Official Launch of IAT Ireland with Ulster Way

On August 31, 2013, the International Appalachian Trail welcomed Northern Ireland's Ulster Way as its newest member and celebrated the completion of the IAT across the emerald isle, from Slieve League in the Republic to the ferry terminal at Larne.   The official launch was held at the Bluegrass Music Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh.

The event was attended by IAT Europe Vice President and trail organizer Magne Haugseng and a number of invited guests, including Northern Ireland Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan, Donegal North-East TD (Teachta Dála - i.e., Member of Parliament) Joe McHugh, and Omagh District Council Vice Chair Sorcha McAnespy.  Also on hand was IAT Chairperson Paul Wylezol, who extended an official welcome to the Ulster Way and Northern Ireland, and gratefully acknowledged the work of Magne and his colleagues on both sides of the border.

IAT Chairperson Paul Wylezol and Omagh District Council Vice Chair Sorcha McAnespy cutting a ribbon to officially open the IAT Ulster Way and the completed IAT route across Ireland. (L - R, IAT Europe Vice Chair Magne Haugseng, Northern Ireland Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan, Vice Chair McAnespy, Chairperson Wylezol, and Donegal North-East TD Joe McHugh

Said Environment Minister Durkan:

“The International Appalachian Trail will be very much welcomed by the many long distance walkers on our shores. What’s more, it gives them an opportunity to experience Northern Ireland’s stunning and diverse landscapes (passing through four Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)), wonder at the biodiversity, and enjoy the local built heritage. 

It provides everyone with the perfect setting for outdoor recreation.  This largely rural route will boost trade and prosperity in the local areas it covers, and it’s great that our environment and rich heritage is helping to do that. Further, being linked to the global network of the International Appalachian Trail will put us firmly on the map for tourists interested in this type of culture.”

Joe McHugh stated:

"I am delighted that the majestic cliffs of Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) in County Donegal have been designated as the International Appalachian Trail Landfall in Europe. As the Trail winds its way across Donegal and beyond, the visitor will appreciate the natural beauty and culture of this land and experience a warm welcome from the communities along the Trail. And it is indeed community that the Trail celebrates, whether it is the community of people and organizations that make the Trail possible in the US, Newfoundland, and now Ireland, or the community of international walkers and hikers who will make new friends along the Trail.

In Donegal, many groups and organizations have worked hard to make this Trail a reality, in particular, Donegal Local Development Company Ltd, Donegal County Council and the Irish Farmers Association. It is this vision and sense of community that has made the extension of the Appalachian Trail to Ireland possible, and it is this same sense of community – connecting peoples through a shared enjoyment of the beauty of our landscapes - that will ensure the success of the Trail in the future. We look forward to welcoming many international walkers and hikers to discover the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Trail from Slieve League to Larne.”

In addition to those on hand for the event, congratulations and welcome were also extended by U.S. Senator George Mitchell of the Good Friday Peace Agreement

(L-R) U.S. Senator George Mitchell and IAT Founder Richard "Dick" Anderson

who sent a letter of support for the new development

Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Loyola Hearn:

“It is with the greatest of pleasure that I congratulate all of you on the great work you have done to date and especially on launching IAT Ireland.  It seems like just yesterday that you first discussed this with me, and now it is becoming a reality.  The establishment of the International Appalachian Trail in Ireland continues to highlight the great ties that bind our countries.  The similarities between our landscapes and people, and the friendliness we all exude are more and more being realized.   I wish you every success in your launch in Omagh and the work that lies ahead.”

and former Maine Governor, current U.S. Congressman, and original proponent of the IAT, Joseph Brennan who stated

“I am particularly excited by Northern Ireland joining the IAT as the 20th Chapter and linking their famous trail system, including the Ulster Way, with the IAT trail system in Ireland. The Appalachian and Bluegrass Music Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park provides an authentic backdrop for the launch, as this music owes so much to music from other IAT partner countries like Norway, Iceland, the Faeroes, Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands.”

Joining the celebration live from the United States was a group from IAT Maine who were gathered at Brian Boru Irish pub in Portland, Maine.

Back on the trail, the IAT Ireland route now stretches from Slieve League in Donegal to Kelly’s Bridge in the Killeter Forest on the border with Strabane.  It then continues onwards to Bollagh Mountain where it joins the Ulster Way as it curves north to the Antrim coast, before turning south through the Glens, ending at Larne. In Scotland, the route starts at the Mull of Galloway and runs north all the way to Cape Wrath.

The Ulster Way is a 625 mile (1000 km) circular long-distance walking route that is one of the longest trails in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  Walkers can follow in the footsteps of St Patrick along the Lecale Way, discover the Mourne landscapes that inspired the Tales of Narnia, take in the tranquility of the Fermanagh Lakelands, enjoy the rugged Sperrin Mountains and walk the northern coastline with awe-inspiring views of Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Giant’s Causeway.

View of Giant's Causeway from the west

The International Appalachian Trail first ventured into Northern Ireland and the Republic in 2009, when the British and Irish Geological Surveys invited the IAT to visit Northern Ireland, and the Republic to meet with local stakeholders.

2009 IAT Meeting in Dublin, hosted by the Irish Geological Survey

This was followed by a joint Irish Republic / Northern Ireland meeting in Dublin on March 2010 hosted by Canadian Ambassador Loyola Hearn at the Canadian Embassy.

After less than a year of local meetings to decide a route and implement a development strategy, the Republic announced the designation of the western section of IAT Ireland beginning at Slieve League in Donegal.  Soon after, filmmaker and long distance hiker Mark Flagler completed the first hike of the new IAT Europe route, and later created the first IAT Ireland promotional video.

Finally and most recently, on September 1, 2013  AT/IAT long-distance hiker Cotton Joe Norman set out from Slieve League with the goal of completing all of the new IAT Ireland route, as well as the IAT Scotland route from the Mull of Galloway to Cape Wrath.  He was joined on his first day by IAT Chairperson Paul Wylezol. 

During his trek Joe plans to stop in Balloch, Scotland to attend the 2013 IAT AGM at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Paul Wylezol and Cotton Joe Norman toast IAT Ireland after hiking across the world-class Slieve League

Congratulations to Magne Haugseng, IAT Donegal Director Inga Bock, and all of IAT Ireland.

...... and good luck Joe!!  See you in Balloch!!