Night Moves: Trail Running in Killarney National Park

If you were driving past the entrance to Muckross Abbey around 7pm last night (or any of the past few Wednesday evenings), you might have decided it was definitely time to stop working so hard, or at least time to get an eye test. That’s because you might have looked up from your steering wheel to see strange lights bobbing about the national park. Don’t worry—your eyesight (and your sanity) is probably intact: You were just seeing a harmless nocturnal species called the Trail Runners.

A guest post from blogger and runner Aoife O’Carroll – Check out the blog at 

I’ve been running with the group a couple of times, and even though the thought of heading out into the dark, wind-blown, rain-sodden night becomes less and less appealing the closer to 7pm it gets, I always enjoy it when I get out there. All you need is sturdy running shoes, a couple of light layers, and a headlamp. Some of the more experienced runners are equipped with the kind of illumination you could see from space, so even if your light is a bit feeble, you won’t get lost. We regroup regularly to make sure everyone gets to run at their own pace, so you don’t need to worry if you think you’re not fast enough.

Deer in the Graveyard (Pic: Pat Rodgers)

Deer in the Graveyard (Pic: Pat Rodgers)

There is something very liberating about trotting along by the lake and through the woods at night. There is no pressure to run fast, and you can’t anyway or you’ll miss a turn-off or get caught out by a sneaky tree root. Your senses have to work harder, with just a little pool of light to keep you from stumbling, so the sounds of the wind in the trees and the waves smashing the lake shore are much clearer than they would be by day, and wafts of pine needles and damp leaves are strong in the air. Then there are the pairs of eyes gleaming yellow and green in the depths of the forest, as deer look up to see what strange creatures are thumping through their park at night.

The first night I joined the group, we ran along Muckross Lake shore before turning off by the boat house at the start of the Dinis trail and then running through Reenadinna Wood. Then we turned for home, scuttling through the graveyard at Muckross Abbey and crossing the stile to run through more woods until we got back to the main road a couple of hundred metres from our starting point. The whole route was 9.6km, so some of our more dedicated runners headed back on the Muckross Abbey path to hit the magic 10km.

Last night was a bit different, and to be honest, we weren’t really sure where we were half the time, which adds to the fun. Heavy rain meant the parts of the route near Dinis were flooded, and, although I know we’re supposed to be trail runners, stumbling through the dark in soggy trainers for 5km is just a bit too much like punishment for a November evening. Instead, the intrepid John Lanigan, with his NASA-grade headlamp and an impressive sense of direction, led us on a zig-zag route through Muckross Gardens around by the arboretum and down by Dundag for another atmospheric and sweaty brush with nocturnal Nature. We ran about 10km in total, finishing up via Muckross Abbey again.

So if your options for next Wednesday come down to a choice of EastEnders or Fair City, head to the first Muckross car park (opposite the entrance to Muckross Abbey) instead.

Sure what else would you be doing?

Aoife O’Carroll is a Killarney-based writer and runner. Check out her blog Iron(ing)Woman and the website

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