Malin Beg – 50th Anniversary – Trip Report

Malin Beg – 50th Anniversary – Trip Report

50 years ago exactly, the IMC discovered Malin Beg. 

At that time all Irish climbers would go every Easter to the Poison Glen area, camping around Lough Barra, and specifically sleeping inside Gibbons’ haybarn there.  Easter 1974 was very cold, snow everywhere, and Jimmy Leonard, who had introduced me to rockclimbing in 1972, knew a “nearby” seacliff where he said conditions were usually more benign.  An hour away.  And he was right.  We liked what we saw and we made sure to go back, two weekends later, then again, again, and again.

First worked was the Narrow Zawn area, Saturday 27/04/1974, the very first routes being Shiver Me Timbers and Moby Dick, both by Jimmy Leonard and Benny Kinsella.  Next day Sunday 28/04/1974 came a handful of routes on the main west face, Cutlass – my favourite, a fine route up which I was pointed by Joe Mulhall to whom I was then apprenticed – and a couple of others – Crabs Crawl and Main Brace.  The Prawn Zawn area was accidentally identified a year later.  After that came the South End and the island channel. The island, and extraordinary to say, Neptune’s Wall were among the last areas to be developed in that initial push.  Meantime other new areas have been added, and the crag is still giving and giving.  Which is just as well because the Atlantic has been taking and taking.  My understanding is a big storm did terrible damage in 1988, quite literally removing many routes, including many of the first routes ever climbed there. 

50 years later Colm Duffy set up an unofficial WhatsApp group for IMC members who wanted to join in a event marking the anniversary, and suggested going.  No better man.

The usual harbour area campsite was utterly sodden when we arrived Thursday evening and my van was first casualty, towed out eventually, so we all camped up at the beach carpark area.  Everyone slept in.

There was a stiff southeasterly / easterly the whole weekend, and this is the wind every farmer waits for every springtime to dry up the soil, and so it was.  The harbour area dried out in no time and quickly got crowded with eager adventurers, weekend warriors all.

Friday and very few at the crag.  POB and I hit Neptune’s Wall, where the only dry route was the V.Diff in the corner, then we hit the far drier Hulk Wall.  Anger Management is a lovely route and far, far easier than David Banner at the same grade, the Hulk itself no easy V.Diff.  We retired from the field of battle, utterly banjaxed, just as Colm arrived.  The first day out climbing under the open sky can often be tiring.

Then Poots arrived.  Everything changed.  I’d never heard of him, but think Gerry Moss on steroids, 30 years younger, and other subtle adjustments I won’t elaborate.  The joint started jumping. 

He’d a 4×4 for sure as one would expect of any Northie, then a sophisticated horse type trailer he slept in with family, but, the trailer extended its own length again to provide a glass enclosed wind and weather proof veranda.  All self designed and self constructed.  After that was the bonfire (Belfast folk do bonfires well, you have to give them that), and multiple seating for the assembly.  Not only that but WIFI, when nobody else had a signal of any description.  Oh, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the crag,

Saturday was the day.  Climbers everywhere.  You wouldn’t see the like outside Dalkey Quarry and only then maybe on a dry Saturday in July.  We got to meet and talk to only some of them – Josh and Niall from Bandit Country (they were never any more specific), Darek from Poland (who led his first climb on the Sunday having bussed here all the way from Killorglin – public transport!), Mattie from California and several other UCD climbers who didn’t self identify, and Gavin Williams who is a dead ringer for Gerry Adams, a factor about which he greatly enjoys constantly hearing and of which he never tires.  Saturday was cold though, no sun, even if dry, and POB and I did little enough, a couple of handy routes, one out of Prawn Zawn that Kevin Byrne had put up and another in Narrow Zawn by Peter Gargan (that actually might be an even finer route were there some protection up towards the top?). Team Michelle and Team Colm enjoyed the Neptune / Hulk area.

Saturday night there was singing and dancing (well, without the actual dancing), around the fire, around the Poots encampment.  Memorable events include sparking timber and sparkling vocals from an elderly participant who shall remain nameless, whose party piece is Scooby Doo.

Sunday started absolutely Baltic and everyone disappeared.  The wind though, albeit horrible, was round to the east, meaning several parts of the crag would now be sheltered, if only at the base or halfway up.  You’d still be frozen sitting up on top, taking in, but not when climbing.  Poots directed things and I got talked into another day’s work.  POB is a hard taskmaster.

It was only great.  Only Mattie and her crew were at the crag, though Warren did later appear.  Warren had suggested a quiet cove between Hulk Wall and Narrow Zawn where we’d be out of the wind (can’t be too careful at our age, he said – not quite sure what he meant).  We found it, four gloriously friendly routes, the absolute bestest way to feed the inner self.  A very active but totally understressed day, as good as it gets?

I spent a lot of my early adult life invested in Malin Beg.  It is a wonderful spot.  I have powerful memories.  Routes and more routes and even new routes.  At one time maybe I was its Poots, in a small way, though without the generosity.  Malin Beg gets much better weather, always, than the inland county area around it, which is mountainous. Like at Cruit, things dry out quickly. Back in the day Malin Beg was a big part of annual IMC planning.  Maybe it should be again.

Photos from the early days ..

  • Benny Kinsella, John Gibson, Gráinne Hayes and Jimmy Leonard, 27.04 1974
  • Benny Kinsella, possibly on Moby Dick, with Gráinne Hayes and David Walsh, 27.04.1974
  • Cutlass, first ascent, 28.04.1974, David Walsh leading Joe Mulhall
  • Sketch made 1975 of new routing by Steve Young at South End, near the Blow Hole. A different planet
  • Des Keena abseiling into Prawn Zawn 1977
  • Tommy Irving diving in the Channel 1977
  • Leonard’s Lament. David Walsh leading Des Keena watched by Tommy Irving, 1978

2024 photos ..

  • Paddy O’Brien on Carraig Úna 2024, Neptune’s Wall
  • Anger Management. David Walsh leading 2024. The Hulk Wall.
  • David Banner, Paddy O’Brien leading 2024. The Hulk Wall.
  • Orca, with Paddy O’Brien 2024
  • Big Jessie near Hulk Wall 2024, David Walsh taking up Paddy O’Brien
  • Pillar Squared 2024 Paddy O'Brien
  • Marine Express 2024. Magnificent if under protected. Narrow Zawn area.
  • Below Deck. David Walsh seconding 2024. Beside Prawn Zawn.

Resources: Donegal Guidebooks from the excellent Irish Climbing Wiki

Link to an account of the weekend from Warren Poots on Facebook