Monday 21 January 2019

Lugnaquilla - lord of the Leinster mountains

In the fifth hike of our 10-part series of original walks by JB Malone, he hikes up Leinster's highest mountain

Lugnaquilla - the highest mountain in Leinster
Lugnaquilla - the highest mountain in Leinster
Original illustration of Malone's route on Lugnaquilla

Map: OSI Discovery Series, Sheet 56

First published in the Evening Herald on August 31, 1951

This is the age of records, when men are attracted by the fastest, the largest and the highest, so we must expect that Lugnaquilla - because it is the loftiest point in Leinster - will have more than its share of attention from tourists.

The ground plan of Lugnaquilla is rather like a huge capital Y, with two arms forking to the west, and an elongated downstroke thrust east towards Glenmalure.

This eastern spur is Cloghernagh, 2,623ft, a mountain in its own right, which screens all view of Lugnaquilla from Glenmalure.


On reaching Drumgoff in Glenmalure, head on northwest up the glen. Just a mile-and-a-half from Drumgoff the Carrawaystick Brook is seen plunging from its sources in the corrie above, and to the right are seen the remnants of a zig-zag track. Here the main road is left and motorists, after parking their machines, follow the walkers south-west across the footbridge over the Avonbeg, to the farm south of the river.

Immediately behind the farm, the old zig-zag track begins its steep slant up the slopes bringing the traveller up to about 1,150 feet; it saves some 700 feet of climbing.

When the lip of the Carrawaystick Corrie is reached, the view is already magnificent, with all Glenmalure displayed beneath. There, almost the only signs of the hand of man are the scars and tailing-dumps of the old mine workings.

From the lip of the corrie, push on for roughly a quarter of a mile fairly close to the stream, through a wilderness of boggy heather. Then set a course almost due west and a little north of west, to scale the dry but steep heathery brow of Cloghernagh, the toughest part of the climb.

No cairn marks the top, when the slope eases, but the surface changes from heather to minor peat hags, with patches of moss and grass intermixed with gravelly sand.

The top of Lugnaquilla lies just over a mile and three-quarters due west of Cloghernagh, with a rise of only 400 feet in that distance.

If there is no risk of low-lying cloud, the direct route may be abandoned, and a more northerly course followed, keeping to the 2,600 contour, along the edge of the cliff of Ben Dooagh, for the sake of the superb views down towards Arts Lough and Baravore.

I have stressed the compass bearings, for at this great height, clouds wrap the summit on perhaps three days in five, and intending travellers should be proficient in marching by compass.


Trending slightly left, the slope becomes a little steeper and then eases, while the unbroken magic carpet of smooth grass, replacing the moss and gravel, announces that the 3,000-foot contour has been crossed, and the extra large cairn is quickly reached.

Standing here, at 3,039 feet, there are only five loftier points in all Ireland, each and every one of them in Kerry, so that Lugnaquilla is not only monarch of Leinster, but has the measure of the entire provinces of Connacht and Ulster as well.

Given fair weather, the view from Lugnaquilla is well worthy of its outstanding position.

But my personal preference is for the scene looking northeast, across the vast assemblage of the Wicklow Mountains, ridge on ridge and dome beyond dome, ranging away for twenty-five miles.

Nor is this the whole extent of these highlands, for turning south and south-east, further chains of summits are seen trending away, though more diversified and broken up by plains, leading the eye to the distant bulk of Mount Leinster, and the summits above Inistioge.

The descent from Lugnaquilla may be made by the outward route, to regain the waiting vehicles.

This article has been edited and updated by Cormac Looney and Frank Tracy

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