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For a deep dive into Killarney, Wander Wild Festival offers adventure, scenery and relaxation

Hardy swimmers brave a sunrise dip in Muckross Lake

Maeve McTaggart and boyfriend Joe enjoy a cycling tour

Cosy Samhradh’s Sauna

A warm welcome at Randles Hotel

Kayakers on stunning Lough Lein

Roz Purcell blazing a trail with fellow walkers

Maeve McTaggart

During my stint of swimming lessons in secondary school, I was “recovering from a cold.” Every week I would hand a new note on my illness to a very suspicious PE teacher and watch with my coat on as the rest of my class froze in the pool. I was often joined by a friend who also — tragically and completely coincidentally — could not shake her own Friday morning cold. Maybe it was contagious.

My younger self would have shivered at the mere thought of rolling out of bed at 5.30am to step into a lake in Kerry. Yet either by a moment of growth or madness, there I was… though still shivering.

When faced with the line-up for Killarney’s Wander Wild Festival, something must have possessed me to test myself. As it is my favourite place in the country (outside of Cork, the Cork woman in me feels compelled to add), I wanted to be wooed all over again.

Roz Purcell blazing a trail with fellow walkers

That, somehow, is what brought me to Dundag Beach on Muckross Lake just as the sun was rising. When I say ‘me’, I also mean my ever-obliging boyfriend who, when he told our tour guide about our swimming plans the day previous, he laughed with pity and said: ‘Wow, you must love her!’

Spread across a weekend in March, ‘Ireland’s Great Outdoors Festival’ kicked off on a Friday and came to a close on Sunday. There could be no better venue in the country, with something for everyone spread across the schedule that includes hikes — including one led by influencer and HikeLife founder Roz Purcell — and bits for kids that would have adults envying their urban orienteering course and animal roadshow.

We went for the guided cycle tour of the National Park on Friday afternoon, started our Saturday with a swim and closed it out with a surreal kayak tour of Killarney’s lakes. We spent the rest of our hours peering into what else is on offer in the town — adored by American tourists in particular but underrated by the rest of us for a super staycation.

When I had signed up for the Sunrise Dip at Dundag with the ‘Salty Sea Sisters,’ I was hoping to have an experience I never had before. When would we ever do this again? (‘Why should we ever do it at all?’ the ever-obliging boyfriend asked, though agreeing the answer was likely ‘Never.’)

As we walked through the National Park towards our icy wake-up call, we heard chatting, arriving just as the speaker was being set up. At 6.30am, we stepped into the lake to the soundtrack of As It Was by Harry Styles, having been slightly misled by the experienced sea swimmers among us of its true temperature.

If you have ever marvelled at sea swimmers, it is the perfect time to test the waters for yourself and chat to people who do it every day (‘Every day!’ I shrieked on more than one occasion) on Ireland’s coastline. Attempt to be taken in by the same mindfulness and serenity as they are before you hop into the nearby sauna and swear yourself off it for life.

Maeve McTaggart and boyfriend Joe enjoy a cycling tour

Sitting in the cosy heat of Samhradh’s Sauna, set up in a travelling wooden cabin propped up on the sand, we watched the sun come up over Torc before pulling on our jumpers and walking back to the car. It was freezing but brilliant, we concluded. A bucket list-type experience that I would encourage for even the most averse of swimmers and morning people.

Your alarm sounding at 5.30am should be grossly upsetting. But we felt rested as we pushed the window open, layering up on jumpers while getting ready.

We stayed at the beautifully cosy, and brilliantly central Randles Hotel Killarney in the junior suite, with a bed that was only easy to leave knowing we could come back for a nap later. Within walking distance of the town and the festival bus stop, it was the perfect place to set up base camp.

Every event is serviced by a bus, with festival organisers confident that all you need to bring to the weekend are a few layers and yourself. No car necessary.

The day before our dip — our first in Killarney — we had set out on a guided cycling tour of the National Park. It spans over 100km and includes the beautiful Torc waterfall and paths that are easier covered on bikes (their rental is included in the ticket price) than on foot.

Cosy Samhradh’s Sauna

Taking in the stunning landscape before making stops at Torc, the regal Muckross House and Muckross Abbey — a centuries-old monastic site where sacred yew trees sit in the centre of the building in a surreal set-up — we were shown the best kept secrets of the National Park by Michael, a passionate guide who expertly showcased the sometimes easily missed wonders of Killarney.

The expansive mountains, lakes and woodland surrounding the manor house are breathtakingly beautiful. There are multiple moments that will stop you in your tracks, especially when we set out on a guided kayak tour towards the Upper Lakes.

Manoeuvring our kayak (as first-time kayakers and, due to my dodging of lessons, a poor swimmer in me) became a task I would highly recommend for any couples therapy. After a few minutes of practice and the kind assurance that it was not a race, we would go as fast as the slowest boat, it was smooth sailing as the group — led by our expert guide — travelled toward the upper lakes.

The festival boasts the chance to ‘experience Killarney like never before’, and sitting on a kayak in the centre of an awe-inspiring valley certainly fulfils that brief.

Offering options for the most outdoorsy among us to those who are just looking to try something new, the festival schedule offered events for all abilities and fitness levels. We arrived at our kayak tour naively wetsuitless and were relieved to be handed all the gear needed to get the most out of the day.

Kayakers on stunning Lough Lein

Also offering mindful moments like yoga, reiki and forest bathing, no two people will have the same weekend, though they can come together over coffee in some of the town’s gorgeous cafes. My recommendations are Noelle’s for their flatbreads, Rí-Rá for the drive-thru option while en route to your next event and, if you get the chance, heading up to the picturesque Ladies View to enjoy a coffee with an unforgettable view.

A rare Irish event that is not rooted in pubs and pint-drinking, there are still plenty of chances to enjoy a drink and live music in the town — a big part of Killarney’s charm for tourists. Mundy, of Galway Girl fame, took to the intimate setting of St Mary’s Church on Saturday evening, if a gig is on the cards for your weekend.

I am already mapping out my plans for next year when the festival takes place from March 22 to 24 — though with a few extra layers packed in my bag.


KILLARNEY, CO KERRY See ■ Next year’s Wander Wild Festival will take place between March 22 and 24. ■ Maeve stayed at Randles Hotel Killarney. See for more.

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