John McCune Climbs Ireland's Ultimate Granite Wall

© Craig Hiller

The ‘Holy Jesus Wall’ is aptly named. Hidden away on the coast of the tiny island of Owey in Donegal and known to but a few local trad climbers, this immaculate shield of red-golden granite has at long last been climbed.

John McCune high on the perfect granite of the upper wall of The Second Coming (E7 6b). The chalk to the right is Immaculata (E6/7 6b) © Craig Hiller

Irish climber and alpinist John McCune, recently back on home turf after a hugely successful alpine winter, took his second trip to this remote island with the ‘wall of walls’ firmly in his sights.

His trip was successful, and now two new routes adorn this majestic sweep of granite. Being blank and steep, it was obvious to the select few that had seen this cliff that any route on its main face would be hard, sustained and pumpy, and that’s exactly what John’s two new routes turned out to be.

John picked off the plum line to start with, right in the centre of the face. Immaculata is a two pitch route with a tough E5 6b to reach the ramp below the headwall, and then a 40m pitch of perfect granite giving what John described as “one of the best bits of climbing I had ever done” at a pumpy but protected E6/7 6b.

Climbing the tough E5 first pitch of The Second Coming - what a wall!
© Craig Hiller

John McCune, moments before peeling off on his first attempt to climb The Second Coming (E7 6b)  © David Lyons Ewing
John McCune, moments before peeling off on his first attempt to climb The Second Coming (E7 6b)
© David Lyons Ewing
Immaculata was climbed after abseil inspection but without major issue, the initial lead attempt seeing John pumped, gripped, but successfully topping out. However when he upped the ante by attempting another new route following the snaking black seam on the left of the wall, his ascent didn’t go entirely to plan.

“Soon I was high up on the black streak, pumped out of my mind and fighting to get a piece of gear. High on the wall the angle eased to vertical and I thought for a moment I was in. Here the feet became poor and the positive holds turned less positive.

After a long while fighting to stay attached to the wall, the pump got the better of me and I couldn’t hold on any longer. I peeled off. Even with a cam placed at my waist I flew a long way. I would fall again before I topped out, the second time much further with a hold snapping off in my hand.

Eventually I topped out, feeling the dread because I knew I would have to try and do it all again the next day.”

John’s first attempt at following the beautiful black streak resulted in two long falls and screaming forearms before he topped out, but a free ascent still eluded him. He returned a day later to climb what became The Second Coming (E7 6b).

  • You can read John’s full blog write up of his adventures on the Holy Jesus Wall on his excellent blog.

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I'm from Newry in Northern Ireland and grew up close to the Mourne mountains. I started climbing when I was 19 and got into trad. In Ireland, I ticked off many of the hard routes at Fairhead and in the Mournes, then...

John's Athlete Page 6 posts

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17 Jul, 2014
absolutely stunning bit of rock, well done John and co.
17 Jul, 2014
What a bit of rock! Brilliant! Dunc
17 Jul, 2014
Wow! Stunning place! I can imagine that will get some more visits now (by people a lot stronger than me)
17 Jul, 2014
And multiple possible Photo of Week shots too
17 Jul, 2014
That's the kind of wall that makes you want to get better at climbing!
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