Perched out in the North Atlantic to the north-west of Europe, Ireland seems a million miles away from the sun-drenched triathlon Hotspots of Hawaii, Barcelona and California, but it’s home to some spectacular and dramatic triathlons.
With a mix of wild and rugged coastlines, mild temperatures and clean water, Ireland is ideal for triathlons that are often on deserted roads where all you see are dramatic scenery and sheep, after swimming in clear, cool waters.
Even the hills aren’t too bad when you compare them to the mountains often used for Ironman events on the Continent, making them an ideal spot for beginners as well as more experienced athletes looking for something different.
Plus there’s nothing better than relaxing in the warm hospitality of a cosy Irish Pub at the end of a tough race!
Whilst the big organisers like Ironman and Castle have Irish triathlons, many events are run by local clubs, which brings a passion and commitment that greatly enhances the experience, and guarantees loads of vocal support throughout the race making the smaller events the best Irish triathlons.
Here are a few of the very best Irish triathlons that everyone wants to complete
Based in Kilkee’s Horseshoe Bay on the west coast, Hell of the west has been going for over 35 years, making it one of the longest running races in the country. Mixing a calm sea swim, a windy coastal cycle and a hilly 10k, this Olympic distance race is hugely popular and sells out very quickly. It’s not for the beginner though, and as the name suggests, can be tough, this is the north Atlantic after all!
The coastline makes for a dramatic backdrop to a tough race as you cycle out towards Loop head jutting out into the north Atlantic and finish with a 10k along breathtaking cliffs with waves crashing below. And you can always take your mind off your aching legs by looking out for dolphins and basking sharks in the waters below.
However, it’s more a festival of triathlon than a race and the town becomes overrun by triathletes for one weekend in June, all looking to beat the hell of the West!
2018’s Irish race of the Year winner, Hook or by Crook is a friendly sprint triathlon down in the south-east with a couple of surprises!
After registering in the local pub, you move up the hill to transition, perched on top of a pristine bay, with a soft sandy beach start and clear calm waters, before you realise you are a long way above the beach! The first surprise is realising you have to run up a winding path up the side of a cliff after your swim before you even get on the bike!
A similar fate awaits at the beginning of the run, where, after a little downhill to lull you into a false sense of complacency the run turns steeply uphill for a run around the golf course overlooking the sea.
What makes it special is the friendly competition, as a number of the big clubs use this as interclub and club championships, so there is always strong support and a well-run race. And the after party makes up for any disappointment on the course.
Continued support from locals and club make sure this is one of the best Irish triathlons every year, for beginners and seasoned athletes alike.
Before Ironman brought 70.3 to Dublin, Ireland already had its fair share of iconic Middle distance races, and Lost sheep is the top of the pile. With a mix of location, an international reputation and toughness, lost sheep is the one everyone wants to do, so it sells out fast, and generally tends to be populated by the best athletes in the sport.
Based in Kenmare and covering 104km of the World famous Beara Peninsula, this race is TOUGH! There are 2 category one climbs on the cycle route which is 10km shorter to account for the toughness of the climb. Add in a 150m dark tunnel and 6km of alpine switchbacks, this race requires excellent cycling technique, massive strength and endurance and bags of mental toughness, no wonder 220Triathlon ranked 6th in their list of toughest middle distance Triathlons!
The unique landscape of Co Sligo inspired WB Yeats so greatly that he insisted on being buried under the majestic Benbulben, and Mullaghmore head offers amazing views of the surrounding mountains, coupled with one of the best Big wave surfing locations in the world.
The triathlon starts with a 750m swim in the sheltered, shallow beach followed by a 20km cycle on great roads through Yeats Country under Benbulben and followed by a short 5km run along the coast towards the dramatic Classibawn Castle which looks like something out of Emily Bronte.
Run by MSC, an offshoot of the local Sailing club, this is a well run, well supported and friendly race taking place in some of the most beautiful scenery the West of Ireland has to offer
TriAthy might be the biggest race, but DCT is not far off, and wins Race of the Year most years, and is expertly organised and run by the Piranha Triathlon Club, one of Ireland’s largest and most successful clubs.
Being based in the city the format of the race changes each year, but generally includes a relay, sprint and Olympic distances and will usually include a Cat 1 race which brings athletes from the UK and Ireland together.
The race mostly takes place on closed roads in Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe, so you won’t even realise you’re in the middle of a vibrant city (until you are out that night!), after a swim in the Dodder river, about a mile upstream from the Guinness Brewery. The Cycle then loops around the park, which is hilly but not tough, before the final run takes you up the infamous Khyber pass and on to a celebratory finish back at the river.
Caroline Kearney Olympic distance race is named in memory of a leading female triathlete who was killed during a cycle training session in 2006 and is run as a memorial by Midlands Tri.
Based in the centre of Ireland, it’s pretty flat, making it one of the faster Olympic distance races, but what really makes it stand out is the sim which takes place in deep, clear and calm waters of Lough Ennell. Think of it like swimming in a large slightly cool swimming pool!
This makes it one of the best Irish triathlons for people who want to go further but are nervous of open water.
With a fast cycle and great organisations, this is one of the better triathlons annually.
Ireland’s answer to Escape from Alcatraz, this race starts on the former prison on Spike island before a 1500m swim across Cobh harbour near Cork before a relatively flat cycle around the Cork countryside and a flat run through the town, which guarantees great support from the local crowd.
Pulse beach is generally the last race of the season in Ireland, and the sea can be cold! But what makes it special is it’s generally the last chance people have to win National series points or to race at all, so there is a great feeling to the race and a mix of fun and competition which makes it unique.
The time of year makes it challenging though as the weather can be starting to turn, meaning the swim in the Irish Sea halfway between Dublin and Belfast can change from millpond calm to washing machine rough from year to year. Plus, It’s cold! Don’t expect to feel your feet again until you’ve finished the run!
I’ve left out some of the big races, like Ironman 70.3, Castle Galway, Triathy, Lough Key, Two provinces and a load of others that deserve so if you think your race should be included, add your nomination for Best Irish triathlons in the comments below.