The Irish Uplands Forum (Fórum Cnoch na hÉireann) commissioned Dr Brendan O’Keeffe and Dr Caroline Crowley to write this study of the Irish uplands. The Heritage Council published it in October 2019. Michael Viney had an interesting review of the study in The Irish Times over the weekend, under a headline that says it all: These hills are made for walking. Viney, however, highlights access as a key issue for the 13,000 plus mountaineers and hillwalkers who make up the membership of 186 clubs in Ireland.
He identifies two factors that will have influence on access in the future. The first is a shift from sheep farming to off-farm employment and a parallel rise in (a) the number of “large sheep ranches” and (b) hillside houses occupied by “commuters, retirees and holiday homeowners.” We have seen the problems this has created in places like Glanteenassig in County Kerry.
The second is that government action on the roll out of access programmes stalled since 2009, when voluntary agreement between mountaineering interests and landowners created pilot projects in two areas, Mount Gable near Clonbur, Co Galway and Carrauntoohil in the MacGillycuddy Reeks, Co Kerry; just two of the 57 mountain ranges identified in the report. However, O’Keeffe and Crowley note that “key stakeholder groups remain committed to its vision.”
As Viney points out, most of Ireland’s uplands are farmlands but adds that “sheep, significantly, get a mention on only four of the study’s 140-odd pages.” That is worrying, given the traditional partnership between mountaineers and sheep farmers, people like Martin (RIP) and Nóirín Griffin in Derrymore Glen (Slieve Mish), Mick Murphy in Knocknagantee (Iveragh) and, of course, John and Esther Cronin of Cronin’s Yard in the Reeks. That partnership is captured by mountaineer and photographer Valerie O’Sullivan in The MacGillycuddy’s Reeks: People and Places of Ireland’s Highest Mountain Range , which Frank Miller, former Picture Editor of The Irish Times, described as ‘An intimate and beautiful portrait of the people and landscape of Ireland’s loftiest place.’
This aspect of the Irish uplands deserved more attention in the study. Nevertheless, A Profile of Ireland’s Uplands is essential reading for mountaineers and hillwalkers. To obtain an Executive Summary click HERE. To obtain the full report click HERE.
The Mountaineering Collective | December 2019