Howth sucked the breath out of my mouth when I first climbed over the summit to see the panoramic view of its peninsula. Located less than 30 minutes outside Dublin, it is a haven for nature lovers. (Check out my video of the sweeping coastal walk here.)
The placid grey sea stretched for miles below me. The last rays of the fiery setting sun jabbed the sky, a boxer punching its taut surface. The green terrain rolled precipitously down until it vanishes into the sea. Giant slabs of grey rock punctuated the surface. I felt so small battling the wind.
But then a group of hikers climbed up the mountain path. An Aussie Shepherd led the group, bolting ahead to reach the top. Laughing out loud, I thought of my golden retriever back home. How he would love to romp and run along these grassy paths.
If my bus didn’t depart in 30 minutes, I would endeavor a “ramble” down to the sea. But the cliff path loop would take nearly two hours.
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I had reached the outskirts of Howth, a spectacular seaside village located near cosmopolitan Ireland. But it is a world apart from the medieval castle, Temple Bar, tenement museums, and historic Liberties neighborhood.
I recommend you start at Howth Summit to appreciate the geography of this town perched near the Irish Sea.
The Vikings named the village Hofuth. The Old Norse word means promontory. Today the Irish name of the village is Howth.
If arriving by bus, you must get out and climb the road to reach the summit. Your seaside is view is hidden until you top the crest.
Cliff Loop Walk
I followed the path of rock slabs to begin my initial descent. Far below, the village crouched. The miniature houses and stores reminded me of a Lego village.
But I discovered the Irish Sea is my biggest distraction on this hike. I couldn’t resist stopping at every juncture to admire these wild waters. I wanted to chant a line from Aubrey De Vere’s poem about sea cliffs.
“Awfully beautiful art thou, O sea!”
Like the poet, I viewed “from the vantage of these giant rocks” and shuddered at the “dread abyss, till the depth mocks.”
Sea foam delighted me, little fairies of light dancing on the water at sunset. The clouds billowed and rolled across the sky. This panorama of mountains, water, and sky stretched to infinity. I struggled to focus on one object, choosing the fire orb of the soon-to-be-setting sun. It was only 2:51 pm.
Unlike the poet, I did not hear the “shrill sea-bird’s scream.” But the wind whistled its eerie tune in my ear. How I longed to visit this site when I could fling off my winter coat, knitted hat, and woolen pants and feel the sun’s hot rays on my skin. But my winter visit offered its own appeal as I “owned” this solitary moment away from the seasonal crush of tourists and Irish daytrippers. I could commune with the wild sea.
“Here man, alone, is naught; Nature supreme,Aubrey De Vere
Where all is simply great that meets the eye,—
The precipice, the ocean, and the sky.”
About 8,000 people live in Howth but the population balloons as soon as warm weather arrives.
Once a secluded seaside village famous for its fresh catch, Howth now is a favorite destination for visitors.
Dubliners can also get their beach fix since there is easy access by train or bus.
Even though my legs were tired from my hike down toward the cove, I didn’t want to miss exploring this fairytale village.
We had a short bus trip into town as the road takes a sharp turn onto Abbey Street after leaving the summit. Down below, I viewed the harbor. Boats bobbed in the water. On the main road, I spied a “Dog Parking” area.
Our driver delivered us in front of a row of restaurants. We were given 90 minutes to explore Howth.
St. Mary’s Abbey
Instead of getting dinner, I headed into the darkening night. I wanted to see medieval Howth by visiting its monastery.
My hike past the bars, shops, and restaurants was considerably longer than I appreciated while sitting on a bus looking out the window.
But I was rewarded when I reached the main road (Abbey Street) to see the brightly painted row homes clustered in a row.
I discovered St. Mary’s Abbey was closed so I could only admire the exterior. The Viking King of Ireland (Sigtrygg) built the first church in Howth in 1042. It was replaced by an abbey in 1235.
If Guinness is famous for brewing its creamy “black Irish champagne,” Howth is renowned for its promontory. I pledge to return to Ireland one day to see its revered West Coast, including the Cliffs of Moher (since I was forced to cancel my trip due to the snow). But I glimpsed the wild face of Ireland on the cliff path at Howth.
“Hidden under wild ferns on Howth. Below us bay sleeping sky. No sound. The sky.”James Joyce
In addition to the monastery, Howth features a 15th-century castle and gardens, a lighthouse, a transport museum, three nautical sculptures, a vintage radio museum, harbor restaurants, and a fish market to purchase the day’s fresh catch. Book a boat tour to visit Howth’s island bird sanctuary (Ireland’s Eye) as well as see the ruins of an ancient church.