Saturday 19 January 2019

a walk in history

John James Bernard Malone, pioneer of way-marked trails in Ireland, was born in 1913 to Irish parents in Leeds, England, and he was educated by the Marist Brothers at St Mary's College, near Canterbury.

After leaving school in 1931 he moved to Ireland, and living with his aunt Winnifred Barden at 35 Rathgar Road, and went to work for Glorneys, a firm of building providers.

His late wife, Peg, used to say that he was first attracted to the mountains by the view from his bedroom window in Rathgar.

It is likely that he could see the two nearest of the Dublin foothills to the city, Montpelier Hill - better known today as the Hellfire Club - and Kilmashogue, around which his later brainchild, the Wicklow Way walking route, passes today.


This vista of the hills must have been very seductive, because in January 1932, only a few months after he had arrived here, he set out to methodically explore the Dublin foothills on foot.

His first walk, he later commented, left him "crippled for a week", but it was the beginning of a "gra for the hills".

The valleys, summits, woods and lakes he discovered and the beauty of the landscapes he walked gave him so much satisfaction that he wanted to share what he had found.

He had a talent for writing and by the time he was 28, he was producing weekly newspaper columns in the Evening Herald called The Friendly Mountains, Over the Hills and The Open Road, which encouraged people to get out and enjoy their leisure time.

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

Subsequently, he published three books on walking, and a fourth, called Know Your Dublin, based on another series of articles in the Evening Herald about places and buildings in the capital.

He also wrote and presented a series of much-praised television programmes about the Irish countryside for Radio Telefis Eireann in 1962 called Mountain and Meadow.

In the forties, Malone had a vision of a long, way-marked walking trail in Wicklow, and he spent subsequent decades planning it.

In 1979, when he was appointed Field Officer to the Long Distance Walks Committee, he began putting the Wicklow Way in place.


When it was opened in 1982 it was the first of its kind in Ireland, and JB made a one-hour television programme about the route for RTE. He was subsequently involved in the development of other routes throughout the country - there are currently 44 such trails.

A passionate enthusiast on matters of conservation, he was a member of An Taisce and served on its Council from 1970 to 1974. He was also a founding member of The Ramblers and he was made an honorary life member of An Óige in 1980 for his contribution to hillwalking. He was married to Peg Garry, and they had a daughter and two sons.

JB Malone's outstanding characteristics were his passion for exploration and his curiosity about places. Exploring every inch of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains became his life's work - when he wasn't tramping the highways and byways he was frequenting libraries and bookshops seeking knowledge about the places he had found, and writing about them.

He foresaw the possibilities of people taking up recreational walking on a large scale, as they had in Europe, and had a vision of a network of national walking routes being established to facilitate this.

He spent the last decade of his life bringing these dreams to realisation, and he left a significant legacy.

It has been estimated that, since the 1980s, the country has earned over €600m from visitors who have come to walk here.

Moreover, his success in the popularisation of leisure walking contributed immeasurably to the health and well-being of many.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death, an exhibition on the life and writings of JB Malone will open at the Country Library in Tallaght.

Each Wednesday and Thursday over the next five weeks, the Herald will publish one of Malone's most popular walks in Dublin and Wicklow.


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