Croagh Patrick

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Mayo Mountains – How Many are There ?

While Ireland’s mountains are modest on a European scale, Mayo mountains are modest even in the national context. They are, nonetheless, wonderful for one characteristic at least – the fabulous ocean or lake views they afford the hiker.

I once stood in the then Bord Fáilte office in Paris back in the 1980s and read a letter enquiring as to the very best mountains in Ireland for skiing ! It made me smile. Often, in continental Europe (and perhaps beyond), people imagine that our north-western outpost is much more mountainous than is the case.

Mayo is a county characterised by mountains, bogs and coast. But just how many Mayo mountains are there ?

Before answering that question, let’s have a look at some loose mountain-related terms. A ‘spur’ is a ridge projecting downward from a mountain towards lower ground, while a ‘ridge’ itself is a long, narrow raised land formation with (sometimes very steep) sloping sides. A ‘shoulder’ is an often quite rounded flank of a mountain, perhaps before it transforms into a downward-sloping spur.

With these unscientific terms in mind, we quickly see that there are many fewer mountains in Mayo (and, indeed, Ireland) than some people, websites and physical features’ names might suggest. You see, very often what are called mountains are really little more than high points on shoulders, ridges or spurs. They’re sometimes referred to as ‘peaks’ and there’s talk of ‘prominence’, though I’ve never been terribly comfortable with those terms either.

For example, it is clear to me that Mweelrea is one single mountain and that names attributed to sections of that mountain, such as Ben Lugmore and Ben Bury are really of no significance. This is one big mountain massif, where the summit is surrounded by ever-so-slightly lower ground that just happens to be big enough to have a few high points (‘peaks’) jotted around its obviously uneven top and slopes.

Mayo mountains, Birreencorragh

Birreencorragh, 698m

Birreencorragh is another example. To its S is the so-called Glenlara, to its W Mount Eagle while, to the E, Knockaffertagh occupies its spur. Yes, there are ‘cols’, or lower points, between the summit and these points, but since the mountains aren’t man-made, we can hardly expect them to descend in a straight line with equal gradient from top to bottom. Once again, this is clearly just one single mountain, with the usual few shoulders followed by spurs running down in various directions to lower ground.

So, just how many Mayo mountains are there then ? Well, in a land where the highest point is a mere 1,038 m and not one of the (supposed) top 20 Irish summits is in Connacht, here are the top heights in the Mayo mountains (400 m + summits). Mayo mountains are most often not rocky at the top, so while I’m at it, I’ve noted which are more or less boggy on top and which can claim some degree of rockiness.

Mayo Mountains

Mweelrea – 814 m – boggy – no. 16 on map

Nephin Mór – 806 m – boggy – no. 11

Barrclashcame (Sheeffrys) – 772 m – boggy – no. 15

Croagh Patrick – 764 m – rocky – no. 14

Slieve Carr – 721 m – boggy – no. 6

Corrannabinnia (Coiscéim Carrach) – 714 m – rocky – no. 8

Ben Gorm – 700 m – boggy – no. 17

Birreencorragh – 698 m – rocky – no. 10

Croaghaun – 688 m – rocky – no. 1

Maumtrasna – 682 m – boggy – no. 18

Slievemore – 661 m – boggy – no. 2

Nephin Beg – 627 m – boggy – no. 7

Buckoogh – 588 m – boggy – no. 9

Corraun Hill – 541 m – boggy – no. 5

Minaun – 466 m – boggy – no. 3

Knockmore (Clare Island) – 462 m – boggy – no. 13

Knockletragh (Corraun) – 452 m – boggy – no. 4

Croaghmoyle – 430 m – boggy – no. 12

That’s 18 mountains, 7 of which rise to 700 m or more. Each of these mountains is clearly demarcated by low ground, or sea, all around. Of these, 12 lie in roughly the Castlebar – Newport – Achill – Bangor Erris area, while the remaining 6 are to be found west or south of Westport, heading down towards Killary Harbour and Lough Mask. I consider just 4 to have something approaching mildly rocky tops. The rest, dear friends, are boggy on top. But I love them all.

Corrannabinnia, or Coiscéim Carrach to give the mountain its more correct name, remains one of my favourites. The ascent is up and down over several spot heights, giving a total positive climb of around 1,000m. There’s a proper rock strewn summit (a pretty rare feature in Mayo mountains, as they are more typically peat covered even at the top) and a nice arête between its main and SW tops. To the north of this very steep cliff lies the awesome Owenduff blanket bog. There’s the added bonus of a great view out across Clew Bay as you descend after a 6 to 8 hour mountain horseshoe hike. It’s great.

East and North Mayo cannot, unfortunately, claim any mountains of over 400 m altitude, although the latter does, of course, boast magnificent low hills offering splendid views out over the ocean. See my post on walking the North Mayo coastline.

Here’s a rough map of Mayo mountains – all 18 of them !

 

Mayo Mountains, hillwalking in Mayo

Mayo’s Mountains

So do come along and explore the Mayo mountains. You won’t bag any overly impressive heights, but you’ll enjoy day-long experiences and views you won’t forget for many a day.

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Some Mayo Mountain Photos

Here are a few photos I took last Saturday, when taking part in the Mighty Mayo Mountain Challenge. The one from Mweelrea is from a previous (successful) climb, just to give you an idea of what that mountain is all about.

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Mountain Challenge Done

On Saturday  last, along with around 55 others, I took part in the Mighty Mayo Mountain Challenge (see entry below).

We started off in two buses from Castlebar and began the climb of Nephin, from the north side, after 6 am. The weather was good and the climb without difficulty. Of course it was cold at the top, but any climb of any mountain in Mayo that you come off still dry is a treat. I took exactly 3 hr 00 to complete the climb and felt fine afterwards. My dodgy knees were still good.

We began the Reek after 10 am and, boy, was it packed. Not only was there the huge Gaelforce West event on, but there were also over 100 climbing in aid of Our Lady’s Hospital for Children, plus the usual individuals, couples and families that are on the mountain any given day during summer.

In fact, I found the Gaelforce guys not to be in the way, but very helpful at making me keep up the pace. With a competitor in front and a competitor behind, you actually didn’t have much choice but to keep moving. I completed it in 2 hr 35, which, while not that fast, wasn’t too slow either. Maybe 8 years ago, I once did it in 1 hr 05 up and 48 mins down. Again, it was dry.

After soup and sandwiches in Croagh Patrick’s carpark, it was off to Mweelrea. The rain started to fall before we got there.

I had been climbing for 1 hr 30 when the group organiser, Vincent, called a halt to proceedings. He was right. It was far too rainy, far too windy, far too foggy and far too dangerous to continue. I had reached the end of the boggy terrain and just about to hit the rocky final ascent, around 30 minutes from the top. Visibility was much too poor and, in such circumstances, you must respect the mountain. I descended in another 1 hr 05 and was soaked through long before I even started to some off the mountain.

In 10 years, I have tackled Mweelrea 5 times and only ever reached the summit on one occasion. The mountain is right on the ocean to the west, with the Killary immediately to the south. Cloud rolls in incredibly quickly. Literally you can see the summit clearly one minute and not 10 metres in front of your nose the next.

I want to thank all of you who contributed sponsorship for this event. It was a great day in the mountains of Mayo. And the knees survived.

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Mighty Mayo Mountain Challenge

Looking down from the top of Mweelrea, July 2009.

Looking down from the top of Mweelrea, July 2009.

In aid of Cancer Action Mhaigh Eo (registered charity no. CHY 15789) I will tomorrow attempt, as part of a group, to climb all three of Mayo’s highest mountains in the one day.

We will start with Nephin, at 806 m, with the ‘off’ at 6 am. Croagh Patrick (764 m) follows at 10.30 am. Connacht’s highest mountain, Mweelrea, at 814 m, wraps up the day, with a planned assault time of 3 pm. Hopefully, we’ll be down from Mweelrea around 6.30 to 7 pm.

Now I do quite a bit of walking, but most of it is on pretty flat terrain. The reason for this is that I have very bad knees. But I do love climbing mountains and regularly do so. The price I typically pay is a day’s painful knees and an inability to bend them, particularly the right, for a while afterwards.

So spare a thought for my knees tomorrow, but even more the day after …

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