The beginning of the New Year is a special time. Making resolutions may come easy, but fulfilling them is sometimes harder. We want to eat less chocolate, drink less beer, save more money, sell stuff we don’t need on ebay, spend less time on Facebook, lose weight and start some sort of sport. The list is endless and all sounds great when it’s just on the dashboard of our minds.  Sometimes it’s better not to think too much about all the future resolutions and changes of the New Year; instead, why not go for a long walk, or run.

I’ve always been a runner. I started as a child, and it continues to be a passion. Whether competing in basketball, rowing, working a stressful job, or fighting with addictions running has always been an important part of my life. Sometimes I run distances that many would consider excessive and sometimes I run just enough to keep in shape. My favorite part of running is the pleasure of inhaling the crisp fresh air in the morning and the silence of the woods in the evening.  Being active and being in constant motion while sweating stress out of my system– that is what running is all about for me.

I think Ireland is a great place to run, one of the best places in the world.

Because it is green all year round and the air is always fresh. There is no real winter and no real summer so it always feels like you are running during the fresh spring and autumn seasons. You just need to buy a good pair of waterproof, gore-tex runners and convince your mind that rain is a blessing because it brings life, then you are ready to go.

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There is an endless amount of routes in Ireland where you can run enjoying the wonderful climate of the green island. I will focus on a couple of places near my house.

No. 1 Running in the shadow of the rocks.

The Rock of Dunamaise
(53.030968, -7.207752)

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Just outside Portlaoise town you can find the remains of an old Castle set on top of a hill called the Rock of Dunamase. Just take the N80 from Portlaoise to Carlow, the castle is easily visible from the road. I ran there a few days ago. It was cold, the air was clear and crisp, and a linen of fog spread over the Irish fields below. The place is very old (around 1200 years) and almost always windy. It brings to mind the essence of Ireland with its’ old rocks, remnants of gates, halls, and corridors, as well as its’ amazing view of the surrounding fields and woods. There is an old church and cemetery situated at the foot of Dunamase and nearby on the opposite side of the N80 motorway there is a beautiful wooded area with a hilly trail. You can begin your run at the small parking area just in front of the Rock of Dunamase, opposite the church, and then run down to the woods finishing the loop by climbing the Rocks on the opposite side. The loop is 7.5km long and is great fun. Run alone or take a walk with your family, but I must warn you, some hills are pretty steep and the trail in the woods is very muddy in some parts. My heart always pounds when I run up the Rock of Dunamase; the highest elevation is 200 meters.

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good waterproof runners are recommended

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These are the rocks and the woods.

No. 2 Running the Oakvale Woods.

Oakvale Woods
(53.003483, -7.127231)

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Just 9 km from the Rock of Dunamase is another amazing place to run or hike. Take the N80 from Dunamase to Carlow, passing through Stradbally, about 1.5 km on your left, you will find a parking place which leads to Oughaval woods. Oughaval, or by some called, Oakvale woods is one of my favorite mountain runs and is also a beloved place for our family walks.

the monastic gate

Why do I like it so much?
Again, because of the amazing Irish climate, I love to run there and inhale the fresh air from all of the beeches, pines, tall oaks and Scots pine growing in the area. However, the Ougval woods is more than just beautiful flora and fresh air, these woods hide many secrets. I will mention three, but I want to encourage you to explore the woods and find more on your own.

Secret no 1. Mass Rock is hidden deep in the woods, a historical site where in the penal years, between 1691 and 1727, local people gathered for Mass. The place is situated in a small dale, surrounded by massive oaks.

somwhere near the Mass Rock

Secret no 2. If you get off the route, there is a huge possibility that you will come across the remains of a monastic settlement. It was found in about 595 AD and if you are lucky enough you can find the old gate to it, buried in the woods.

Secret no 3. You can also find a monastery, which was founded at Oughaval in the late sixth century by St Colman mac Ua Laoighse.

What more can you ask for? Beautiful woods filled with rich fauna, history, and secrets to be discovered.

You can take three runs or walks;

  • The Beech Way (2 km),  short forest run/walk, suitable for families
  • The Mass Rock Way (3 km), a short forest walk that follows the traditional route to the Mass Rock.
  • The Cobbler’s Walk (6 km) 1½ hours, a complete circuit of Oughaval Wood, which is perfect for hill training because of two long ascents.

or explore the woods freely in search of more hidden secrets.

Have fun and be careful not to get lost.

Gregory Margas
I’m Gregory, your ordinary Polish man living in Ireland. I’ve been living here with my family for almost eight years and ‘The Extraordinary Island’ still stuns me. I’m married to my best friend and we have two great children. I’m also a teacher and an enthusiastic runner who loves to surf, hike and write. If you have some extra time and want to learn what life in Ireland looks like, join me and let’s explore the green island together.