Bouldering in Irelandby David Flanagan Mar/2011
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
When do I go?
Who flies where?
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?
Where can I buy gear?
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?