The Myth Of Irish Heather

Irish heather carpets the mountainous landscape of the Emerald Isle, adding natural, pale-pink and purple hues to the splendid scenery. Those heather clad mountains are part of every tourist’s dream of Ireland.

Heather clad Irish mountain

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Scottish heather tends to be a deeper shade of purple than the Irish variety.  This stunning wildflower adds shots of color to the stark and rugged landscapes of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.

Heather carpeted mountain

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Many years ago I worked with an American girl who longed to visit the land of her ancestors.  She loved to tell us about her magical images of the land she hoped one day to see.

One lunchtime she announced she planned to run bare foot through the heathery hills.  The moment my ears heard of her sprint, my mind conjured up pictures of brutally scratched feet, yellowed and stained by boggy waters.

A little voice inside my head urged:

“Don’t do it! Don’t ruin the dream!”

But then my practical side took over (remember I worked in healthcare, where safety comes first.)

“Run through the heather!” I exclaimed. “You’ll scratch the living daylights out of your feet with that prickly stuff.”

Not very barefoot-friendly, prickly, heather leaves

Her face grew pale with shock.

“You mean it’s not soft like carpet, just like it says in my novels.”


It was then I realized that this poor girl had read one too many romantic, gushy tales, where the heroine “runs through a carpet of heather” to find her true love.

“Alack and alas,” I explained. “That prickly stuff is a far cry from soft, foot-friendly carpet.  You’ll sink in the spongy bog where it loves to grow, then mutilate your feet with the spiny twigs.”


© James F. Perry - made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 license

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She tried to smile, thinking of the thorny stuff.

“But don’t worry,” I added.  “The kilted, Celtic heroes that chase you through the heather always remember to wear their boots.”

We laughed.  Part of me was sorry I wrecked her dream, but who knows, I may have saved her from serious foot damage at some point in her future.

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So be warned! When you are lured by the magical shades and tones of those little bell-shaped blossoms, keep your socks and shoes on.  Those spiky leaves are as prickly as they look.


Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom



  1. Hi Mairead, beautifully penned piece. We Americans are fed a lot of dreamy scenarios of our far away ancestral lands, you did the right thing tempering her expectations a bit. You could have gone one step further and told her of the wonders of stinging nettles and how to identify and find some dock plants quickly.

    • Thanks, Brian. I could also have thrown in a lesson on midges. Those annoying bugs would probably have chased her half way across the mountain, biting her bare ankles as she went. All the best!

  2. I. AM. IRISH. HEATHER! I look lovely and soft from afar but on closer look you find I’m prickly!

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