Howth, Ireland: A Hotbed For Nature and History Lovers

howth 1They bobbed in the water, looking up at us expectantly.   I couldn’t resist and tossed one a fish.  They all converged, and while the winner celebrated by gulping its treat, the others lingered, staring up at us, waiting for the next sucker.

The seals in Howth are used to the attention, as they are one of the attractions of this picturesque, costal community a short train ride northeast of Dublin.  For only about €3.40 for a return trip from Dublin, lovers of nature, wildlife and history will find plenty to do here.

howth 2The Cliff Walk is one of the more popular activities, which winds along the bay, Pucks Rocks and the Nose of Howth.  It actually circles around from Howth to Sutton (about a three hour hike), but less ambitious hikers will enjoy the walk out to Bailey Lighthouse.  The Cliff Walk is busy, a lot of hikers and people walking their dogs (off leash). The cliff blocked the wind most of the time, but when you were exposed it was very windy and cold.  The path sometimes ran right along the cliff’s edge, and was sometimes narrow (people were very good about taking turns stepping aside so others could pass), but it is mostly an easy walk.  The view from the lighthouse is spectacular.

howth 3You can also take the shuttle to the Ireland Eye for a hike. The Ireland Eye is an island just off the coast of Howth.  The trip over is not for the faint of heart.  The shuttle was actually a small, wooden boat with a motor that sat very low in the water and rocked vigorously back & forth on calm waters.  The landing consists of wet rocks which make up a set of stairs.

There are no hiking paths, you have to forge your own.  And be careful of the birds – Ireland Eye is a nesting ground for puffins, seagulls and other birds and they will get aggressive when you get close to their nests.  But there is some beautiful scenery, a beach for sunbathing, places to fish and a Martello tower to explore.

After all that activity, you may want to dine at one of the many seafood restaurants boasting some of the freshest seafood in the area (such as the Dublin Bay prawn).  But for a cheap, delicious treat, try Beshoff’s Fish & Chips.  You can’t miss the small storefront restaurant because you’ll see people walking everywhere carrying their distinctive white boxes with large black lettering. For about €8, you get a large, hot serving of batter fried fish and chips with salt, lemon and choice of sauce (I had garlic mayo).  There is no place to eat inside, but you’ll find plenty of room on the walls and benches on the harbor walk bordering the marina.  Don’t worry, if you don’t finish your lunch, one of the many birds and gulls in the area will be glad to do so for you.

howth 4For history lovers, explore the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey (about 14th or 15th century), which houses the tomb of Christopher St. Lawrence, the 13th Lord Howth.  There is also a Martello Tower on a hill with a great overlook of all of Howth, the marina and the bay.  The Museum of Vintage Radio is now housed in the tower.  At the end of the West Pier near the lighthouse are the footprints in stone of King George IV, who visited Howth and stood on that spot.  Howth, as well as many other towns in Ireland, boasts a castle, and although it is a private residence you can walk up to it and take a look.

howth 5Farther along the same road is Deerpark hotel and golf course, but the last historic attraction is on a path behind the hotel – Aideen’s grave, a Dolmen grave (portal tomb).  Legend says it dates back to 2500 BC built in honor of Aideen, daughter of the Chief of Howth, who died of a broken heart.

For those wildlife lovers, in addition to the nesting birds on the Ireland Eye are the seals I mentioned at the beginning.

You will generally find them bobbing off the west pier and hungry.   Fish stores nearby will either sell you a bag of fish parts for $2 euro, or try Nicky’s who gave me a bag of leftovers for free.  That, for me, was one of the greatest pleasures of Howth. howth 6