Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Guest Contributor – Adrian Hendroff


I have approached a number of people to write articles, but if readers would like to contribute an article please contact me. The only two stipulations I make are that the article has to be hill related and that I don't end up in court through its publication! Otherwise the choice of subject matter is down to the Guest Contributor.

Guest Contributor – Adrian Hendroff

Adrian Hendroff is a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild (OWPG), Mountain Training Association and Mountaineering Ireland. He is the first person to have ascended the combined list of all 454 of Ireland’s Vandeleur-Lynam and Arderin summits. His articles and photographs have been widely published in books and magazines. He has written several Irish hill-walking guidebooks for the Collins Press. His first book From High Places: A Journey Through Ireland's Great Mountains won the OWPG Award for Excellence in 2011. For more info, visit

A Taste of Ireland’s High Places

Under a full moon, Carrauntoohil sparkles on a winter’s night,
Above clouds of Killary, Mweelrea emerges to a spring delight,
Tower, trig point and cairn on Donard catch the summer’s light,
Sky orange and red blaze on Lug: truly an autumnal sight.
These four mountains safeguard provinces of Erin’s soil,
Four out of hundreds in corners of Eire they stand tall,
All blessed with beauty, charm and grandeur to enthrall;
These high places decorate Ireland like an embroidered shawl.
-   Adrian Hendroff (‘Irish Peaks’)

 Completing the Vanlyns and Arderins

Mountain lists in Britain and Ireland have been a subject matter of interest to generations of hillwalkers for over a century, and reaching its summits have become an activity of dedication, inspiration and even obsession to many.

When Sir Hugh Munro published the first list of Scotland’s 3,000 foot mountains in 1891, he had little idea the influence this would have to later generations of the hillwalking community. He also probably did not expect his name to become synonymous with these mountains. Sir Munro himself did not finish his own list, and to this achievement went to Rev. A.E. Robertson in 1901 – the first Munroist. It then took more than 20 years before the next person compleated the list, Rev. A.R. Burn in 1923. Thereafter the numbers of Munroists increased year by year, and today over a hundred names are added to the register annually.

Hill-walkers now have a choice of mountain lists ranging from the Munros, Corbetts, Grahams and Donalds in Scotland; the Nuttalls, Hewitts, Deweys and county tops in England and Wales; the Wainwrights and Birketts in the Lake District; to the Dillons, Vandeleur-Lynams, Arderins and the County Tops in Ireland.

At the time of writing, 5,688 people have compleated the 282 Munros from the Scottish Mountaineering Club’s website [1] and 230 people have climbed all the 2,000-ft mountains (the earliest was by Ed Moss in 1951) in England and Wales according to the Long Distance Walkers Association register [2]. From the same register, it is interesting to note that the first person, Stephen Murphy, to complete Ireland’s 2,000-ft mountains was in 1978, nearly over 70 years after the first Munroist, and to date there are only 19 names listed there.

In a list maintained by [3], only 6 people have climbed all the Vandeleur-Lynams, 3 people have done the Arderins, and just 2 have completed both the Vandeleur-Lynams and Arderins. These single number digits and statistics prove that peak-bagging is very much in its infancy in Ireland compared to the UK. However, Ireland has come a long way over the last decade or so with a tenfold increase of people logging 50 summits or more on It is also interesting to note that two of the recent people who have completed the lists have set a record of sorts - Rob Lee became the first person under the age of 21 to finish the Vandeleur-Lynams, and Simon Byrne [5] set the record of completing both the Vandeleur-Lynams and Arderins in under a year.

Mountains and the sea: Looking down the southwest ridge of Knocknadobar toward Valentia River and the Atlantic

So what then are the Vandeleur-Lynams and Arderins? The Vandeleur-Lynams (or Vanlyns) are Ireland’s 269 summits over 600m and 15m prominence (‘prominence’ is the height of a summit above the highest col to the nearest more prominent summit), named after the late Joss Lynam. Joss originally created the list in 1952 with help from Rev C.R.P. Vandeleur. The Arderins, on the other hand, are Ireland’s 405 summits over 500m with a prominence of 30m, and is based on a list originally compiled by Myrddyn Phillips and Michael Dewey. The combined list of Vanlyns and Arderins on boasts 454 summits. A comprehensive discussion on the origins of these lists can be found in the recent Collins Press publication A Guide To Ireland’s Mountain Summits [4].

I was fortunate to have completed my round of the Vanlyns in 2009 on Aghla Beg South Top in the Derryveagh Mountains of County Donegal, sharing the moment on a wet, windy and misty day with my friends Iain Miller and Caoimhe Gleeson.  And in 2013, I was again fortunate to stand on the summit of my final Arderin on Coomataggart in the Shehy/Knockboy area in southwest Ireland. Unlike Aghla Beg South Top, the weather gods were kind to me on Coomataggart as wispy clouds and blue sky prevailed throughout, revealing far-reaching views of West Cork and Kerry.

So why do the Vanlyns and Arderins and is it worth it? Without over-inundating you with dates, ascents and statistics, allow me to reveal the delights of climbing them. The idea transpired one spring afternoon in 2002 while descending towards Hare’s Gap in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland. We had just climbed Slieve Bearnagh when a good friend from the UK suggested ‘why not do them all’? And so I decided to give it a go. While Slieve Bearnagh wasn’t my first Irish mountain, it was the catalyst for future ascents. I had done a scattering of Wicklow hills before that, Tonelagee (Tóin le Gaoith, 'backside to the wind') being the first. Little did I realise, but that defining moment on Slieve Bearnagh was to shape the next seven years of my life, culminating in the ascent of Coomataggart.

Looking towards snow-capped Tonelagee from the summit plateau of Lugnaquillia

Indeed, there were countless occasions of driving hundreds of miles at night or at the crack of dawn just to be at the base of a mountain.  Days of research were spent on maps, guidebooks and plotting routes and sussing out access points. The RTE weather forecast at the end of the one, six or nine o’clock news was a regular feature on the household TV so much so that my wife labelled me ‘The Weather Man’. It was the same routine, week after week, year after year for over a decade. Was I living an obsession to finish what I started, or was there something I found in the Irish mountains that prompted me to return time and time again, or perhaps a bit of both?

The fascinating thing about Ireland’s high places is it is mostly untrodden, with little by way of signposts and paths. On the western fringes of Europe, its peaks form a ring of coastal mountain ranges and as D.D.C. Pochin Mould puts it “... all of them combine the splendour of the heights and splendour of the depths”. The mountains of Ireland can also be strangely quiet, and often you will rarely meet anyone else, a commodity seldom to be found in Snowdonia or the Lake District, for example. This feeling of isolation in the wilds of the Irish landscape can be strangely liberating, and in some ways it gives a sense of pioneering spirit to the hill-walker.

Take the Cloon Horseshoe for example, one of the finest high-level routes in a remote corner of southwest Ireland. Even the narrow Kerry byroads leading to the remote waters of Cloon Lough are a challenge to negotiate. Mullaghanattin, a steep, Matterhorn-like shaped peak with stupendous views, is one of the attractions of the horseshoe as well as the ten other Vanlyns in what is perhaps Ireland’s most challenging mountain circuit.

The barren and rocky landscape at Coomalougha Lough with Cloon Lough in the lower valley below

In the book From High Places: A Journey Through Ireland’s Great Mountains, I describe the rocky area above and around Cloon Lough as thus: “...precipitous rock walls guard a group of monstrous sandstone fangs that encircle a lake, its cinereous rocks scratched as if by beastly claws. Another smaller lake is nestled below one of the fangs, its inky blue waters floating above a vertiginous cliff that falls as steeply as it rises for nearly a thousand feet to a lonely valley below. The ground descending into this primeval stronghold is a rocky maze, crookedly twisted as a series of shiny grey slabs that seem to stretch on endlessly”.

For anyone climbing all the Vanlyns or Arderins will at some stage realise that every Irish mountain tells a story.  Dinnseanchas, or place-lore, is important in Irish culture as it translates the geographical element of the Celtic landscape into a rich, narrative story. Every summit, cliff, valley, lake, coves, sea-inlet, island and town-land in Ireland has its own tale and secrets woven into the fabric of its place-name.

Towering above the Glennagevlagh valley northeast of Leenaun in Connemara in the west of Ireland is a mountain called Devilsmother. The Irish for it, as marked on the Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) map, is Magairlí an Deamhain. However, the Irish for ‘mother’ is máthair and ‘devil’ is diabhail, nothing quite resembling Magairlí or Deamhain - so something does not quite add up. According to the locals, the direct translation of Magairlí an Deamhain has an even better ‘ring’ to it. Deamhain literally means ‘demon’, and magairlí put bluntly, translates to ‘testicles’. Collectively then, the peak in question would translate as ‘the devil’s testicles’ in its purest form, but they couldn’t put that on the map, could they? Other examples of dinnseanchas amongst the Irish mountains include Caherconree (Cathair Conraoi, ‘Cú Roí’s stone fort’), Errigal (An Earagail, ‘oratory’) and Knocknadobar (Cnoc na dTobar, ‘hill of the wells’).

Killary Harbour and the hamlet of Leenaun from Devilsmother

Other than dinnseanchas, climbing the Vanlyns and Arderins will take you into all of the Emerald Isle’s stunningly beautiful mountain areas that are rich with associations of history and legends. The Galtees, for example, is a mountain range that extends for some 15 miles above the fertile Glen of Aherlow in southeast Ireland. It boasts Ireland’s highest inland peak, Galtymore, and a number of other tops including Galtybeg, Lyracappul and Cush.

This fascinating area has a colourful past and an era infused by historians, poets, outlaws, rebels and saints. Names like Geoffrey Keating, historian, poet and clergyman famous for his book Foras Feasa ar Eirinn, a historical account of Ireland; Patrick Weston Joyce, a historian noted for his passion on Irish place-names; Eamonn a’Chnoic, a seventeenth century Robin Hood type figure; Galloping Hogan, a brigand who fought in the Jacobite War; Saint Berrihert and Saint Pecaun, eigth century monks who founded hermitages and lived in isolation - all spring to mind.

Galtymore as seen from the slopes of Slievecushnabinnia

At one time the Galtees were known as Sliabh Crotta Cliach or the ‘mountains of the harps of Cliach’, for tales of yore speak of a legendary harpist by the name of Cliach who serenaded alone with two harps to win the hand of a Sídh lord’s daughter. Interestingly, long before the story of the harpist, there existed the Eóganacht Airthir Cliach, a branch of the ruling fifth century dynasty of Munster, who took their name from Cliú, which was a territory in parts of Tipperary. And Crotta, or Cruit, can also mean ‘hump of a hill’, which implies then that Crotta Cliach means ‘Cliach, place of humped hills’.

The approach up many of the Vanlyns and Arderins takes one along ancient pilgrim routes, burial sites, mass stones, deserted villages and old miner tracks. There are occasions where you will either follow closely in the footsteps of saintly men or devilish outlaws. The ‘path of the Saints’ or Cosán na Naomh in the Dingle Peninsula is a gateway to Brandon Mountain, a gem of a peak overlooking the Atlantic. The Cosán na Naomh is an old pilgrimage road from Dingle town to the foot of Brandon Mountain via Ventry, An Riasc and Kilmalkedar Church. Measuring around 11 miles in length, it connects many of the early Christian sites on the Dingle Peninsula. The summit is known to be the site where Saint Brendan meditated in the sixth century before leaving on his epic voyage to Greenland and America. It was on these slopes where Saint Brendan had reportedly ousted the pagan deity Crom Dubh.

Brandon ridge from the slopes of Brandon Mountain

The Comeragh Mountains in southwest Ireland, a desolate moorland plateau whose steep edges are adorned with a series of captivating lake-filled coums, was once home to William Crotty. East of Coum Iarthar in the Comeraghs is an outcrop of conglomerate boulders that sits on an expansive perch where all the green plains of County Waterford can be seen. This was once Crotty’s lookout post in the eighteenth century - then it overlooked thickly wooded valleys. A cave above a remote lake and at the base of a vertiginous rocky crag, accessible only by a rope, was his safe haven. The ancient name for the lake was Lough Coumgaurha, but today both lake and rock are better known after the legendary man himself.

William Crotty was a wanted man, a leader of a gang of outlaws, a Robin Hood type figure of the Comeraghs who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He eluded capture for years, but was betrayed by one of his trusted companions, a man by the name of David Norris, and was arrested in 1742. Crotty met his fate at the end of a hangman’s noose, was decapitated and his head displayed on a spike over the gates of a Waterford gaol for all to see. A bounty was also issued against the outlaw’s wife, who was intensely pursued, until a fateful hunt one day when she fled to the pinnacle of Crotty’s Rock and tragically jumped off the cliff’s edge.

Looking eastward onto Crotty's Rock from above Coumgaurha in the Comeragh Mountains

Besides revealing its rich heritage, completing Ireland’s Vanlyns and Arderins have endowed me with memories to treasure to the end: an exhilarating circuit of Coomnahorna close to sundown and descending through a remote Kerry valley under a night sky full of stars; a lengthy approach along the remote Owencrovarra valley in Donegal on a bitterly cold day leading to a traverse of hills from Crockglass to Grogan More to cherish a double rainbow over Errigal; watching the sun break through storm clouds over Clew Bay, Corraun, Achill and the Nephins from Claggan Mountain in North Mayo at last a wild camp at Cummeenoughter, the highest lake in Ireland before summiting Carrauntoohil at dawn.

On top of O'Shea's Gully in winter with Cummeenoughter Lough below

So from the towering peaks of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, to the quartzite giants of Connemara and the soaring, granite tops of the Mournes - all the Vanlyns and Arderins await. Why not give it a try? Need I also mention the Guinness in Ireland is good?


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