Walking and our Environment – Newsletters

December 2019



• Match a leaf Memory Game by Tony Kirkham and Holly Exely
Match a pair of birds Memory Game by Christine Berrie and more ‘Match a ……’

• GIY Grow it Yourself https://shop.giy.ie/products/growbox-for-kids-medium-growbox

Grow, Cook, Eat: Growbox for Kids with cress, pumpkin, sunflower and peas. Grow it Allmanac -by Michael Kelly and Muireann Ní Chíobháin, illustrated by Fatti Burke.

Irish Society of Botanical Artists: Abítir – The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art – using the Celtic script to illustrate the variety of forms and habitats of native plants in Ireland. Plandaí Oidhreachta – Heritage Irish Plants – Irish garden plants. Éireannach – Celebrating native plants of Ireland. Available in Charlie Byrne’s.

Renaissance Galway, Delineating the Seventeenth Century, by Paul Walsh. The unique mid-17th century pictorial map provides a bird’s-eye view of the urban landscape, the dominating medieval towers of the wealthy merchants, and a street layout which remains unchanged. Detailed map extracts, photos, with 38 commentaries.


Mountain Meitheal West 2019 – Report by Caoilfionn Moorhead
2019 saw Mountain Meitheal West get into a healthy rhythm of work after kicking off in 2018. We have been out every month (bar one) since the beginning of the year. Most of the year was spent working on the path at Máméan in Connemara, where significant improvements were made in terms of helping guide walkers and keep them on the path, and building water bars/cross drains to help direct rainfall off the path. We also returned to The Burren to work on a section of the Carran Loop Trail. We worked closely with our Rural Recreational Officers for the area, as well as volunteers from more experienced Meitheal groups around the country, for both efforts. We hosted 2 joint work days; one with Mountain Meitheal Dublin/Wicklow, and one with MMSE, both which were very productive and thoroughly enjoyable.

The construction of a stile at Ben Lettery hostel came under our remit also, with assistance with labour and administrative efforts from The Galway Walking Club and Mountaineering Ireland. This is of benefit to both the land owner as well as hikers in the area.

Some members also helped with kicking off work to establish a new branch of Mountain Meitheal in Leitrim/Roscommon.

Our numbers are growing slowly but steadily, with our Facebook presence and word of mouth helping. We look forward to more exciting times ahead in 2020!

Report on the Access & Conservation Network Forum, 23rd November 2019, Mountaineering Ireland HQ Blanchardstown.

10.30 am: A stimulating workshop with 45 walkers representing clubs from all over Ireland. The workshop was designed by Noel, chaired by Helen Donoghue, monitored by Helen Lawless, storyboards were hosted by MI volunteers.

We filled the first storyboard, A History of Physical Activity, 1970-2019, against multiple backgrounds with a multitude of entries. It was evident that the biggest challenge was the fragmentation of policy and practices, the need for collaboration and balance, and legislation in the form of indemnity.

Breaking into small groups of 4-5, we visited different storyboards and responded to topics such as ‘Helping the Hills’ (2010) – we need to define what it is that we want to conserve and how we set about it; the Wicklow Way challenge- the Circuit Court 2016 decision was overturned by the High Court decision in 2017. It highlighted the urgency of a national indemnity policy. Impact: Cuilcagh, the Stairway to Heaven, Mahon River bank. These mistakes highlight the necessity to collaborate with local authorities providing expertise when needed; Comhairle na Tuatha 2014, the Countryside Recreational Council, a forum to provide mutual understanding and resolve disputes. Ruairi Quinn’s Labour Party Bill in 2007 ‘died’, Robert Dowd’s Private Members Bill 2013 faded away. There is an urgent need to legislate an indemnity policy and to design a compensation scheme for landowners; Mountain Access Projects, we have two, Carrantuohill and Binn Shléibhe in the Joyce Country. Without an indemnity scheme, MAPs are needed, as is a permanent staff to drive a national scheme. Our enjoyment- why do we walk? nature, open spaces, water, flora, fauna, colour, natural sounds, silence, companions, serenity, uplifting, beauty, scenery, landscapes, waterscapes, camaraderie, peacefulness. Our impact on the environment – Leave no Trace, Mountain Meitheal, Helping the Hills, but we need to consider the impact that we make, as walkers.

Whither next?
• Pursue the indemnity issue because access continues to be endangered.
• Raise awareness among our own membership, the wider community and statutory bodies to avoid mistakes such as Cuilcagh.
• Use social media to reach a wider audience.
• Get a baseline on numbers of walkers in Ireland to inform strategic planning.
• Seek a better infrastructure, car parks, public transport access.
• Take a wholistic approach to managing access.

• Collaborate with Fáilte Ireland to provide essential information to visiting walkers.
• Establish/improve communications between landowners and walkers
• Revisit the Helping the Hills initiative.
• Appoint a Marketing Officer in MI to reach the broader public.

MI West Region Meeting Wednesday 27th November 2019, Menlo Park Hotel Galway

Hosted by Helen Lawless (Access & Conservation Officer), Ruth Whelan (Club Development & Hillwalking Officer), Jane Carney (Training Officer) this West Region meeting initiative is to support clubs in different regions and enable networking within the regions. Approximately 16 people attended.

Hanora, Peter and Anne attended on behalf of GWC. Three PP presentations by Helen, Ruth and Jane were followed by round table discussion groups focusing on Access & Conservation, Club Development and Training.

At the Access & Conservation table chaired by Helen, the following were discussed:

• Lobbying our local TDs in the pursuit of indemnity for landowners. MI is preparing a draft for members to use pre-election 2020. We will circulate to all our members. However, all walkers should be reminded that they undertake their walking activities at their own risk.
• Compensation for all the values of the rural environment. Farming is changing: climate change, economic viability, food trends, ageing landowners, migration to cities. 80% of our water comes from the uplands, carbon sinks, biodiversity habitats, heritage (archaeological, folklore, built structures), tourism attraction, recreational value, flood mitigation, physical emotional and spiritual health. What is natural capital? The elements of nature that produce value – directly and indirectly – to people, such as the stocks of forests, rivers, soil, minerals and oceans. Check out the Irish Forum on Natural Capital http://www.naturalcapitalireland.com
• Promote the farmer. Celebrate the farmer. Look to being part of their community, not a transient outsider.
• Mountain Access Projects. There are two MAPs, Carrantuohill and Binn Shléibhe in the Joyce Country. The MAP covers the agreement of specific owners in the designated area. In the case of Binn Shléibhe, there are 80 shareholders, both at the lower access level and on the uplands. Long Distance routes such as the Western Way, Kerry Way, etc, are permissive paths, access is only linear and not off-path.
• Access at critical departure points. MI recommends that each Club connect with their habitual debriefing hostelry or community centre. Request access to car parking space, use local minibuses to access departure points. Or, if a member is a bus-owning bus driver, come to an arrangement with her/him. Two clubs had made such arrangements.
• MI will connect with Fáilte Ireland with regard to a new brochure which is being designed for visiting walkers, to raise awareness of local practice re parking and land access, etc.
• Commercial guides should negotiate access with landowners and compensate the landowners accordingly.
https://www.landdirect.ie/ Who is the landowner? Property Registration Authority/An tÚdarás Clárúcháin Maoine.
• Should GPS routes be posted in the public domain? Though one club leader may have requested access permission, it does not follow that all have access.

November 2019

Shackleton – Blue Raincoat Theatre Company. 8.00 pm, Tuesday 5th – Thursday 7th November, in the Black Box. A story of endurance on the Antarctic’s icy Weddell Sea. The tale of Ernest Shackleton’s escape from the Antarctic, told by a memorable cast, complemented by original footage and scaled puppetry.


Mountaineering Ireland Autumn Gathering, Dungarvan Co. Waterford, 18th-20th October.

On Friday afternoon we enjoyed a relaxed introduction to the Comeraghs with a walk up Cruachán Deireadh with Jim Bowdren of Kilmacthomas Walking Club, stunning views of the Comeraghs and of Sliabh na mBan to the north-west, to the north Curramore House, seat of the Marquess of Waterford and beyond to Tory Hill, to the east Wexford and to the south, Kilmacthomas and the Copper Coast Geo Park along the Atlantic.

On Friday evening it was a real pleasure to meet and listen to Grace O’Sullivan (Green Party MEP) talk about her athletic youth, her Greenpeace experiences both on ship and on shore, her Green Party candidacy. She is a genuine, sincere and uplifting power source.

Our hosts for the MI Autumn Gathering 2019 weekend were Kilmacthomas Walking Club with Dungarvan Walking Club. The 8 walks on Saturday extended from the difficult Plateau & Lakes, or the Knockanaffrin Ridge, both at 6 hours to the less strenuous 3.5 hour Crough Wood-Mahon Falls walks.

I joined the Environment Walk (5 hours) led by Jim Bowdren, Helen Lawless (MI), Mario of MuddyBoots (http://www.muddybootsguidedwalking.com/). Two destinations. Our first was the Mahon River, the lower valley looking up at the Mahon Falls, a splendid sight. However, the path we took was not. In 2014, funded by Waterford Co. Council, a community group, without seeking the advice of experts, scraped clean a 4 metre-wide path on the bank of the Mahon, with the intention of creating a looped walk for visitors. Following on from complaints from Mountaineering Ireland, a Restoration plan was launched in 2018. Growth is slow, several seeded areas and bracken areas are fenced off. However, it has focused attention on unnecessary, misguided forays into the fragile mosaic of habitats that constitute the greater part of our environment: wet heath and dry heath. This area is a Special Area of Conservation, hen harrier territory, who nest in the deep heathers.

Our second destination took us from the Mauma Road standing stone up along another instance of invasive action but, this time, unauthorised. A deep cut into the peat, the ruts of a heavy transport vehicle, up the slope of the mountain to 300 m, between Fear Bréige and Coumaraglin, to an extraordinary installation of a cabin surrounded by scaffolding like a crenellated castle, and decorated like a Christmas tree with satellite dishes, a PV panel and metres of cable and wires. No identification of ownership to be seen.

We continued across deergrass, the dry heath with ling and bell heather just past their bloom, to the whitewashed standing stone and the ring fort at the col of Bearna na Madra, the mist lifted to display the soft outlines of Mullavallagh, Seefin, and on our descent, the wet heath revealed cross-leaved heath, devil’s matchstick lichen, tormentil, milkwort, molinia. An enlightening trek in the Comeraghs.

On Saturday evening we had the MI Members’ Forum followed by an excellent dinner in the Park Hotel with entertainment by the singing chef.

Sunday morning offered walks and a workshop with Helen and Ruth. A new OSI Adventure map series was analysed and critiqued by our group with feedback to be sent to the OSI. Discussion about access followed: visible car parking, avoid blocking the landowner’s access; say hello and chat to the local landowners, remember that the walker is the ambassador for all walkers; respect the landowner’s property; no dogs (Suggested signage: No dogs. Farm animals along this trail). Transgressors tend to be independent and non-affiliated walkers who are unaware of local guidelines. Current position: access is largely available but it is not secure in the long term.

Galway Mountain Rescue Howl at the Moon fundraiser, Seecon Windfarm, Seanaphaistain Road, Oughterard, 12th October. A perfect moonlit night for howling at the full moon. Over 300 participants walked the Seecon wind farm roads, either doing the full loop of 17km or the shorter option of 9km, finishing with a welcome cup of tea, cakes, biscuits……. a deservedly successful Galway MR fundraiser.

Check out the following:
The Secret World of Life (and Death) in Ireland’s Peat Bogs, a digital story in the e- New York Times, by Emily Toner. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/19/multimedia/ireland-peat-bogs.html