Marhofn 133.07 - May 2005

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Around Ireland with a list

Rob Woodall

Last year two long-deferred projects were finally implemented. The first was to sample the botanical riches of the Channel Islands (and obviously to visit the SubMarilyn, as well as two Yeaman-equivalent hills). The second was to do some bagging in Ireland. My track record was not great: a long weekend in 1990 for the Furth Munros, 24 hours in 1997 involving Slieve Donard as one of the four UK country tops, and a week's botanising in 2002 which netted one Graham and an island Marilyn. So, a ferry and two weeks' leave were duly booked. Next, I needed a Plan. Needless to say there were plenty of hills to go at. Gradually they settled into a rough order of priority:

Other 30m-drop hills, i.e. 500s, 400s, 300s, listed by Clem Clements (with 500s also listed by Myrddyn Phillips)

I wasn't sure that two weeks would be quite enough.

On 30 May I find myself in deepest Dublin, with election posters (Euro and local) on every lamppost far outnumbering the signposts. This being Sunday and near Dublin, I see someone on the first summit (a 500er) and meet a group of three locals on Mullaghcleevan (849m/374m drop). During the rest of the afternoon, Tonelagee (817/204) and Kippure (757/264) are also visited, the latter having a UK-style trig with the pleasingly low number 0010, being one of the Irish primary trigs which was also tied into the UK network.

The main business for holiday Monday is the Mournes. Having already been to Slieve Donard, instead of the big Mourne Wall walk I choose the shorter circuit of Silentwater valley: good weather, great hills, including Slieve Binnian (746/350) and Slieve Commedagh (767/184). Again, there are folk around, particularly around the superb rocky summit of Slieve Bearnagh (729/304), but that is pretty much the end of the company for the week.

Tuesday a.m. is Donegal. I am tempted by Richard Gilbert's circuit of Errigal (751/688) from the north, but this strays onto OS2 which I don't have, and as the cloud is down I settle for the dude route from the SE - one of Ireland's most striking hills, shamefully climbed in cloud. I head southwards to find better weather. The election posters, which are prominent even in the sparsely populated north-west, are the talk of the breakfast program on TodayFM. Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald is voted fittest candidate, Kathy Sinnott (Independent) has much the best teeth, while Labour favour the gothic look with Ivana Bacek - a mean blonde in black. The main comedy focus of the election coverage is the hapless Dublin mayor, Royston Brady, who steadfastly refuses interviews and is the subject of much satire.

The Truskmore road is barred not only to vehicles but also to 'Unauthorised Persons'. A quick steep route from the west is duly found: unimpressive summit but great views east from the plateau edge (reminiscent of Trotternish, but with lush fields at the foot of the vegetated cliffs). I later discover that the east cairn (unvisited) is a county top. Doh! I just have time for Knockalongy (544/482: FFI) before finishing on Nephin (806/750 - unsurprisingly a primary trig) in evening light, with great views.

A few days now in Sligo and Mayo, starting in the 'remote' Nephin Beg range, but not it's at all remote by Scottish standards. A circuit of the northern half takes in Nephin Beg itself (627/364) and Slieve Cor (721/648) with its view down onto the plundered landscape surrounding the peat-burning Bellacorick power station. The afternoon is spent on Achill Island for two fine big hills, Croaghaun and Slievemor, sadly in cloud, and weird roadside plants - I've never seen the striking garden plant altar-lily growing wild before.

Thursday starts badly, on the tourist trail up Croagh Patrick (764/640) in lashing drizzle. It must be a fascinating place at pilgrim time, but lacking my rosary and ignorant of the Hail Mary, I am glad to get back to the car. Mweelrea (814/778: highest point in the five counties of Connacht) is a different matter. Weather only slightly better, but hills superb: Lugmore vertical rock, Mweelrea seemingly vertical peaty grass, with a fine 397m Marilyn to finish. The afternoon is dry, and with little driving and modest hill distances there is time for a pleasant wander round the Sheefry Hills (772/706), watching the clouds play around the ridges. Friday again starts wet. Luckily I find an easy route to Ben Gorm (700/612) via an obvious grassy slope from the west. Then Dillon's circuit of Maumtrasna (682/608 - narrowly missing 2kP status) and Devilsmother (not his mother at all - see TACit Table note 63 for details), including a search for the rare Irish St John's Wort (very tiny as yet - best in September), then Bunnacunneen (FFI: 575/463) to round off the day.

Near the start of the path up Croagh Patrick

Near the start of the path up Croagh Patrick

Two more quality 2kP hills before moving south to Kerry. Sat a.m. involves a circuit of the southern heartland of the Maum Turks: Barrslieveanroy and Binn Mhor are slow going in cloud on fine, complex rough quartz-strewn hills. This being at the junction of four maps, I carry a black-and-white composite photocopy, and meet a Welshman carrying a stunningly clear Harveys Connemara map. Both maps show the former 2000er Corcogemore now languishing at 609m. The Irish 1:50000 sheets, while having attractive height-band shading, show no crags or other terrain marking: you quickly learn to double-check the contours. For Benbaun I reject the mammoth horseshoe routes of Dillon in favour of a circuit from the NE: this avoids reascent and nets a bonus 582m Marilyn which turns out to be much the most interesting hill of the circuit. Finding a way off it in the cloud is also interesting.

Good hills, mixed weather - such is western Ireland. Sunday starts with a drive across the plains to Slievekimalta (694/606). Then a supermarket trip to replenish the dwindling foodbox, before continuing to the Slieve Mish in Kerry for Baurtregaum (851/642), where a simple approach from the west also includes a bonus, and rather fine, 500m top.

Monday (7 June) starts with a circuit of the Benoskee group, but the main business of the day is Brandon (952/930). Its CTs and GTs are awkwardly arranged for a single trip, especially in view of the two East Ridge CTs.

The books I have with me suggest the latter might be tricky, but give no idea of grading (like a shortened Aonach Eagach, as it turns out; superb architecture). I decide on a circuit from Cloghane, up the east ridge, out north to Masatiompan with its lovely coastal views, than back over the whole ridge to Brandon Peak (840/178) and down the easy east ridge of its south top. For once the weather is good, and the scenery, particularly around the main Brandon coum, is stunning.

Tues: 06:20 to 12:30 Venus is due to transit across the sun. A circuit of the Coomcarrea (772/474) group fails to produce any clear views of the sun, although irritatingly, I can see to the coast which is mostly bathed in sunshine. In the afternoon I head up Purple Mountain (832/594). Vehicular access to the Gap of Dunloe is a bit vague: 'Unsuitable for Motors', but they're not actually banned. The accepted modes are horsedrawn and pedestrian. I settle for the Dillon route from Kate Kearney's Cottage, although the weather turns so foul on top that I pick a shorter but rough route NW down to the road. I'm given a lift by two Kiwi ladies who have taken their car up the road. As the road is now empty I do the same: bumpy in places but perfectly okay, with a little parking area at the pass. Best tactic would be to drive up from the south, I guess. Or do the decent thing and walk.

Wednesday starts with a sunny climb of the CT at the west end of the Carrauntoohil range. Then the weather closes in again. Mullaghanattin (773/515) is taken via the Dillon route from the south. The direct approach is festooned with angry red notices, and as the farmer has just driven up the track I opt for a clockwise route, taking in a bonus 500er on the descent and avoiding the problem area. Fine hills. Lastly, Stumpa Duloigh (784/496), which I tackle from the pass to the west. The Corbett is steep and grassy; the intricate intervening ridge has some great little tops.

Thurs a.m. is still wet. In need of an easier day between two longish ones, I take Knockboy (706/610) on its own, pleased to discover, no thanks to the 1:50000 map, that the road from the north is driveable to Priest's Leap. Notably this is the first new 2kP I've climbed since Baurtregaum: in contrast with the hills of Sligo and Mayo, none of the Iveragh Peninsula hills have the necessary reascent from Carrauntoohil. The main route today is a circuit of Mangerton (839/586), via the Dillon route from the north. It's now windy but mostly clear, and the fine coums show to good effect. I retire to Muckross Lake to photograph some botanical specialities, before being midged out. Midges have rarely been a problem, even during the rare windless spells. I escape to the cultural hotspot of Kilkenny, for food, some Deep Purple riffs and a couple of interesting old pillar boxes, painted green of course (accordingly I had expected Ulster postboxes to be orange, but disappointingly they're red, just like at home).

On Friday I nibble away at the remaining Galty Mountains CTs and GTs, in three chunks, having been on Galtymore and Galty Beg on the original Munro foray. Saturday in warm sunshine I visit the remaining Hewitt groups of the south-east. The highest of the Knockmealdowns is reached easily from the Vee Gap to the west. After several scans of the map over several days, for the Comeraghs I finally hit on a neat circuit from the car park to the west, which takes in Knockanaffrin (755/289) and Over Fauscoum (792/625), leaving just the southern two GTs for another time. Being an Irish holiday weekend, it's a busy route: three people and three angry peregrines. The wide track up Slievenamon (721/638) provides a stress-free end to the day. Meanwhile, the TodayFM crew have been on a two-day circuit of the highest points of the four Irish provinces: Carrauntoohil, Mweelrea, Slieve Donard and Lugnaquillia.

On Sunday (13 June) there is just time for Mount Leinster (795/725) which is my final British 2kP and Irish Corbett, plus a bonus Kirk, Keadeen Mountain - my 123rd Irish Hewitt. My smug satisfaction in having also completed the Irish Corbett Tops evaporates a few days later when I realise I've missed the Lugnaquillia pair. I may have to go back.

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