Having recently made the trip over to Ireland to climb its 3,000+ foot mountains I thought I’d put together a short overview of the logistics behind my trip. I spent quite a bit of time carrying out research on the web and in print and really struggled to find much good quality information. Coming from Scotland, where munro-bagging is a hugely popular hobby, we’re spoiled by the quality and volume of available information. Not so in Ireland, it seems.
I’m sure Irish readers will have their own favourite sources of information but if you’re from the UK and intent on completing your round of the munros ‘furth of Scotland’ in England, Wales and Ireland, then this guide is for you.
Planes, trains and automobiles
Since it takes the best part of a week to climb the 13 highest mountains in Ireland, including travel between them, the main choice is to either take your own vehicle by ferry or to fly and hire a car. Just to get the scale of the country into perspective, it’s a 295 mile (5.5 hours) journey from Belfast in the north to Killarney in County Kerry, and 200 miles (4 hours) from Dublin and Killarney. It takes longer to travel around Ireland than you might imagine.
There are three main ports serving the island of Ireland from the UK:
- Belfast – 2 hours from Cairnryan; 8 hours from Liverpool
- Dublin – 2 hours from Holyhead; 8 hours from Liverpool
- Rosslare – 3h15 from Fishguard; 4 hours from Pembroke
Living in Scotland with a campervan it was a no-brainer for me to take the ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast. It was fairly pricey at £273 (off-peak) for just a two-hour crossing but at least I discovered that I could use Tesco vouchers to book on the Stena Line website, so it only cost me about £60 in cash.
The ferry was modern and efficient: no complaints.
I left Cairnryan at 11pm to get the cheapest fare, which meant of course that I needed to find somewhere to park up in Belfast since no campsites would be open at that time. So six hours’ kip in supermarket car park on a rainy night in Belfast isn’t particularly glamorous … but my trip definitely picked up from this low point.
What and where are the Irish ‘munros’?
There are 13 Irish ‘munros’, mountains over 3000ft or 914 metres in height. Galtymore is the baby at 918m and Carrauntoohill the highest at 1039m.
As the map below shows, Ireland’s munros are spread across four locations in Wicklow (Lugnaquilla), Tipperary (Galtymore) and Kerry (the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Brandon Mountain).
- Lugnaquilla (Lugnaquillia Mountain) (Log na Coille) (925m)
- Galtymore (Cnoc Mor na nGaibhlte) (918m)
- Beenkeragh (Binn Chaorach) (1008m)
- Caher (Cathair) (1000m)
- Caher West Top (973m)
- Carrauntoohil (Corran Tuathail) (1039m)
- Cnoc an Chuillinn (958m)
- Cnoc na Peiste (Knocknapeasta) (988m)
- Cruach Mhor (932m)
- Maolan Bui (973m)
- Na Cnamha (The Bones Peak) (957m)
- The Big Gun (An Gunna Mor) (939m)
- Brandon Mountain (Cnoc Breanainn) (952m)
You can read my posts describing my ascents below:
How many days?
A key question is: how many days should I allow for? I planned on five days of walking plus two travelling days, with any ‘spare’ time for sightseeing. Given I ended up driving 1150 miles over the week I definitely needed this amount of time to be confident of doing everything I’d planned to do.
The three single hills – Lugnaquilla, Galtymore and Brandon Mountain – can all easily be climbed in day, with time left over to drive to the next destination (it’s around two hours’ drive between “the Lug” and Galtymore, and between Galtymore and Killarney, near the Reeks). I took between 3h15 and 3h30 to climb each of these three mountains.
However, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks ridge is the main attraction, with 10 summits across its twisting and exciting ridgeline. I had originally planned to climb the eastern and western sections of the ridge separately, given the Reeks have an average of over 225 rain days each year. But given dry, warm weather and clear, blue skies I opted to walk the whole ridge in a longish (8h45) day. If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend you doing this. This also had the advantage of ‘saving’ me a day to tour the Dingle Peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Coast.
Planning the trip
I was quite surprised that I couldn’t find more information on the web to help me plan. Perhaps I didn’t search hard enough or in the right places but it was certainly a struggle. I’d recommend the following resources:
- MountainViews.ie is a site for people to share routes and trip reports – this seems the nearest equivalent to WalkHighlands
- I found other routes and trip reports on ActiveMe.ie
- High Point Ireland focuses on the Gribbons, the highest Irish mountains and the sport of highpointeering (equivalent to munro bagging)
Blogs and trip reports
- A very useful trip report on WalkHighlands by weaselmaster
- Max Landberg’s blog, Call of the Mountains
- David Bethune’s blog and trip reports
- The Irish Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 maps for Kerry, Cork and Wicklow
- The Harvey’s Superwalker 1:30,000 waterproof map of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks
- A decent roadmap of Ireland
- I bought Jim Ryan’s book on Carrauntoohill and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks – A walking guide to Ireland’s highest mountains (reprinted 2015) and would recommend it for the comprehensive set of alternative routes and context section relating to history and land ownership.
[Note: please get in touch if you’d like to buy this book and the maps from me).
I’d never visited Ireland before. While it felt very familiar, there were a few differences that took some getting used to. First, the Irish 1:50k maps as well as the Harvey’s 1:30k both use different colouring and symbols. Second, and more frustratingly, I’d assumed that I could get by with my own roadmap (where Ireland fitted on one page!), then use signposts to navigate locally. I soon discovered that Irish road signs are a law unto themselves. Signs on smaller roads hardly ever mention places that are further away that 10 miles, particularly in rural areas. Of course, since the mountains tend to be at the end of smaller roads, my trusty road map was utterly useless in rural Wicklow and even my usual fail-safe method of following my nose was very hit-and-miss.
Where to stay?
I was in a campervan so was looking for some of the better campsites to stay at and potentially some good informal camping spots too. My impression is that Ireland doesn’t have as many campsites we’re used to in the UK but I did manage to find some good ones. I steered well clear of holiday parks (of which there are quite a few) and looked for well-run, independent sites. You can find listings of sites on the Camping Ireland and the Total Camping Ireland websites. These were the sites I stayed at:
- The Apple Farm, Tipperary (6km from Caher, 9km from Clonmell). I’d recommend this place. As the name suggests, it’s a farm first and a campsite second. You can just pitch just near the apple trees and can buy the most wonderful apple juice (and other products) from their shop. Facilities are fine, if a little in need of an upgrade.
- Fossa Camping & Caravan Site, Killarney. Killarney is a tourist town, just near the Reeks, so this is a popular site. It’s just on the edge of town, near the road to the Reeks, and is well run.
- Oratory House Camping, approx. 5 miles from Dingle Town. This is the nearest campsite to the town and actually has a view of Brandon Mountain. It’s a popular, family-run site. While there are several campsites around the Dingle Peninsula this was one of the few I could find that didn’t mainly cater for static caravans.
- Wave Crest Camping and Caravan Park, Caherdaniel. This was the pick of the campsites, right on the coast on the Ring of Kerry and with pitches looking out to sea. Independently run and well-managed, with a cafe and shop on site, and a bar/restaurant a ten minute walk away.
Ireland’s restrictive land ownership laws mean that wild camping in tents is widely discouraged (and signs warn that dogs off leads on farmland will be shot). I’ve read that informal camping (outwith campsites) is tolerated in rural areas but I have to say that I didn’t find much evidence of it. While I did see one or two places where it would be possible I decided that the lure of wifi was too great.
OK, apart from mountains what else should I do?
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that there are some great things to see and do in Ireland. I had one day for sightseeing in Kerry so took a driving tour taking me to Tralee Bay, Dingle and along the Wild Atlantic Way. The photos below give a flavour of what to expect – when you have the weather!
[Please click on the photos below for larger versions).
Have you climbed the Irish ‘munros’? What hints and tips would you add to this brief practical guide to help others?