100 m - back down to the forest road (8). The NPWS has plans to construct a pathway in this area to facilitate visitors.

Continue along the road to where a boulder (9), erected in 1994, marks the year Tomnafinnoge was purchased by the State. Nearby, a plaque by the sculptor Vincent Browne commemorates Jerome Stephens, a haemophiliac who died in 1993 after contracting HIV from contaminated blood. Towards the end of the road, there are Scots pine, laurel and rhododendron (10). Here the weir on the River Derry, located close to the bridge, has been restored. Just across the river is the disused railway line that once served the Fitzwilliam estate.

Retrace your steps to the forest road and continue past a small stand of aspen on the left hand side of road (11). The leaves of this native poplar make a distinctive fluttering sound in summer when disturbed by a gentle breeze. A little further on (12) the abutments of a bridge that linked the road across the railway line still stand.
Continue along the road to the boardwalk and back to the car park. In all, there are over 4 km of roads and pathways through the wood including three colour-coded trails. These comprise the river walk (2-4 km), hazel loop (1.5 km) and the oak loop (3.2 km).

How to get to Tomnafinnoge: from Tinahely take the Shillelagh road (R749) for about 3 km and turn left. The entrance to the wood is on the right after less than 1 km. From Shillelagh take the R749 for Tinahely and take a right after 4 km. (OS Discovery Map No. 62; grid reference T 010 690.)

Click on the links below to download maps:



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