In 148 BC, in the Iron Age, the Corlea Trackway was constructed through the Longford bog using tortuously-heavy, 4-metre-long oak planks. The Trackway runs through an area between Uisneach, the mythological capital of Ireland, and Cruachain, the Royal seat of Connaught, and may have joined the two. In 1978 AD, in the Black & White age, the first UHF television transmitter, the most powerful on the island, was erected on Corn Hill, 123 metres into the sky. Each represents the height of technology in its own day, two millennia apart. Both were historic endeavours, prestigious constructs requiring wide-scale co-operation and buy-in – and both were sending a message.
In Sperrins country, even the valleys are hilly. Nestled among them, and known as Diarmuid and Gráinne’s bed, is the Glenroan portal tomb. We discovered that, whatever technology they used in 3,000 BC to carry the heavy, flat capstone up its hill, it probably wasn’t a 1.0 litre Fiat Punto. Sawel rests on the border of two counties. This mountain is going to provide two different days, two different approaches, two different adventures. Originally I thought this trip belonged to one twin, but instead it belonged to the other – two different days, two different approaches, two different adventures. ‘Megalithic’ means ‘large stone’. The stone circles and solar alignments at Beaghmore are a minilithic Stonehenge. The Punto strikes again.
The 32 Summits keep on giving. Maryanne and I travelled to the highest surviving passage grave in Ireland, perched atop a hump-backed mountain, dominating its surrounding landscape. The entrance passage to the grave aligns with the setting sun of the winter solstice. Cú Chulainn, the former Setanta, received his new name on the flanks of Slieve Gullion. Milucra, the Cailleach Bhéirre, tricked Fionn mac Cumhaill into swimming in her lake at the summit, and he emerged as an old man. Maryanne, the girl who learned Latin through Irish, couldn’t be tricked into taking a dip. As a mountaineer, I get a real kick out of seeing how important the mountains were to our ancestors; but, as a person sitting in front of a computer, I’m probably not as joined with the land as they were. This whole journey is bringing me closer to my country, and hopefully it’s doing something similar for the people making it with me.
On the way to Mt Leinster, Ciarán and I found 5 minutes to go 5,000 years back in time and visit the dolmen with the heaviest capstone in Europe. On a mountain used for television we experienced proxivision due to heavy cloud. A lot of us don’t associate that mountain with the pictures on our TV screens – it is remote to us, both geographically and consciously; but for a lot of people, this mountain is an ongoing reminder of loved-ones lost. On our way home, Ciarán showed me where he’d almost died himself, in a car crash when he was 5 years old. In 1891, Carlow Town shed light on its streets. In 2015, another summit-trip again shed some more light, on people, and on life.
The first of the 32 Summits.
Cian and I battled horrendous weather for most of the day, and reached the summit of Galtymore. A triumphant summit-photo ensued, but my phone died in the wet conditions, and only Cian’s photos of me survived. While Summit 1 was a regular day’s mountaineering I learned quickly that this project is not really about the mountain – and it is certainly not about me. It is about about the other people with whom I make the journeys, and it is about the people – both alive and dead – that we meet along the way. And I saw this even more clearly before the end of Summit 2.