In an ideal world, walkers would have the right to roam—or the right of public access—on all lands except active farmland, fields of planted crops, railways, airfields, harbours, mining quarries, or in the immediate vicinity (approx.150 meters) of private gardens, houses, and homes.  The right to roam allows unfettered public access across low value, uncultivated land, based on responsible activities such as refraining from harming or disturbing animals, wildlife, or the environment, littering, or trespassing on private property. 

Right to Roam

The right to roam is based on ‘Everyman’s right’ allowing access to uncultivated open countryside without seeking the land owner’s permission.  These areas can include mountain plains, coastal foreshore, bogs, forests, lakes, rivers and canal banks, cliff paths and, of course, anywhere within Ireland’s six National Parks, listed below:

Ireland National Parks
  1. Glenveagh National Park
  2. Wild Nephin National Park
  3. Connemara National Park
  4. Burren National Park
  5. Killarney National Park
  6. Wicklow Mountains National Park

Right of Way

However, the right to roam unfettered through open countryside is not appropriate when crossing cultivated farmland.  In these cases, walker’s must be additionally cautious and vigilant when crossing farmland so as to not disturb animals or harm planted crops.  To achieve this, a right of way will funnel walkers through narrow, way-marked linear paths that minimises and prevents unnecessary disturbance or economic loss to farmers by their recreational activities.  Walkers are asked to identify and respect these rights of way and remain on the way-marked path for the duration of the walk.

Assessment of current situation

Unfortunately, in Ireland, neither rights of way nor the right to roam are recognised under constitutional legislation.  Any private landowner has the law on their side and can arbitrarily block public access on or through their land at their own discretion.  The only areas covered by the right to roam are the aforementioned six National Parks.  In recognition of increased public demand for recreational access to the countryside, the Irish government introduced a national Walks Scheme in 2008.  This scheme involves landholders permitting access on their land for National Waymarked Ways, Looped Walking Routes, and Heritage Routes, along with other trails approved by Sport Ireland Outdoors.  The Walks Scheme resulted in the establishment and improvement of 80 national trails with ongoing maintenance contracts managed by the relevant landowners.  However, any landowner can leave the scheme after six months notice and retract public access on their land. 

Coillte is Ireland’s semi-state forestry body who provides open access to approximately 200 waymarked walking trails around Ireland.  However, its core function is commercial planting, and its forestry is primarily focused on growing mono-species like sitka spruce, which makes up 71% of planted trees in Ireland.  In this regard, there are serious arguments against the value and attraction these forests have to offer those seeking peace and restoration of naturally biodiverse, native outdoor environments.


Only through increased public demand for open access to native, natural environments will the necessary legislation be granted and resources allocated.  In the meantime, recreational users must show due respect towards farmers and private landowners, and adequate consideration towards animals, wildlife, and the environment when out exploring the Irish countryside.  Anyone wishing to explore the outdoors should plan and research their trip beforehand, notify someone in advance of their expected destination and return time, and bring proper clothes, footwear, and sustenance for their journey.  Please be mindful of the international Leave No Trace principles and always keep dogs on leads when requested by farmers or other recreational users.



Leave No Trace Educational principles

Keep Ireland Open Community based resource

The Walks Scheme  Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

The Walks Scheme: Walks and Trails A list the 80 trails under the Walk Scheme

Recreation in the Irish Countyside Comhairle na Tuaithe (the Countryside Council)

Occupiers’ Liability Act 1995 Addresses landowner’s public liability exposure relating to injuries suffered by recreational users and others on their land