Beyond the Blarney

Scaling Ireland's Craggy Verticals
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For guides to routes in every county, visit:; reviews and photos are available at:; climbing news and guide books available at the Mountaineering Council of Ireland's website:

Despite its technicolor-green hue, Ireland is largely a land of rock—hard granite cliffs fringe its perimeter; softer limestone lies in its belly and along its mid-west coast.
As such, Ireland should be a rock climber's Mecca. But, as with hiking and caving, word of Ireland's varied and challenging climbs has trickled out slowly.
The best way to get a first taste of Irish climbing is on a Thursday night, by taking a DART train ten miles south of Dublin to the exclusive suburb of Dalkey, home to rock and movie stars, including U2, Ireland's favorite sons. At the edge of town is Dalkey Quarry, which for a century (1817 through 1914) coughed up the six million tons of stone that created the piers of Ireland's busiest port, Dun Laoghaire. The quarry was designated as a public park in 1914 and the first rock climbers began exploring the quarry's sheer faces in about 1942.
Joss Lynam—the guiding force behind the Waymarked Ways—was a student at Dublin's Trinity College in 1948 when he co-founded the Irish Mountaineering Club. This pioneering group established the first routes up the quarry walls and published the first rock-climbers' guide to the quarry. More than 300 climbs have since been developed, from easy juggy routes to knife-edged steeps, and Lynam still considers it "the most important climbing area in Ireland—it receives almost as much usage as all the other climbing crags in Ireland." The Mountaineering Club conducts Thursday-night sessions for beginners, who upon reaching the top of the Quarry are treated to views stretching north to Dublin and across Dublin Bay to the mountains of Howth Head.
Just south of Dalkey is the craggy waterfront village of Bray, and more excellent climbing can be found at Bray Head, on routes such as Streaky Slab.

Inland from Bray, around the lakes and monastic ruins of Glendalough, you can climb 300-foot routes ascending from an old miner's village. At the summit you may be met by curious herds of deer and wild goat. On the west coast, the coastal limestone rim of the Burren, north of the Cliffs of Moher, offers challenging climbs that rise high above the rocky shoreline.
Spectacular climbing is to be found on Achill Island, a remote L-shaped island connected to the northwest coast via a narrow, century-old swinging bridge. This largely unpopulated (except for the sheep) island boasts some of the tallest sea cliffs in Europe—and some of the most challenging routes and vertiginous views anywhere.

Neal writes for Outside magazine, Men's Health , and the Washington Post Magazine . He is currently finishing a biography of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, and is starting a second book on moonshine, bootlegging, and the early days of NASCAR. Neal lives in Asheville, NC, with his wife and two sons.

Published: 6 Dec 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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