herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

JB OPENED THE country's nature trails TO SO MANY

As an exhibition on the life of Wicklow Way founder JB Malone opens, his daughter Rose talks with Alan O'Keeffe about her father's legacy

JB Malone led the way for tens of thousands of people to discover the hidden beauties of the Irish landscape.

He seemed eccentric in his long rain cape and hobnailed boots and with his knapsack 60 years ago taking a bus out of the city to spend the day walking in the Dublin mountains.

He went on to become the founder of the Wicklow Way and could be called the father of Irish hillwalkers.

His daughter, Rose Malone, is delighted that an exhibition dedicated to him will open in Tallaght Library from 6.30pm on Wednesday.

"He certainly would have seemed eccentric to people back then in his cape and boots because very few people were doing what he did," said Rose (65).

"Farmers would cross the fields to see what he was doing. In those days, they would never put you off their land."

JB went on to help create a network of walking trails beloved by Irish people and tourists.

"My father was delighted to discover the efficiency of Gore-Tex clothing to keep him dry," said Rose. "I look at the old photographs of him wearing clothing that was clumsy and which must have been quite uncomfortable."

popular

In the 1940s, JB began writing weekly columns in this newspaper called The Friendly Mountains, Over the Hills and The Open Road, which encouraged people to get out and enjoy their leisure time.

These articles became very popular and played a major part in the development of walking as a leisure activity in Ireland.

JB went on to produce three books on walking, and a fourth, called Know Your Dublin, based on another series of articles in the Herald about places and buildings in the capital.

"He wrote everything in handwriting. He had a beautiful script. And he would draw little maps with trees and rivers and very good detail in them," said Rose.

JB wrote and presented a series of much-praised TV programmes about the Irish countryside for RTE in 1962 called Mountain and Meadow, but the national broadcaster later taped over the films.

The exhibition on the life and writings of JB Malone marks the 25th anniversary of his death. It was set up by Kieran Swords of the South Dublin County Council Library Service and is curated by Michael Fewer, a freelance writer and experienced walker.

Rose's favourite item on display is her father's old-fashioned wooden swivel chair that he used when writing his Herald columns.

JB, who was born in 1913 in Leeds to Irish parents, moved to Ireland in 1931. He joined the Defence Forces during World War Two and worked in intelligence gathering as well as learning to become a draughtsman. After the war, he worked for the Department of Post and Telegraphs.

Rose remembers living in the first family home, a cottage near Rathcoole, before they moved to Walkinstown in 1955. Rose, along with her father, mother Peg and her brothers Stephen and John would all go on country walks together.

"We'd get the bus to Enniskerry and walk out to Glencree," she said. "As children, we never asked 'Are we there yet?' We quite enjoyed these outings.

"We spent quite a bit of time picnicking. The sandwiches would be in bits in the knapsacks. I loved having flasks of something hot to drink."

exploring

Country walks have remained an enjoyable pursuit for Rose throughout her life. She lives near Sallins and loves the convenience of being able to take her dogs Flora and Ri for walks along local stretches of the Grand Canal.

She has spent time exploring Scotland and enjoyed a walking holiday in Italy.

Her brother Stephen (63) had an ambition when younger to walk right around the world. He walked across Ireland, Britain and much of Europe. He now lives in Laos where he teaches English.

John (60) lives near Naas and Rose, who is single, has enjoyed walks with her brothers' children and with her friend Maeve Martin.

She is retired from NUI Maynooth, but remains president of the Irish Federation of University Teachers.

Rose has her own favourite places in the Irish countryside. The viewing area from The Spink in Glendalough is "so beautiful", she said, with its views of both lakes.

Lough Tay near Roundwood has a special place in her heart. There is a memorial by stone carver Billy Cannon dedicated to her father on a hillside overlooking the lake with the words: "JB Malone. Pioneer of The Wicklow Way."

Another special place is the Black Hill Bog Road near Blessington.

"It's wonderful there to walk with the wilderness all around," said Rose.

She said her father dealt a lot with landowners when marking out a route for the Wicklow Way when he worked for Cospoir, now the Sports Council. Sometimes the route does not follow its natural course because of resistance from some owners.

"My father certainly did open up opportunities for walking which has been great for promoting exercise and health," said Rose. "People living in Dublin are so very lucky to have the hills so readily accessible."

The JB Malone exhibition runs at Tallaght Library until Nov. 22

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