(by Paul Donnelly, from IMC Newsletter Summer 2011)
An obituary of the IMC’s co-founder and one of Ireland’s leading mountaineers.
I first encountered Joss when I joined the Irish Mountaineering Club in 1970 – in fact for some reason Joss was one of my proposers for full membership. In those days it quickly became obvious that Joss was a "primus inter pares" – he was so fully involved in club and wider mountaineering affairs. He was the organizer of the 1971 Greenland Expedition, which included Sé Nolan with whom I was friendly at the time. He was a founder of Irish Orienteers in which I was involved as a regular participant and of AFAS, which offered training courses in adventure sports including mountaineering. I recollect one bank holiday weekend course in Connemara in the early/mid 70s on which Joss and Paddy O Leary instructed and which involved three intensive days of orienteering, hill walking and climbing Carrot Ridge in the rain as well as Sunday morning mass in Ben Lettery hostel celebrated by Fr Aengus, a fellow participant.
In 1976 Donal Ó Murchú, Jim Butler, Bairbre Sheridan and I traveled by car to a club Alpine meet at La Bérarde led by Joss who was accompanied by Nora his wife, and Clodagh his young daughter. While our group had a pleasant time climbing Aiguille Dibona (Boell Route) as well as standard routes on Les Bans, Coolidge, etc., Joss was busy climbing harder routes with Ingrid Masterson – they did the traverses of the Meije and of the Barre des Écrins as well as some other fine routes. Joss later told me that 1976 was one of his most fulfilling seasons.
Later in 1982 I was delighted to be asked to travel overland in his car with Joss, Ingrid and Liam Convery on a climbing trip to the Val Bregaglia – a beautiful long valley in Italian Switzerland. Based in a wooded campsite at Vicosoprano, a quiet but charming traditional village, we followed a structured build-up of 4/5 climbs leading to a traverse of the Piz Badile by the North Ridge. This was a classic three-day mountaineering expedition starting with an overnight bivouac at the ridge foot, a full day’s traverse of the Badile from dawn to dusk, followed by a night on a floor mattress after a late and hard-won scratch meal at the Gianetti Hut, and then finishing next day with a long two-col return to Switzerland. On that trip I climbed with Ingrid while Liam partnered Joss. I recollect Ingrid and I reaching the summit of the Badile to find Joss and Liam dozing in the sun – due to my more basic climbing skill we were a good hour if not two behind them.
After our Bregaglia trip I would have been involved in various trips and events in which Joss also participated – IMC trips to the Lakes, orienteering meets, Long Walks etc., but I did not climb with him nor was I particularly close to him until after I retired from full-time work in 2002. Then I was for a few years a part-time Trails Inspector for the National Waymarked Ways Committee of the Irish Sports Council, of which Joss was then (and until very recently) Chairman. I got to walk occasionally with Joss and also drove him on some of his out-of-Dublin projects (he was still working as an Engineer) – for example in 2006 to Donegal to supervise restoration work for the Board of Works on the Grianán of Aileach fort. I recollect also driving him in 2008 at Garech de Brún’s invitation to Luggala House for a guided tour and a chat. Even though I had a long personal to-do list of my own home projects I was persuaded by Joss to do some DIY projects at their home for himself and Nora but always under his close instruction and supervision. Joss was Project Manager and I was the tradesman.
Joss kept physically and mentally active and engaged up to the end of his life. In recent years as mentioned above I became a walking partner as Joss’s physical ability declined and we would go out on short outings in Wicklow and latterly in Dublin. Marlay Park and Bushy Park Dodder trail were favourites. Joss always had a clear objective and would log his walk times faithfully. A late preoccupation of his was to get to the cross on Bray Head under his own steam. During last summer we tried and failed to get there up the direct trail from the west beside the golf course near Bray – the final steeping of the trail defeated us. But on a later attempt by the green road/trail from just north of Windgate near Greystones we got to the summit ridge (although I had to remove the top rung of the stile near the top) and spent a pleasant interlude just below the trig point looking north to the Cross and down to the Irish Sea and Greystones below and, of course, west to Glencree, Kippure and our beloved Wicklows. As far as I know this was Joss’s last high point and I was honoured to have been part of it.
As I have noted above our outings in recent years were physically modest affairs taken at a gentle pace and yet they were not dull and dutiful for me. Joss had a wide range of interests – nature, heritage, literature, music, politics and yes, of course, mountaineering and travel. On our walks he always had a sharp eye for flora and fauna, would take photos and at home check up on plants or birds we had encountered that he was unsure of. I didn’t realise it at the time but Joss over those last years was a role model for how to adapt to the inevitability of aging and that one must keep engaged with the present and indeed the future, must keep physically and mentally active and maintain the element of challenge and momentum in one’s life.
Thanks Joss for all you have given me – the IMC, orienteering, great days on the hills, companionship, and your stimulating personality and presence … Farewell.