Emerald Allsorts: Irish Climbing 2013

by Danny Barrios-O'Neill Feb/2014
This news story has been read 18,677 times

2013 was a great year for Irish climbing with repeats of hard test pieces, many new routes and boulder problems put up, there was even a DWS festival and some visitors. Read all about what went on in Ireland in 2013, and here's hoping for another good year.

The Mournes & The Cooleys

In recent years the gabbro-packed Cooleys Mountains have become a regular bouldering venue for climbers based in both Dublin and Belfast. Here, amongst other goings on, Ricky Bell nipped in for a quick repeat of Jonny Argue’s now classic 8A prow, John 3:16, and I added (in my unbiased opinion) a lovely power endurance test piece, Deya, 7B/+, which has already had a number of repeats.

Also, one of the areas' few routes, Ricky Bell's The Thing In The Forest, E7, is turning into a bit of a must do, having previously had ascents from Andy Marshall, myself, and this year from two psyched Daves – Ayton and Farquhar.

Carson on The Mexican Frog, E1, 108 kb
Carson on The Mexican Frog, E1
© Craig Hiller

Moving north, the Mournes have had a quiet year development-wise. Pigeon has seen a large and commendable cleaning effort from a crew of perpetually motivated regulars - unearthing some great new routes (More info here) and making the crag a nicer place to climb for everyone. Good job one and all. Here, young Carson Cairnduff added his first new route, The Mexican Frog, E1, which tackles the prominent arête in a fine position above the Virgo ledge. I'm sure we'll hear a lot more from Carson in the coming years; it's lovely to see such enthusiasm for Irish rock being carried forward by the next generation

Not to be outdone by the youth, old timer and prolific Mournes new router Ian Rea climbed a new E3 on the same crag. North By Northwest is safe, pumpy, and has a short walk in. No doubt destined to become a classic

Meanwhile, up on the high tors, Andy Marshall started the year in style by making the third ascent of Si Moore's bold, technical arête Crystal Methods, E7/8, on Binnian. Over on Bernagh I climbed a fine steep prow to give Go On Seb, E6, which is so named because of its passing resemblance to a certain grit classic, featuring as it does steep bouldery climbing above a shipwreck of a flake, followed by a gripping rockover onto a slab. Get it done before some visiting Canadian breaks it!


Husband and wife bouldering aficionados Rob and Veronica Hunter have really shaped goings on up at the Head this year. Their new guidebook, the loving product of years spent wandering the talus, has galvanised a latent enthusiasm for bouldering at a crag which is better known for its routes. These days the paths are a little more trodden and a dry spell will mean you're almost certain to meet other pad people stumbling about. This has to be good thing, especially given the terrible nature of the landings, more pads are most definitely merrier.

English strongman Dan Varian was inspired to make the trip over to check it out, and mopped up a load of projects in the process, most notably re-climbing Ricky Bell's The Spastic after hold breakage, now 8A, and adding the harmoniously named Semi Fantastic, 7C, to the right. On a slightly bigger boulder, and in characteristically bold fashion, Andy Marshall made the third ascent of my route The Big Blue, E6/7, all on his lonesome. Well - not quite - his dog Glen and a GoPro were looking on!. Rob, just back from an extended trip away, wasted no time in getting back in on the first ascentage, knocking out Hunter 'n Haddock at 7B+ whilst Jake Haddock gave us Lekukos Siesta, 7B, and I added Born Sticky, 7B+.

With everyone enjoying the bouldering so much, it almost seems like the routes have taken a bit of a back seat this year. Of course, the increasingly popular meet combined with more climbers travelling considerable distances to climb at the Head has ensured that plenty of existing routes been climbed by locals and visitors alike, including what I think is the third ascent of The Complete Scream, E7, by Andy Marshall. One notable first ascent comes courtesy of the rabidly enthusiastic John McCune, who bucked the bouldering trend and put in the requisite monster cleaning effort to give us Where the Wild Things Are, E5. Expect to use loads of massive cams as you grovel your way through an outrageous Yosemite-esque slot to get up this one.

Andy Marshall making the 3rd Ascent of Complete Scream, E7 6c
© Richard Creagh

County Donegal

There are now something like 2900 recorded climbs in Donegal, and the sheer rate of development is astonishing. So producing a comprehensive guide was always going to be an epic and onerous task. Iain Miller turned out to be the man for the job, opting to produce a select guide as an app, and a comprehensive one in the form of a series of updated pdfs. That was surely a very good call, because a printed comprehensive guide could have weighed more than the rack you need to climb Where The Wild Things Are, and would have been rapidly outdated in any case. When not meticulously recording Donegal developments, Iain has been busy climbing every sea stack going (he's stood atop 100 in 2013 alone). The Cobblers Tower, 130 m, Diff, exemplifies Iain's approach; remote venues, sketchy access by dinghy, and tottering choss shuffling in incredible surroundings.

This year, some of the more impressive happenings have been on the granite sea cliffs of Owey, where John McCune and Kev Kilroy have climbed some lovely looking bits for rock. The plumest plum lines look to be Pride of Kincasslagh, E2, along with An Sron Tochasach, E5, and Rain Shadow Roof, E4. John reckons Owey has some of the best rock he's ever had the pleasure of climbing on in the UK or Ireland, and the routes certainly look the part.

Pride of Kincasslagh, E2, 177 kb
Pride of Kincasslagh, E2
© Craig Hiller

The island of Gola has also seen its regular smattering of newness (and still shows little sign of being climbed out), courtesy of a small band of locals and the Queen's University club, who regularly visit the island. See the updated topo for details.

Finally on the granite front, although it's all been about the trad in Donegal, Michael Duffy has provided us with one notable exception by climbing the stunning highball seam project at Carrickfinn. Let it Shine, 7B, looks to be about as good as it gets.

Away from the granite crags things have been a little quieter, but up in Dungloon John McCune (yes, him again) added some great new lines to the face of the Galleon, the best of which looks to be To Mock a Killing Bird, E5, which takes the big seam. John also gave Niall Grimes' forgotten classic Atlantic Ocean Wall, E4, a quick scrub down, and a second ascent, with Kev Kilroy nipping in for a third. Just beside this John added Rugged Extreme Exposure, E4, which gains the lofty arête by turning a roof using a quartzite dinner plate type thing. Sounds mega.

Kev Kilroy on Niall Grimes' Atlantic Ocean Wall, E4, 202 kb
Kev Kilroy on Niall Grimes' Atlantic Ocean Wall, E4
© Jeremy Colandairaj

Finally, the biggest news from the region comes in the form of its hardest route to date, Sideswipe, E7, at Mucross Head is the creation of visiting hotshot/honorary local Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll. As you can see from the excellent photo, it looks wild steep, boy.

Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll on the incredibly steep Sideswipe, E7, Mucross Head
© Ben Ditto

Dublin & Wicklow

For many years now Michael Duffy has been quietly pushing Irish bouldering standards, with offerings such as Leftism, 7C+, Leviathan, 8A, Contact, 8A+, and Wonderland, 8B. This spring was no different, and Ireland got her first 8B+ as a result; Soul Revolution, a tall barrel wall of perfect Wicklow granite hidden away in the trees at the top of the beautiful Glenmalure Valley. Michael gave us more details:

"Dave Flanagan put us onto it, he's got the Jedi senses! It's the most technical thing I have ever climbed on. Took ages to figure it out. Starts off with tight little moves under a roof and then everything starts to open up and get big and dynamic, brilliant line, amazing climbing."

Michael Duffy on Soul Revolution, 8B+, 221 kb
Michael Duffy on Soul Revolution, 8B+
© Michael Duffy

Like most of Michael's offerings it looks to be hard, beautiful, and to have gone largely unnoticed by almost everyone. Surely the standout achievement of the year.

The uber accessible venue of the Scalp has seen plenty of development this year in particular, Ricky Bell's Nightcrawling, 7C, looks to be a sweet, lippy affair. After some commendable work constructing a landing below a block cleaned by Diarmo Smyth, Michael has also given us Space Machine, 7C, which is rapidly becoming a local classic. Visiting wad, Dave Mason nipped in for a quick repeat of this and Leviathan, 8A, at Portrane, and Gaz Parry did likewise, making an impressive flash of the latter, also adding a nice 7C, Diagonal Alley, (Video here) in the process.

Finally on the bouldering front, up in Glendalough, Jonathan Redmond climbed a fierce roof crack to give us the Lone Ranger, 7C. Jono reckons this is a quality addition, so go check it out if you're in the area.

Since most locals have been enthusiastically pebble-bothering, it's been the old (ish) guard who have kept the trad torch burning. Ron Browner in particular has picked a couple of outstanding plums from Luggala over the past couple of years, the hardest of which is Precious Metal, a monster three pitch E7 up the main face, which sounds fantastic. On the same crag Ron also climbed the exceptional and obvious line of The Great Roof, E6, although this is old news to those in the know, it well deserves some attention from all those who climb at this grade.

Over in Dalkey, Ron also climbed what he describes as an 'involved voyage' (read terrifying) in the form of Super G, E6, and the less-old (but definitely getting on a bit) Stephen McGowan gave it some beans to make the first ascent of Captain Skyhook, E6, despite a bad fall on a previous attempt.

The Burren

Although things have been fairly quiet in this part of the world, down at Ailladie Colm Shannon and Richard Duggan have both had a productive time bearing down on little rugosities high above the sea, repeating the deep water solos Anniversary, 7c/+, and Identity Crisis, 7c+/8a). Colm also added The Crozzle Monster, 7c+, which he reckons is the hardest and best deep water solo on the wall. This summer, Colm organised a bit of a deep water solo 'Festival' (i.e. more than ten climbers), taking full advantage of the rare July heat wave to introduce folk to the crozzley delights of his home crag.

Colm Shannon on Anniversary, 7c+, The Burren, 239 kb
Colm Shannon on Anniversary, 7c+, The Burren
© Ms Shannon

Hopefully the same thing will happen next year, so start paying your dues to the weather gods now, and maybe next summer won't be a monsoon. Finally, and mostly so we can have a roped first ascent in the mix for this section, Ron Browner added a new E5 to the Wall of Fossils. Ron reckons that The Manhattan Project more than makes up for a lack of independence with plenty of quality climbing.

Thanks to Danny Barrios-O'Neill for providing UKClimbing.com with this round up, which can also be read in e-zine format HERE

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