May Bank Holiday Weekend, Connemara

(by Jacinta Wright, from IMC Newsletter Summer 1998)
"Three whole days of beautiful sunshine in Connemara is enough to effect life-altering change in anyone…"


If the worst fears of the Green Party are realised, and the Amsterdam Treaty leads Ireland into a pan-European military pact, and if Ireland then needs to recruit crack commando-style units to accomplish James Bond -type secret spy missions which may involve scaling fortress walls, running over mountains for days on end, and surviving for protracted periods of time in the wilderness fuelled only by an unrelieved diet of cheese sandwiches and chocolate, then a good place to start the recruitment drive might be the Irish Mountaineering Club.

Or so I concluded at the end of the May Bank Holiday weekend. At this point I was covered in a spectacular array of bruises, and for the previous two nights had had the greatest difficulty achieving enough mobility in my weary legs to climb into the top bunk bed I occupied in Killary Harbour Youth Hostel (climbing the stairs to the first floor where the bed resided also proved a challenge). However, from that day on, I have noticed startling changes in my own behaviour. I have taken to mooching around the Great Outdoors, fondling an array of items without which I had until that point lived a perfectly fulfilling life. A.T.C.’s, gear removers, screwgate crabs, chalkbags, climbing harnesses, figures-of-eight. Now, thanks to one wild afternoon with my Visa card, I can even play with some of these items in the privacy of my own home. Not to mention strut around the quarry making a satisfying jingling sound, just like the real climbers.

Anyway, back to the May Bank Holiday Weekend. Three whole days of beautiful sunshine in Connemara is enough to effect life-altering change in anyone. Before you know it, we’ll all be packing up the wagons and moving down, signing Peter-Mayle style book deals for A Year in Tully Cross, or somesuch. On Friday night we arrived late at the hostel and met with other I.M.C. members for a nice cup of tea and a discussion about what time we would get up at. Seven o’ clock in the morning was mentioned by someone with, I thought, a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. I hadn’t been up at seven o’ clock on a Saturday morning since the day after my Debs dance. But there you go, they were perfectly serious. Out of bed at seven, and someone cooked up a big pot of porridge for us. The first day took a hardy group of climbers into the Twelve Bens, starting out on Binn Chorr. We approached the crag from the Recess- Kylemore road, and climbed up to Carrot Ridge (Meacan Buí). We then ascended the 274 metres of Carrot Ridge, on a route graded "Difficult". It was a beautiful scramble on a fine, dry day. After our climb, we continued walking. The fine weather allowed us some exceptionally good views of the surrounding countryside, the Twelve Bens, and the Maam Turks. Out to sea, the dark shape of Inish Bofin rose in the West. We climbed Binn Bhán, and Binn Dubh, and possibly other mountains which I did not notice, as I was in such a state of adrenalin-induced delirium. Afterwards, we repaired to Leenane where, just for a change, I staggered into the pub. There we met other hardy expeditioners who had been climbing in Derryclare. After the pub, some members of the group cooked a wonderful meal in the hostel which merits description, but that is a whole other article.

On Sunday, more beautiful weather allowed us to spend a truly idyllic day climbing on a crag at Errisbeg, overlooking Dog’s Bay in Roundstone. There was an interesting variety of climbs ranging from V. Diff. to V.S. on what Dave Hunt calls "a rough gabbro-type rock" (See Dave Hunt’s rock-climbing website at http://ireland.iol.ie/~daveh/counties/guides.Errisbeg.html), including a V.S. with a memorable (for me) small overhang. We stayed on the crag, watching a day’s light and shadows play over the sea at Dog’s Bay below. Later that evening there was nothing for it but to go for a swim. The only non-swimming member of our small party commented that he had never heard so much squealing before in his life, but the swimmers were undaunted, and full of that sense of moral righteousness that only afflicts those who go swimming out of season, they repaired to the pub to consume quantities of seafood chowder in order to stave off those unmistakable symptoms of hypothermia. The next day was a truly defining one for me; during it I discovered the giddy thrill (and, to be honest, the absolute terror) of the multi-pitch climb in somewhat murky conditions. I also discovered the meaning of the euphemistic description "airy". To all fellow neophytes, this means a climb which you are really really glad that you are not leading. It was our last day in Connemara, and the whole group joined in an expedition to the crags at Cuam Gabhlán. These lie in a beautiful, high valley off the Leenane to Westport road. After quite a steep walk, we arrived at the bottom of the crag, and located the climbs. Although the day was dry, conditions were wet and boggy underfoot from previous rain. In deference to my inexperience, the route chosen by my climbing partner was a V. Diff. Although the climbing was not difficult, it was "airy". (See above). I spent much of my time belaying desperately practising relaxing breathing techniques culled from various yoga classes, movies about the Dalai Lama, and episodes of "ER". (Since then, I hasten to add, after spending an entire weekend suspended in mid-air while tethered to minute ledges in Glendalough belaying various leaders, and discussing the weather, the crops, and the Diana conspiracy, I now find airiness far less terrifying).

Suffice to say that I travelled to Kerry for the June Bank Holiday weekend, and hope to attend the other Summer meets with the fanaticism of a Zealot. And if, in the future, they’re looking for people to deposit boxes of chocolates on the window ledges of minor dictators – who knows? I might just audition.

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