Last summer I spent 8 weeks or so climbing in France, where the weather was generally stormy. Europe on a whole was experiencing shit weather and we had to bail on our Dolomite plans. Meanwhile the UK was experiencing a fine summer, and as is always the case when you miss good weather back home; you feel like you are missing out. So when it came round to my summer plans this year, I was sure not too make the same mistake again and booked 4 weeks in Ireland, forgetting that Ireland is Ireland and 4 weeks is a long time.
May was terrible weather wise. Others were concerned for my trip beginning early June, and felt the need to assure me it wouldn’t cost too much to change the ferry and come home early. This was very kind of them.
The first week was spent at Fairhead, in a massive house with a good bunch of people and climbing most days. Fairhead seems to have become a popular little spot in the past few years and its easy to see why, its by the sea but isn’t tidal and likewise doesn’t suffer from smeg. It also has the feel of a mountain crag but with a 10 minute flat walk in. Before going out there I’d heard it was like a more technical version of Tremadog, this I was not pleased to here and can confirm is also not really the case.
Rathlin Wall is perhaps the centre piece of the cliff, and we spent a lot of time around this area, onsighting many of the classics between E4 and 7 with routes such as Hells Kitchen Arete and Way of the Jive Monkeys being great pieces of climbing. The latter consists of an exciting little runout which feels worse than it is as the kit and belayer are hidden around a corner 15ft below. The first day was also memorable, and also the only sunny day. Me and Nathan climbed Face Value, Primal Scream and then Wall of Prey into the brilliantly situated Above and Beyond, combining all you need for a good trad day out.
One of the most intimidating looking walls on the head is the direct start to Primal Scream; The Complete Scream, which after a quick look on ab Nathan decided to go for. As he knocked a skyhook off on the lead I began to pay attention to my belaying and he later admitted his gaffataping skills might not be as good as P Widdys. Higher on the route he complained of rope drag and I assured him I could flick his gear off if he would like. He didn’t hear me and thankfully topped out just before the rain after what looked like a mega 60m pitch of superb wall climbing.
The next decent chunk of time was spent down in the Burren, climbing on Ailladie. This is like a small, but very worthwhile section of Pembroke placed on the wild west coast of Ireland. Such a combination makes for friendly climbing in a dramatic setting. On arrival we decided to pitch our tents right on the cliff top overlooking Mirror Wall. Whilst this seemed idyllic at first it was apparent such a spot was not the most sheltered and we had to retreat a little for the well being of Liams £20 tent. A little further back the new spot was still not a bad place to be. Little caves to cook in and a water source and pub (where we discovered Murphys, a rare Irish pint which we later found out could also be brought in Tesco) down the road make wild camping in the Burren cushy.
Mirror wall is a perfect sheet of rock which will soon fall into the Atlantic. This is the best climbing in the Burren and from the side this sheet of rock appears unfeatured, the lines only appearing when you are right on them. As the week progressed the sea got bigger and bigger making climbing on this wall harder and harder. One day as the waves smashed further and further up the cliff, Liam was keen to climb Refraction. Nathan was the perfect belayer for the job, being naturally calm and not one to take out his anger on inanimate objects such as water. I abbed in to take photos and watched gleefully as the waves got closer and closer to Naths stance. As I looked up to take a picture of the much less interesting subject that was Liam steadily climbing I hear a cry from below. The wall is soaked 10 feet above Nathan and surprisingly he looks happier than ever, which was disappointing. Me and Liam exchange a knowing glance of pleasure and he begins to hurry. I am truly gutted to have missed the moment that Nathan became one with the Ocean.
The next couple of bays along provide similarly good climbing, but when you get too far left it just feels like cragging and isn’t that exciting. I onsighted the Burren classic Very Big Springs in one of these bays, which is made safe at the grade with lots of small wires and a few pegs from Gibson. It has a good mono move at the top, but later when trying to remember my beta for Liam to flash the route I realised this was unnecessary, which is a shame. Like the route name suggests the Burren gets some big seas, and like fire waves are mesmirising. I would definitely consider paying the price of the ferry too see a winter storm smash against this face, but those fantasies had to be left for another trip and we decided to leave the Burren after watching waves crash halfway up Mirror Wall for an afternoon.
Between climbing in Fairhead and the Burren we did have a few days in the Mournes, and now with another few days of good weather we made a return. Previously myself and Liam had spent a couple of days on Buzzards Roost, climbing the two classic E5’s, with Spirit Level featuring a great traverse pitch which intersects all the other lines on the cliff and is best climbed slowly whilst Ricky attempts a new E8. We also decided to walk the length of the Mourne wall to the beautifully situated Slieve Bearnagh outcrops, which felt very much like Kinder Scout, as did the Tors. Likewise, each of the crags in the Mournes seemed to have their own character and style of climbing. Here there was a particularly tricky E2 and a classy E6 breaking out from it called Idlewild. It was under this buttress that I realised I had lost interest in breaking my legs, but Liam hadn’t and made an impressive flash in very atmospheric conditions.
During our first little visit to the Mournes I also gave Divided Years some attention. This shipwreck prow is undoubtedly one of the best lines in the UK and the crucial piece of kit on this route is a pecker placed in a pocket. On my first day at Buzzards it was baltic and I hadn’t managed to warm up on Spirit Level, so I don’t know why I set off. Anyway I did and reached roughly the area I needed to place the pecker. I really don’t know whether I had just forgotten where to place the pecker, or I just never knew. Either way, I knew I had gone wrong with my placement in a hairline crack when a) I couldn’t use the next handhold, b) I didn’t want to weight the pecker let alone fall on it, c) Nathan voiced his concern from the ground. The pecker then obviously got stuck in said placement, and in a cold fluster of inadequacy I called down for Liam to take on the wire below. I corrected the placement then lowered down and was glad that Caff hadn’t been there to heckle the worst attempt Divided has probably ever seen. Returning the next day it was warmer and I did make some impression on the hard climbing, falling when I chose the wrong smear for the knee bar. Bored with my attempts /the idea of a seige which may just end in rain I decided to abb the route and check the moves and kit.
I was a bit disappointed with myself really and should have probably had at least one more go, as it would have been nice to get just a few moves further, but then again I probably didn’t deserve anything more after attempt 1.In hindsight I’m not sure I’d have backed myself to figure out the last move to the crack GU anyway, as my child like hands slipped though the fingerlock and I had to resort to a powerful gaston and high right foot to press it out. I think on another day of the week, or if I’d been able to glean beta from Caff like I do at LPT I’d have had a bit more luck though.
After a week in the Burren I returned to lead the route. After minimal inspection I was unsure how the route would feel now and launching into the first hard moves they still felt powerful. Fortunately however my luck had changed and it was great to feel in control on such an iconic route, it being basically just great fun to climb. The route really is of the highest quality, if it was bolted it would perhaps be one of the best 8a+’s in the country featuring powerful moves on perfectly sculptured granite holds. The fact that you climb it on trad kit makes it really special.
For the final week of the trip the weather looked fairly awful everywhere. Past predictions of early ferry journeys back looked highly possible but in the end we decided to chance it to Owey in hope of micro climates drawing in the sun. Expecting a pabbay esque boat ride we were surprised to find the Ireland was a mere swim away, but an Island is an Island nonetheless. Things quickly went downhill however when Liam dropped our bottle of Gin, so we really did have fingers crossed for good weather now. On the boat ride across, it was clear from Dan-the-boat-man that to the islanders the Holy Jaysus wall held somewhat of an aura, and that John McCune was somewhat of a household name. On our first evening we wandered over to the Holy Jaysus wall and bathed in the evening light we were excited for the next few days.
The climbing on this cliff is kind of reminiscent of Gogarth Main cliff, with no down facing or incut holds, but fortunately the pinches are solid and high in friction. We all felt a bit tired by now so had a fairly relaxed approach to climbing, a route a day to be exact. First it was Immaculata then the Second Coming, the first being 30m of baguette pinches, with no hard nor easy climbing, the latter a slightly easier start with a more cruxy final 8m, again on more big pinches. Being slightly more varied in style we felt the Second Coming was the best of the two, slightly harder as well, creeping into E6. An excellent pair of routes from Jon.
It was clear there was some new routing to be done here. Nathan abbed a line which turned out to be chossy and not worthwhile so he left that. The most obvious line took a series of parallel cracks and looked to be quite hard, we had heard rumors of an 8a project and wondered if this was it. Liam abbed down it and thankfully it wasn’t 8a and little cleaning was needed. Eloquently he summarsied it was ‘f*cking right good’.
The next day we returned and all lead it, christening The Three Wise Men. Grade Wise its probably E6 and harder than The Second Coming, and similar to the other routes on the wall it’s of undoubtedly good quality. As I topped out is started raining and then persisted to do so long into the night, highlighting the luck we had had during our 3 day foray to Owey. I’d say the three best lines on the wall are climbed now, but there is certainly room for a few more. It’s amazing that till last year this wall had never been climbed on and it’s great to think there are probably many more walls like this in Ireland and Scotland.
During our 4 weeks in Ireland, we all felt we managed to get a pretty good feel for Irish climbing. Going on trip round Ireland was such an easy thing to do, yet many seemed surprised by our trip idea. Minus the Mourne walk ins, it’s a far cry from your typical summer Ceuse trip, but I think I will remember Divided Years over Face De Rat.