Walking and rambling in Ireland
Walking and rambling trails have become very popular in recent times. There are 3 main walking schemes for walking route developments:
- The National Waymarked Trails Programme in Sport Ireland
- The Slí na Sláinte Scheme under the Irish Heart Foundation
- Coillte recreational forests.
However, it's important to remember that all land is in private or State ownership, and there are certain restrictions that apply to those walking or rambling.
The National Trails Office (NTO) of Sport Ireland is responsible for the registration and regulation of all Waymarked Trails - walking route developments in Ireland. The NTO assists and works in close association with all local authorities, local sport partnerships and local communities throughout the country in the development of new trails and in the promotion of existing trails.
Waymarked Trails are paths that are developed with the agreement and support of landowners whose lands are crossed on the route. They are not necessarily rights-of-way, although old roads and paths are used on many of these walking routes, which are all waymarked and signposted. There are over 40 National Waymarked Trails around Ireland, including the Wicklow Way, Kerry Way, Burren Way, and there are many shorter walks that are associated with these larger developments. It is possible to search and find information on all National Waymarked Trails on the irishtrails.ie website.
Although the routes of the ways are marked with yellow signs, it is advisable to bring a guide book with you in case some of the signs are obscured by wildlife or if you need details of transport, restaurants or local accommodation. Some private companies also offer guided walking and cycling tours along the waymarked ways.
For details of local accommodation contact your local tourist office or see Fáilte Ireland's (the Irish tourist board's) website.
Maps and guidebooks are available for all trails that are approved by the NTO.
Contact your local authority, local sports partnership coordinator or Sport Ireland directly if you require any information on establishing a walking route in your area.
Slí na Sláinte
Slí na Sláinte, meaning "Path to Health", is a scheme developed by the Irish Heart Foundation to encourage people of all ages and abilities to walk for leisure and good health.
It uses signage at kilometre intervals on established walking routes to help walkers identify the distance they walk. The signs are not numbered so you can start and finish at whatever kilometre sign you like. You can view a list of Slí na Sláinte routes throughout Ireland here.
For health benefits you need to walk at a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes, 5 days of the week. You can accumulate the 30 minutes or more over two or three shorter sessions.
Slí na Sláinte can be implemented in your locality by the Local Authority in partnership with the community and, where appropriate, commercial organisations, and become part of the approved list of Slí routes. If you would like to develop a Slí na Sláinte route in your locality, contact the Slí na Sláinte National Coordinator in the Irish Heart Foundation. Further information on setting up a route is available on the Irish Heart Foundation's website.
Coillte recreational forests
Coillte runs 12 forest parks around the country, most of which provide facilities such as toilets, parking, picnic sites, playgrounds for children, and a shop or restaurant (seasonal). Coillte also runs over 180 recreation sites around the country, most of which provide basic facilities such as parking, picnic sites and walking trails. Find out more on coillteoutdoors.ie.
Right of way
There is a distinction in Irish law between public and private rights of way. A public right of way is a person's right of passage along a road or path, even if the road or path is not in public ownership. There are very few registered public rights of way that are not maintained public roads.
A private right of way is the right to enter onto private lands, but only for the purposes of gaining access to or exiting from another piece of land. It is typically an arrangement between neighbours.
The waymarked trails are permissive routes that have been developed with the landowners’ agreement and are not rights of way. Even access to Coillte lands is permissive and you do not have a right of access.
The Occupiers' Liability Act 1995, which includes recreational user as a category of users of privately-owned lands, was introduced to address the exposure of landowners to claims arising from injuries to recreational users and others. Under the Act, a recreational user is a person present on the premises or land of a private citizen, without charge (other than a reasonable charge for parking facilities) for the purposes of engaging in a recreational activity. Under these circumstances, the owner of the land is obliged only to not intentionally injure or harm the recreational user or act with reckless disregard for the recreational user's welfare. This is an important distinction because it removes previous insurance liability concerns, which still apply to an invited visitor onto private land.
Extinguishing public rights of way
Under the Roads Act 1993, it is the responsibility of local authorities to protect the public's right to access public rights of way in each local authority area. Local authorities can also extinguish public rights of way. The procedure that must be followed, if they wish to extinguish a public right of way, is set out in Section 73 of the Act.
The Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2015 require local authorities to preserve existing public rights of way by mapping and listing them as part of their county development plans. Under Part XIII of the 2000 Act, they have the powers to create a public right of way.
Respecting private landowners' property
Although it is not a legal requirement, walking, rambling and mountaineering associations all advise their members and members of the public to respect the interests of other people and to take due care when using private land for recreational purposes. The conservation of the local environment and avoiding causing disturbance to on-site activities such as farming should be considered by all walkers and visitors to the countryside. You can find more information on leavenotraceireland.org.
Under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 as amended by Section 24 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002, it is a criminal offence for anyone to enter, occupy or bring anything onto privately-owned land or land owned by local authorities if that act is likely to:
- Substantially damage the land
- Substantially damage any amenity on the land or prevent any person from making reasonable use of that amenity
- Render the land or any amenity on it unsanitary or unsafe
- Substantially interfere with the land or an amenity on it.
If a landowner believes that someone is illegally occupying their land to the extent of committing one of the above offences, their should inform the Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána are then empowered to visit the land, and if they find any person on the land, they can demand that the person gives them their name and address and that they leave the land and remove any objects under their control from the land. If the person refuses to comply with a Garda's directions, that person is liable to prosecution. A person who is convicted of one of these criminal trespass offences is liable to a class B fine or 1 month's imprisonment or both.
If a person does not co-operate with the Garda Síochána when asked to leave the land, any objects brought upon the land can be seized and stored by the Garda Síochána. These objects can be subsequently sold or disposed of by the Garda Síochána if the owner of the objects does not reply in writing to an official notice that the object has been seized within one month of receiving that notice. The person must also agree to pay the Garda Síochána for any reasonable expense incurred as a result of seizing and storing the object before being allowed to reclaim it. Contact information for Garda stations throughout Ireland is available here.
Information for landowners and recreational users is available in the publication, Recreation in the Irish Countryside (pdf), produced by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Information on good practice is available on irishtrails.ie and on the Mountaineering Ireland website.