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Walking Ireland’s Highest Points

January 29, 2010

What’s the plan?

Hike to the highest point in each county in Ireland, reaching them all during 2010.

What’s involved?

The high points of the 32 counties of Ireland are covered by 26 peaks, ranging in height from 276 meters (Slieve Na Calliagh) in Meath to Carrauntoohill’s 1039.

Several counties share a peak. Mount Leinster, for example, forms the high point of both Carlow and Wexford.

Among these hills are some of Ireland’s most popular and appealing mountains, such as Errigal and Slieve Donard. You’ll also find some that aren’t visited so often,  such as Cupidstown Hill in Co. Kildare.

Click on the green icons in the map for direct links to the blog posts or click to see a list of Ireland’s county high points.

Why do this?

  • I love getting up into the hills, but between a couple of years of mountain biking followed by a couple more of inactivity I haven’t been walking in a long time.
  • Last year was an exceptionally difficult year in my life.  Now that I have the project well under way I am trying to raise some much-needed funds for ISANDS, a charity that helped my wife and I a great deal during 2009. So please, give yourself the warm fuzzy feeling that is guaranteed to come from sponsoring me!
  • This strikes me as a great way to see Ireland and get to know my country a little better. From the Sperrins in the north to the Knockmealdown mountains of Waterford there are some great places to see that I probably wouldn’t make the effort to visit unless I was on a mission, like this one.

Walking Ireland’s County Tops gets a mention in the Irish Times

July 21, 2011

I was delighted to learn that Éanna Ní Lamhna, who previously mentioned this blog on RTE Radio 1, has now completed her ascent of the highest point in each county in Ireland.

Here’s a brief article on her  County Tops adventure that appeared in the Irish Times on the 21st of July 2011.

Broadcaster Ní Lamhna finishes climb of island’s 26 highest peaks

BROADCASTER AND botanist Éanna Ní Lamhna has availed of a bird’s eye view of the country after completing the 26 highest peaks on the island.

Ní Lamhna, accompanied by her husband, John Harding, and her friend Una Connaughton, began their arduous mission in January in her native Co Louth with the 589m Slieve Foye, and ended on Tuesday in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks near Killarney with the soaring Carrauntoohil, the country’s highest peak at 1039m.

Speaking in Killarney yesterday, she said the Slieve Foy climb appeared difficult at the time but her fitness has increased and going up the Devil’s Ladder in Kerry was not a huge challenge.

The former An Taisce president was inspired by the detailed blog of Murray Nolan, who took on the same challenge to remember his daughter Eve, who died at birth, and to raise funds for the Little Lifetime Foundation charity.

She followed the “incredible” detail of Mr Murray’s blog, which gives a daily account and helpful information, including a table of the 26 mountains. The route took her to places such as Antrim’s 550m Trostan mountain, which she would never have visited otherwise.

The 795m Mount Leinster is the highest peak in Carlow and Wexford so that took care of two counties. During her trip Ní Lamhna developed her opinions on tourism and trees – she is president of the Tree Council – and the education of children.

There were far “too many too big” Nama-type hotels, she said, and she now chose to stay in family-run or owned hotels or guesthouses. While the weather is one of the less attractive features of holidaying in Ireland, she notes that at least it is not so hot that you cannot go outdoors and there are “no mosquitoes when you open the windows at night”.

Anne Lucey (Irish Times, 2011)

P.s That’s Mr. Nolan to you, Ms Lucey.

Famous at last

February 13, 2011

County Tops on the radio

The blog got a radio mention recently on RTE’s Mooney Show, as Eanna ní Lamhna explained how she had taken to the hills to climb to the highest point in her native Co. Louth, Slieve Foye.

Slieve Foye viewed from Barnavave Col, Carlingford, Co. Louth

Carlingford's Slieve Foye from below, near Barnavave col.

By coincidence I was listening in at the time so when I heard Eanna say she planned to walk to the highest point in each county the show got my un-divided attention. I was shocked when she went on to mention this blog as a great resource for anyone planning to do such a challenge.

With listener numbers of around 200,000 I was pleased to see some folks making their way over to the blog with the stats shooting up soon after the show to over three times the previous busiest day’s figures.

You can listen to a playback of the show here, starting from about the 9th minute. It’s a brief reference but I was delighted to hear the blog and the idea of walking the County Tops getting a little exposure among people who might just give it a go themselves.

Here, by the way, is my Carlingford walking route.

Knockboy, Co. Cork

January 11, 2011

Located in the Shehy Mountains near Glengarriff and Kenmare, Knockboy straddles the border between Cork and Kerry. Standing at 706 meters it forms the highest point in Co. Cork…and the 30th highest point in Kerry.

This was the last mountain I needed to climb in order to visit the highest point in each county in Ireland during 2010. My friend Ross and I took just under 2hrs to summit and return to our parking spot at the Priest’s Leap.

Having left Lucan at 720 we made great progress down the M8, reaching the Jack Lynch tunnel just two hours later. From here we took the ring road and proceeded to drive (carefully – you’ll understand) through Beal na mBlath before arriving at the climb to Priest’s Leap.

These last few kilometers of the drive have been described as hair-raising due to the narrowness of the steep road and the unprotected drops that claw at your wheels. We certainly found it interesting as the view frequently featured only car bonnet and sky while we first-geared over undulations in the road, wondering what direction the path would take when we saw it next.

The road to Priest's Leap, Co. Cork

A level-ish section of the drive up to Priest's Leap

Still, I reckoned that if the Google Streetview car could make it up the hill then we could, so we drove on and soon enough we were parking in the small space at the Priest’s Leap, getting dressed in a delightful wind-blown drizzle while admiring the panoramic wall of cloud enveloping the spot. With grim determination/ resignation we crossed the road and started along a fence that leads in the right direction, which in this case was straight into the gloom. Read more…

Carrauntoohil, Co. Kerry

December 29, 2010

Climbing Ireland’s highest mountain – Carrauntoohil in County Kerry

Carrauntoohil is Ireland’s highest mountain. Standing at 1039 meters it is situated in the rugged MacGillycuddy’s Reeks range of mountains, surrounded by many of Ireland’s tallest peaks featuring jagged ridges and imposing faces.

Our walk on the 18th of December was carried out in deep snow – the deepest our guide had ever seen in the area – and  took from dawn ’till dusk. This hike would not have been recommended without an experienced guide or plenty of scrambling & winter mountaineering experience, plus the ability to navigate in white out conditions. In short, it was a tough but fantastic day in the hills that will live on in the memory.

I’d always planned to get a guide when it came to tackling Carrauntoohil, primarily because I wanted to avoid the standard and much eroded Devil’s Ladder route to the summit. Instead, I wanted to bring some friends along and top Carrauntoohil by way of one of Ireland’s great walks, such as the Coomloughra horseshoe. Having a guide would mean I wouldn’t have to undertake complex route finding in places like the Beenkeeragh ridge.

Read more…

Galtymore – Limerick and Tipperary

December 5, 2010

Galtymore from the Black Road

Galtymore stands at 919 Meters. It forms the highest point in County Limerick and Tipperary.

My walk, following the Black Road and taking in Galtybeg took just under 3 hours.

I walked up Galtymore on Saturday 27th of November. This was a day with ‘Turn Back Now’ written all over it, from the light snowfall that almost prevented my half-six departure from the house to the blizzard conditions I encountered on the M7 as I headed out from Dublin. I considered going home and back to bed several times, but figured there was so much snow on the road that I wouldn’t make it up the off-ramp to change direction. You see, this was the first day of Ireland’s second Big Freeze of 2010 and there was plenty of snow forecast for the east of the country over coming days.

Read more…

Errigal – Donegal

November 25, 2010

Name: Mount Errigal | Height: 751 Meters | Status: Iconic | Claim to fame: Highest point in Donegal

Mount Errigal in Donegal is one of Ireland’s most popular and recognisable mountains. My brother and I walked it on a perfect November day in 2hrs 45 minutes. It’s a short enough walk, but steep and pleasantly airy in places so it’ll definitely get your heart going. If you are lucky enough to get a clear day the views from the top are stunning.

Having left Dublin on a Saturday afternoon for the 4hr drive to Gweedore, the night had thoroughly set in by the time we hit the R251 after leaving Letterkenny. In the pitch dark the winding bumpy road lent our drive a truly remote feeling, with no signs of habitation to be seen for significant stretches. As we pulled up to An Chuirt hotel in Gweedore we knew that Errigal was nearby but would have to wait until morning before we got our first view. After dinner and about three pints too many in Sean Og’s of Bunbeg we retired for the night with the intention of getting an early start the next morning.

What seemed like five minutes later I was opening the windows to see the sun starting to reveal a near cloudless day in the wilds of Donegal. Soon after we caught our first glimpse of the mountain. It didn’t disappoint. Given my hangover it looked pretty high too.

Errigal seen from An Chuirt hotel, Gweedore

A November morning Errigal, seen from An Chuirt hotel, Gweedore

The car park that most people use for Errigal was just ten minutes from the hotel. It’s located at point [B94291 19734] on the R251. From here you can pretty much see your route ahead as Mount Errigal is above to the left and Mackoght to the right.

There’s a ‘track’ leading up either side of a stream which gives muddy ground a bad name. We headed up the right hand side and found the going pretty manky, though in hindsight this option is far less wet and mucky than the more direct route on the left hand side of the water. Our path soon picked up a series of cairns which led us to the ridge between Errigal and Mackoght, though not before giving us a hint of the far-reaching views we were going to have higher up the mountain. Already we could see far to the north and east, with the high Crologhan lake beneath Maumlack and the Poisoned Glen slowly revealing themselves.

Croloughan Lake seen from Errigal

Croloughan Lake seen from Errigal

Once we reached the col between the two mountains we took a quick breather before hanging a left and heading for the steep climb up towards the ridge and summit. And it is fairly steep. The popularity of this mountain is reflected in the well-defined track that leads through the quartzite band of rock to the point where you reach a large shelter that was erected in memory of a local man who was mistakenly killed by the IRA. His name was Joey Glover and he was responsible for popularising lots of walking and climbing routes in the north.

Onwards and upwards. As the ground levelled off the ridge sharpens and you round a pinnacle of rock before the last couple of hundred meters to the summit, during which the path skirts some long drops.

The path along the ridge of Errigal

The path along the ridge of Errigal

Errigal is topped with twin summits that are said to be among the smallest in Ireland. Separating them in One Man’s Pass – wide enough for just one person at a time – which can be crossed to reach the second slightly lower peak.

One Man's Pass, between the two summits of Errigal

One Man's Pass, between the two summits of Errigal

As we sat enjoying our coffee a man with his two dogs was ascending the final meters of a Southern gully that approaches from the Dunlewey direction.

We got to talking and he revealed that he walks the route every Sunday morning! He asked us about our day and the subject of my hiking to the highest point in each county arose, and so we discussed some of the peaks involved such as Sawel in the Sperrins, Benbaun and Arderin in the Slieve Blooms. He asked and I told him that yes there was a charity element to my adventure and we moved on to point out the views we could see such as the far distant Malin Head, Tory Island, the Sperrins and Slieve League.

We soon parted ways and made our way back down, this time crossing the sodden ground that leads more directly from the bottom of the scree slope towards the car park. The shortcut isn’t worth it though as it’s like walking through a mud bath the whole way. Much better to retrace your steps towards Mackoght and then descend the (slightly) drier ground.

Lower slopes of Errigal

Brown means mucky on the lower slopes of Errigal

As we squelched into the car park the man we’d met on the summit came over and we spoke some more about the many great hills of Ireland. He then handed me a twenty euro note and asked me about the charity I was doing my walking for. How nice is that? (Particularly since I could have taken the cash and told him I was raising money to help the board of Anglo afford their golf club membership or something.) It turns out he’d gone back down the gully, showered and changed ,and driven up to the car park just to give me some sponsorship. Michael McGeady of Dunlewey, I thank you, your generosity topped off a brilliant day in the hills.

Resources for Errigal

We didn’t use OSI Map number 1. I tried to find it in eight shops in the Dublin area to no avail. So, while you can walk the ‘tourist route’ up Errigal without a map, if you plan to do any further walking in the area you’ll need to get organised in advance.

We stayed in An Chuirt hotel in Gweedore. There’s a bar, the staff are friendly, and there’s a crazy-golf course. has plenty of route information for Errigal.

Cuilcagh – highest point in Cavan & Fermanagh

November 15, 2010

Walking Cuilcagh from the south

With a distinctive table top that can be seen looming over the surrounding countryside, Cuilcagh stands at 665 meters and forms the highest point of both Cavan and Fermanagh.

This mountain is commonly approached along a way-marked trail from the North that starts near the Marble Arch Caves, however at the time of writing – November 2010 – I understand that this route is closed due to a local landslide.

So, my friend Ross and I approached along a fine route from the south via Benbeg (at 539 meters, the second highest point in Cavan. Score!)

Our walk took a total of 3hrs 45 minutes.

The new M3 – the controversial motorway that skirts close by the sites at Newgrange – opened during 2010 and provides rapid access to the Cavan area. Ross and I were in Virginia just 45 minutes or so after leaving Lucan, and reached our parking spot for this walk in 2hrs – about 30 minutes quicker than the not-yet-updated mapping applications like Google Maps currently estimate. On the drive up we had passed through fine sunshine and patches of thick fog. As the first big storm of winter was forecast to come in from the atlantic later in the day, we were keeping a keen eye on conditions. (Note: the storm never really materialised.)

The R200 near Swanlinbar is a lonely road that climbs into the russet coloured grassland of the Bellavally Gap as it makes its way west, and it’s along this road that we parked at the entrance to a small track. From here we walked back down the road for a hundred meters or so before beginning our walk up another track that winds up the hill towards a telecoms mast. The track will bring you half way up Benbeg, at which time you need to climb through long grass along a fence before crossing a crude stile just shy of the top of the hill.

A crude stile, just before summit of Benbeg near Cuilcagh co. Cavan

Just shy of the Benbeg summit, you'll find this stile. (I am aware that this is possibly the most boring photo ever posted to the internet.)

Almost immediately after crossing the stile you come to the edge of the ridge which sweeps all the way around to Cuilcagh. It drops off quite sharply so I’d advise against walking with your head buried in a map or GPS device!

Sheep grazing on the steep hillside of Benbeg

Watch your step at the summit of Benbeg, those meat eating sheep are waiting for their next meal.

From the top of Benbeg we could see our route around the ridge to Cuilcagh laid out before us. To the west increasing numbers of low grey clouds were moving in, so we pushed on to make ground before any bad weather picked up.

The going from Benbeg features a good deal of peat hags, which I negotiated carefully as I was still minding a sprained ankle from a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen comments that navigating this route in bad weather could be difficult, though in my mind if you stick near the edge of the ridge which is pronounced all the way you can’t go too far wrong.

The limestone nature of the Cuilcagh mountains becomes apparent as you make your way up the mountain, with outcrops of fine stone hanging over the rim of the hill. In fact, the geology of the area is so remarkable that it is part of the world’s first international geopark.

Limestone can be seen all around Cuilcagh

Limestone on the ridge between Benbeg and Cuilcagh

For the last couple of hundred meters of the walk the ground steepens somewhat, though the going is never too strenuous. For us, a howling wind kicked in over a matter of moments as we approached the summit, with clouds streaming up the hillside and over the plateau. With closed eyes the roar of the wind sounded like distant surf and it was ‘proper cold,’ I reckon about 1 degree celsius.

We took shelter and coffee in the lee of the large summit cairn and spotted the odd glimpse of the land and lakes to the north before deciding to head back down. We had planned to walk out along the ridge to take in the Cuilcagh Gap and Tiltinbane but with the worsening weather and low visibility this was not an appealing option.

So down we went, retracing our steps, glad of the chance to drop down out of the wind and warm up again. I don’t think we saw the best of Cuilcagh this time around, I’d like to return and climb the mountain from the northern start points of Florence Court or Marble arch caves as these route – linked below – sound great.

Resources of Cuilcagh

Map: Take sheet 26.

Here’s a fine route description for Cuilcagh written by Deirdre Davys.

As mentioned above, a waymarked route up Cuilcagh can be followed from Florence Court. You’ll find a wealth of information by following the link above to the WalkNI site. However, note that there’s currently (November 2010) a route closure in effect for a stretch of the walk.

Here’s a great route from the BBC that takes in the Cuilcagh Gap, starting near the Marble Arch Caves – which sound like they are well worth a visit themselves.

As ever, has lots of route information for Cuilcagh.