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

imgp1099
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.

 

Benlettery
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.’

 

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

 

30594276_1276798662460425_6402758591417155584_n
A contemporary view of the Bens, looking towards Clifden. Photo by Noel O’Connor, 2018.