Holy Moly, Mass on a Mountain

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Celebrating Mass on Mount Brandon in 2015. This mass was organised for Ang Wong Chhu, a Sherpa guide whose visit to Ireland’s “holy” mountain was filmed by Seán Mac An tSíthigh for TG4. Photo: Ciarán Walsh

 

Did you know that Tralee Mountaineering Club has its origins in the pilgrimage associated with Mount Brandon. The mountain was a major pilgrim site in medieval and early modern Ireland but the tradition of pilgrimage stretches back to pre-historic times; it is associated with Lugh, the Celtic god of light and his dark counterpart, Chrom Dubh.

The Christians exploited this but eventually abandoned the pilgrimage in the 19th century, mainly because of the chaos associated with the “moral holiday” that followed the arduous trek to the top.  Many attempts were made to revive the pilgrimage and organised ascents of the mountain in the 1950s indirectly led to the formation of  a mountaineering club in Tralee.

 

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CYMS Pilgrimmage to Mount Brandon, May 23, 1954. The photograph was taken in Faha, on the site of the grotto that marks the start of the traditional pilgrim route to the summit. Photo Tom Finn Collection.

 

The first item on the agenda of the new club was the split. Some members of the club argued that it should remain focused on the pilgrimage while other’s argued that the club should concentrate on mountaineering. The club mass became a compromise solution. It was organised by Seán Kelly every January and continued until 2017, when it was dropped from the calendar of club events.

The decision was taken by the outgoing committee (Chairperson Simon Quinn) and was only noticed when the calendar was published. Some members approached the club’s President (Nuala Finn) and asked to have the mass reinstated. The current committee (Chairperson Shane Mulligan) agreed and the mass was re-scheduled for April 16, 2018. It was a little ironic that the 2018 club mass, which traditionally remembers deceased members of the club, recorded the passing of Seán Kelly in 2017 and his brother Pat in 2018.

There is a wider issue here. The tops of mountains are regarded as spiritual places by many people within and without the mountaineering community.  There is extensive archaeology associated with summits, most notably Queen Maeve’s tomb on Knocknarea in Sligo. Many peaks are also marked by crosses, many of which were erected in 1954 to mark the first Marian Year, which was ordered by Pope Pius to promote the cult of the Virgin Mary.  Mount Brandon has both pagan and Christian associations.

 

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Cross on summit of Carrauntoohil after it was cut down in November 2014. Photo: Cronin’s Yard/Twitter  published in The Irish Times

 

The cross on Corrán Tuathail was erected in 1976 and was cut down in 2014. This generated a debate about the association between mountaineering and spirituality and whether it was appropriate to mark the tops of mountains with symbols associated with one religious denomination. The consensus seems to be that there is room in the mountains for all believers and none and that the process of marking theses places as sacred is, in the end, a personal choice.

 

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A bonfire lit by a Lithuanian mountaineer on the summit of Corrán Tuathail to mark St John’s Eve or Bonfire Night (June 23). The new cross can be seen in the background. Photo Ciarán Walsh.

 

The tension between pagans and Christians is now part and part and parcel of the pilgrimage to the top of Brandon. The Christians climb the mountain on Lá tSin Seáin Beag (June 29th) and the pagans, who revived the Lughnasa festival in 1995,  climb the mountain on the last Sunday in July, which is known locally as Domhnach Chrom Dubh.

In 2015 nine of us attended a mass that was organised for Ang Wong Chhu, who was visiting Ireland’s scared mountain. Nuala Finn and I became sherpas for the day, acting as mountain guides and carrying filming equipment for Seán Mac An tSí­thigh of TG4.  We approached the mountain from the west. A month later over 150 pagans climbed the mountain from the east. To each his/her own.

 

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Sacred Places: the mass that was organised for Ang Wong Chhu, Sherpa guide. Photo: Ciarán Walsh.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wettest Day … EVER: The Reeks, Sun 15 April 2018

 

 

AWASH in the Devils Ladder. Nuala Finn, Tralee Mountaineering (TMC) President taking a break in the waterfall that was the Devils Ladder last Sunday, April 15 2018.

 

The forecast was not good. A band of organised rain was moving across the Southwest on Saturday night and Sunday Morning but some sunny spells were promised and a run to Corran Tuathail was on the cards. It turned out to be the wettest day we had ever experienced in the Reeks.

There was one other car parked in Lisliebane. Nevertheless, we headed off at 13.00, in the rain. We met Martin Murphy in the Hags Glen and he had been in rain all day. We met a few other mountaineers on the track but by the time we reached the ford on the track we were all alone.

 

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The rain never stopped. The water was lapping over a few of the stepping stone and every stream in the valley was a roaring white torrent. The work done by the Reeks Forum on keeping water off the tracks has really paid off but the upper part of the  track leading to the Devil’s Ladder was completely flooded.

 

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Maintenance work being carried out on the track leading to the Devil’s Ladder. Photo by The Reeks Forum

The Devil’s Ladder was one big waterfall and we were soaked to the skin, the combination of  rain and floodwater  penetrated the best gear that we had, almost. We pulled out.  We didn’t miss anything. We met Joe Doran and Tim Long in Kate Kearneys. They had led a group up O’Sheas Gull and came out by the Devil’s Ladder. It was very wet and windy. Joe counted no less than ten (10) torrents in the valley.

When we got to back to the car my feet were dry even though I was wearing North Face runners and Salomon ankle gaiters rather than boots. The secret: Dexshell Waterproof socks from Landers. These worked far better than Sealskin socks, which tended to get waterlogged and leak.

Every wet day has a silver lining.

Postcards from Connemara

 

Members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) in Connemara
Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC ) in Connemara, April 2018. Photo by Noel O’Connor.

 

TMC returned to Connemara in April for a weekend of mountaineering organised by Bertie Hickey.  Routes included the Clencoaghan Horseshoe, which includes six of the Twelve Bens mountain peaks of Derryclare (677m), Bencorr (711m), Bencollaghduff (696m), Benbreen (691m), Bengower (664m) and Benlettery (577m).

The Bens were featured in an early guide to Connemara. Rambles in Ireland: A Fortnight in Ireland; 0r, Pen and Pencil Sketches of a Tour in the Autumn of 1846 was compiled by the Gascoigne Sisters, Mary Isabella and Elizabeth (De Burca Rare Books Catalogue No 96, Spring 2011, pages 84-6).

The guide included illustrations from sketches made on the spot. The sisters promised that travellers would ‘be sure to meet with novelty, incident, and adventure,’ although the ‘accommodation at the inns would certainly admit of improvement; but there is excellent salmon to be had everywhere.’

 

A view of the Twelve Bens, Members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) in Connemara

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The Twelve Bens from Clifton. Photo by Sylvain Kerdreux

 

The sisters spent 15 days travelling through Galway, Mayo, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Derry, and Antrim in 1846, in the middle of the Height of the Great Famine. The sisters were very wealthy. Their family were landlords in County Limerick and owned collieries in Yorkshire. The sisters were noted for their charitable work in England and Ireland. Rambles in Ireland was published to raise funding for relief work in Limerick, which was targeted at Protestant orphans.

The Bens were featured again during the An Gorta Beag or the second famine of the 1890s. Robert John Welch, a naturalist and  photographer, climbed the Bens in 1894 and 1895 and recorded the main geomorphological features of the Glencoaghan Horseshoe. He published the photographs in an album that was presented to Arthur “Bloody” Balfour in recognition of his patronage of the Galway to Clifden railway line.

 

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The summit crags of Bengower from Benlettery by Robert John Welch (1859-1936). Twelve Bens, Connemara, Galway, Ireland. Grid Ref: 53.4915312619, – 9.8343614835.

 

Light railways were built in the west of Ireland to provide employment to the poorest section of the population, who otherwise, would probably have starved to death. Balfour’s brother described it as a political strategy for “killing Home Rule with Kindness.” Maud Gonne, quoting a priest from Mayo, described these relief works as ‘organised famine.’

 

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On the Summit of Ben Lettery  by Robert John Welch (1859-1936). Twelve Bens, Connemara, Galway, Ireland.

 

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A contemporary view of the Bens, looking towards Clifden. Photo by Noel O’Connor, 2018.

 

 

 

Sun sets on Winter in Loch A’duin: The Vernal Equinox on the Dingle Peninsula

 

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Spring has sprung. At 16.15.21 GMT today, Tuesday March 20,  the Sun passed the celestial equator (the imaginary line in the sky above the equator) and night and day were, on this date, the same length. This is the Vernal or Spring Equinox and it marks the end of Winter or the first day of Spring, depending on how you look at it.

 

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Space.com reckons that if you were standing on the equator at a point just to the west of the Itapará River in northern Brazil, the sun would appear directly overhead. On the Dingle Peninsula the Equinox is marked in a very different way.  Dáithí Ó Connaill of Tralee Mountaineering  Club discovered that the setting Winter sun shines into a megalithic tomb in Loch A’duin (The Lake of the Fort). Loch A’duin is located just below the Conor Pass on the the Dingle Peninsula. Dáithí is the best person to describe it.

 

The Vernal or Spring Equinox in in Loch A’duin, on the Dingle Peninsula

The following is a brief account of my curious “discovery” regarding the equinoctial sunsets at the megalithic tomb in Loch a’Duin:

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The “discovery” was made following a hunch that the bronze age tomb of approximate date of 2500 B.C., which has a westerly orientation, may have had some significance due to the fact that it is embellished internally with some prehistoric rock art, leading one to surmise that it may have had some ritualistic significance, similar, in a minor way, to the passage tomb of Newgrange in the Boyne Valley, which is oriented on the winter solstice sunrise.

It was visited at the winter solstice annually over fifteen years but, invariably, the sunset was not visible due to either cloud cover or rain.  There was a brilliant sunset on the winter solstice of 2014 but, alas, it did not have any unusual bearing on the tomb’s orientation.

 

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However, this led to a little thinking as to the possibility that it may have had some relevance vis-a-vis the vernal and autumnal equinoctial sunsets around March 21st and September 21st.  The reasoning behind this curiosity was that, when one looks at the orientation of the monument, it seems to face directly into an imaginary “v” formed by the spur of nearby “Sliabh Mhacha Reidh” and the distant spur of “An Gearan”.

It transpired that the equinoctial sunsets of September 2015 and March 2016 were visible and it was delightfully noticed that the sun on both occasions(and indeed over a few days preceding and subsequent to the equinoxes) bisected the “v” and spectacularly illuminated the tomb and the rock-art therein.

There are many theories abroad as to why our distant ancestors went to such careful planning and should lead to interesting discussions.

 

 Dáithí Ó Connaill

 

 

 

International Women’s Day + TMC

 

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TMC Club President Nuala Finn
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TMC Club Secretary Máire Ní Scannláin
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TMC Club Treasurer Monica Dillane (left) with Maura O’Sullivan
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TMC Committee Member Mags Twomey

 

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TMC Committee Member Anna Allen
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TMC Committee Member Mena Cahill

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Helen Lawless, Mountaineering Ireland, Anna Allen, TMC and Jane Carney, Mountaineering Ireland,

 

New Badge for Blog

To clear up any confusion about the status of this blog, this a member’s blog. It is determined to be an independent forum for debate about matters relating to our membership of Tralee Mountaineering Club and mountaineering in general. The logo was causing a bit of confusion, people were concerned that the use of a graphic of the logo suggested an official blog.

Point taken. I have substituted a photo of the original badge of the club from which the logo is derived, a small piece of design work that I did for club in the Year of The Mountain, way back in 2002.

The badge was designed by Mick Kellett, and the idea behind it was set out by Tom Finn in a club log book, the inspiration in a way for this blog. Here is a copy of the original log entry.

 

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Training Matters in Mountaineering

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Members of Tralee Mountaineering on a training run across Crib Goch, Snowdon, 2014.

 

Does training matter? Do challenging days in the mountains enhance members’ experience and contribute to the development of the club? Should the club calendar have all of those elements built into to it?

I come from a tradition within the club that says yes to all of that. In 2014 I led a group of Level 2 Climbers across the Crib Goch in Wales and, with that experience under our boots, we climbed Tryfan on the following day. The Crib Goch is a challenging prospect at the best of times and most of the members involved on the day would never have been considered capable of climbing those routes. Conditions were perfect for a spot of training and everyone completed the routes safely. We repeated the exercise a year later.

 

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Ann O’ Donoghue on Tryfan

 

Thats how we progress, that’s how the club works for the benefit of all members. All it takes is some leadership, training, a bit of teamwork and, of course, appropriate conditions.  For the past three weeks there has been lots of snow in the mountains, conditions that would have provided many opportunities for similar skills development in the area of winter mountaineering.

To take advantage of those opportunities requires a culture of progression in sport, a commitment to training, and, of course,  leadership.  Leadership has been identified as one of the main challenges facing TMC and mountaineering clubs in general. To meet that challenge we need to look at the skills within the club and the quality of leadership that those skills make possible.

We also need to make an audit of mountains skills appropriate to leadership at each level, including associated skills in first aid and rope work. Any gaps that emerge need to be filled by access to training, either on courses or through participation in club activity that has an inbuilt element of training associated with it – rope days, navigation days, or the application of those skills as a routine part of club walks and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the current snowy conditions.

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An introduction to windslab, O’Shea’s Gully, March 4, 2018.

We also need to look  at the way the calendar is put together, making sure that walks  are pitched at an appropriate level and ensure that nominated leaders have the necessary skills to ensure an enjoyable, safe, and, where possible, challenging day in the mountains.  Challenging is main word here.

Attendance on club walks is increasing – there were 25 people on a recent level 2 walk –and it may be that the same walk does not fit all members at a given level. We may need to look at a wider range of levels, intermediate levels with varying degrees of challenge for instance.  We would need to train up even more leaders, encourage greater participation in mountain skills training programmes.

That represents a challenge in itself.

One way of getting around that might be the introduction of a Club Leader’s Award, as a first step for members engaging with the various Mountain Skills and Climbing awards schemes. The rewards are obvious.

 

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TMC on Tryfan 2014

 

 

Next A chance to develop new skills: theAlpine Summer Meet 2018