Bouldering in Ireland

by David Flanagan Mar/2011
This article has been read 8,863 times
The bouldering in Ireland is diverse. You can climb fierce, steep, powerful problems on the dolerite boulders below the cliffs of Fair Head in Antrim. Solve technical friction problems in the huge granite boulder field in Glendalough, Wicklow. Crimp your way up blue grey limestone walls on rocky terraces above the Atlantic in Doolin, Clare. Or pull on beautiful sculpted pockets and slopers on the red sandstone of the Black Valley in the shadow of Corrán Tuathail, Kerry.

+The cover of the new bouldering guide, 52 kb

It's fair to say that Ireland is a bouldering backwater, you won't hear it mentioned in the same sentence as Font, Hueco, Castle Hill or Rocklands. But that doesn't mean that Ireland doesn't have anything to offer the bouldering world. Ireland is an internationally renowned tourist destination and one of the most scenic countries in the world. It's a happy coincidence that most of the bouldering is in the most beautiful parts of the country. This makes it easy to do a small bit of bouldering while on a "normal" holiday. Travelling around Ireland to boulder will take you to misty mountain sides, remote lake shores, deserted beaches and lush wooded glens. And bouldering suits the Irish climate as the weather is often too changeable, cold or damp to climb routes.

There are many opportunities all over the country for those interested in searching for new problems and areas. And most areas still have plenty of gaps to be filled and I'm not talking about squeezed in eliminates or variations especially in the higher grades.

The best destination for a short bouldering trip in Ireland is Wicklow.

Glendalough in particular has a lot of excellent bouldering and there are plenty of other smaller areas also. As Wicklow is less than an hour south of Dublin City it's an easy place to get to. Other destinations that could easily occupy you for a few days - or a lifetime - include Kerry, Doolin, Fair Head and Donegal.

photo
Dave Flanagan on Split Arete, Polldoo, Donegal
UKC Articles, Mar 2011
© Peter McMahon

+Diarmuid Smth on The Groove, Brimstone, Fermanagh, 87 kbDiarmuid Smth on The Groove, Brimstone, Fermanagh
© Dave Flanagan
North

The north has a variety of styles and rock types from the rounded granite boulders of west Donegal to the steep faces of dolerite in Fair Head.

Donegal in the north west is a vast county, it takes over three hours to drive from Malin Beg in the south west to Rubinoid Point in the north east. There are two concentrations of bouldering in Donegal, the first in the west (Burtonport, Mulllaghdoo, Carrickfinn, Crolly), the second on the Inishowen Peninsula in the north (Fanad Head, Dunaff Bay, Doagh Strand, Rubonid Point).

For years there has been talk in Irish climbing circles about the gritstone in Leitrim/Fermanagh/Cavan. And finally some word is starting to leak out, currently two areas (Thur Mountain and Brimstones) have been developed with more being worked on. A third Cuilcagh Mountain holds huge potential but it's not exactly roadside.

The trad bastion of Fair Head contains a huge number of boulders below the cliffs, it has the most hard problems of any bouldering area in the country.

In the Mourne Mountain in County Down there is no such thing as a roadside venue but anyone who can endure the hard approaches will be rewarded with very nice rough granite bouldering.

photo
Paul Brennan on Boombastic, Fair Head, Antrim
UKC Articles, Mar 2011
© Dave Flanagan

+Diarmuid Smyth on Sherpa Tensing, The Black Valley, Kerry, 126 kbDiarmuid Smyth on Sherpa Tensing, The Black Valley, Kerry
© Dave Flanagan
South

There are two stand out areas in the South, the Kerry Mountains and The Burren, both of which are worthwhile weekend destinations.

The Magillicuddy Reeks close to Killarney contain about 80 problems on immaculate old red sandstone in the The Gap of Dunloe and The Black Valley.

The bouldering in Doolin, County Clare is on limestone walls and boulders on flat terraces just above the sea. It could be combined with the short trip across to the Aran Islands. Inishmore, the largest of the islands, has a few dozen problems but is well worth a visit.

Most of the other areas would only be of interest to locals or someone passing through and who wants a quick climb. The mountains of Cork and Kerry could be one of the most fruitful spots in Ireland for those keen to discover new bouldering areas.

East

The recently discovered Ayton's Cave on Howth is a very steep limestone roof with a bewildering array of intertwined problems. Portrane near Dublin Airport has dozens of problems in the narrow zawns and caves, some are tidal but it's always possible to climb in some of the areas. Three Rock, Bullock Harbour and The Scalp could give an interesting evenings climbing.

County Louth has two decent areas on rough gabbro in the Cooley Mountains.

The mountains of Wicklow contain over a dozen areas. Glendalough with its density of classic problems, easy walk in and great setting is the most popular and best area in Wicklow and Ireland. The heather hillside of Glenmacnass with its scattered boulders is further from the road than Glendo but is an excellent spot with a more adventurous feel. The other smaller areas are all worth a visit especially Lough Dan, Mall Hill and Glendasan.

West

The West of Ireland has a scattering of minor bouldering in some of the most scenic areas in Ireland. In north /south Mayo close to Killary Harbour are a number of smaller areas (Jim's Nook, Prehistoric Boulder, Leenane Boulders, Bundorragh Boulder and Delphi Valley) which make for a pleasant and diverse day's bouldering

Further north in Sligo is one of the best coastal bouldering areas in Ireland - Aughris Head – which is well worth a visit especially for any surfers as it's not far from Easkey. Aughris is a pebble beach surrounded by very steep, incredibly smooth limestone walls and caves. Like all coastal venues conditions are fickle but there is always something dry and the climbing is excellent.

Leitrim has one very interesting area, Thur Mountain, which is beside the other gritstone areas across the border in Fermanagh (Cuilcagh Mountain and Brimstones).

photo
Diarmuid Smyth in Roundstone, Galway
UKC Articles, Mar 2011
© Dave Flanagan

+John Howard on Lesbian Treaty, The White Bog, Louth, 98 kbJohn Howard on Lesbian Treaty, The White Bog, Louth
© Dave Flanagan
20 favourite problems

It's hard to choose a few favourite problems from the thousands across the country. At the back of the guide I included a list of 89 problems. But the list below contains my personal favourites without any compromises.

Lan Mara, Bullock Harbour, Dublin
Dyno, Three Rock. Dublin
Away From The Numbers, Lough Bray, Wicklow
Shadow, Lough Dan, Wicklow
Solidarity, Glenmacnass, Wicklow
Tombstone Arete, Glenmacnass, Wicklow
Saint Kevin's Slab, Glendasan, Wicklow
Living The Dream, Mall Hill, Wicklow
Original Route, Glendalough, Wicklow
Smear Test, Glendalough,Wicklow
Arete Right Of The Fin, Glendalough, Wicklow
BBE, Glendalough, Wicklow
Ragga Tip, Black Valley, Kerry
Edge of The Onion, Gap of Dunloe, Kerry
Sparkle, Inishmore, Galway
Highawata, Derryrush, Galway
Everything, Aughris Head, Sligo
Back in Black, Burtonport, Donegal
Split Arete, Polldoo Glen, Donegal
There's a Bee in my Pocket, Mournes, Down


Photo Gallery - Bouldering in Ireland:

+Tim Chapman on Andy's Arete, Glendalough, Wicklow, 117 kbTim Chapman on Andy's Arete, Glendalough, Wicklow
© Dave Flanagan
+James Clancy on The Kerry Wave, The Black Valley, Kerry, 130 kbJames Clancy on The Kerry Wave, The Black Valley, Kerry
© Dave Flanagan
+Dec Tormley in The Wormhole, Inishmore, Galway, 127 kbDec Tormley in The Wormhole, Inishmore, Galway
© Dave Flanagan
+Dave Flanagan on Highawatta, Derryrush, Galway, 127 kbDave Flanagan on Highawatta, Derryrush, Galway
© Dave Flanagan

photo
Dave Flanagan in Aughris Head, Sligo
UKC Articles, Mar 2011
© Peter McMahon

Logistics

When do I go?
The choice faced by a boulderer visiting Ireland is no different than than one planning a trip in the UK (don't call it the mainland!). If you want really good cold conditions you need to come in winter and risk the rain and short days. If you want good weather with long days and aren't overly preoccupied about friction then summer is the best bet. spring and autumn months are a mixture of the extremes of summer and winter so are probably the ideal times to visit. For this reason the bouldering meet is held in Wicklow on the first weekend in March (4/5/6ththis year).

Who flies where?
Ryanair, Aer Lingus, BA, Easyjet among others fly from various locations to Dublin, Shannon and Belfast. If you keep an eye out and book well in advance it's possible to get cheap flights. The other option is the ferry from Stranraer to Belfast, Liverpool to Dublin or Belfast, Holyhead to Dublin and Pembroke or Fishguard to Rosslare. The advantage of the ferry is that you can take your own car and lots of gear however it seems to be pretty expensive.

While pubic transport will get you to and from the cities and towns you will need a car to get to most of the climbing areas. So factor a hire car into the cost of the flying versus taking the ferry.

Where do I stay?
Most of the best climbing areas are also popular tourist destinations so they are well equipped with hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites and hotels. www.discoverireland.com is well worth visiting for lists of accommodation and special offers. If staying more than a few days in one area it could be worth renting a house. Another option is camping rough on hillsides, beaches or forests. You should camp out of sight of any roads and take your tent down during the day.

Guidebook
I have just finished writing the first guidebook to bouldering in Ireland. Its contains over 90 areas and 1700 problems in its 256 pages. Its available for the bargain price of €15 from www.theshortspan.com.

Partners?
You are unlikely to bump into other boulderers except maybe in Glendalough at the weekends. Post on the message boards on www.climbing.ie and www.theshortspan.com if you want someone to climb with.

Where can I buy gear?
Most cities in Ireland have outdoor shops where you can get chalk and a good supply of other climbing equipment.

Great Outdoors Dublin
Outdoor Adventure Store Dublin
Surf Mountain Belfast, Bangor, Lisburn
Tiso Belfast
Jackson Sports Belfast

It's not possible to rent a bouldering pad anywhere in Ireland so if you want one bring it or buy one here. A pair of good walking boots and a decent waterproof jacket are essential items for any visiting boulderer.

What else is there apart from the climbing?
If it does rain fear not as Ireland has great surfing, fishing, mountain biking and hiking. Not to mention pubs, historic sites, pubs, restaurants, museums and pubs.

+The cover of the new bouldering guide, 52 kbThe cover of the new bouldering guide
© Dave Flanagan

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