Summit 7: Mullaghmeen in Westmeath, with Tom Bannon

Underrated Westmeath provided the lowest of the 32 Summits, and the height of interest. Sean’s Bar in Athlone is the oldest pub in Ireland – possibly the world – and was owned during the (19)80’s by Boy George. In Abbeyshrule the Grand Canal crosses the Inny River via a raised aqueduct. Submersible pumps take water from the river and raise it forty feet to the canal overhead. The Seven Wonders pub in Fore celebrates the ancient myths of St Fechin’s achievements in that once-walled village. His fortified 7th-Century monastery is the only Benedictine site remaining on the island. Campervan-living allowed us to spend the night in the village, and the evening in the parlour room of the Seven Wonders. And lowly Mullaghmeen, our smallest Summit, rose from the largest Beech plantation in Europe to give a view of all four provinces.

Special Guest Stars: Ciaran Reilly and David Cox

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Summit 6: Corn Hill in Longford, with Greg Byrne

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.

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Summit 5: Sawel Mountain in Tyrone, with Maria Meagher

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.Summit 5 001Summit 5 012

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Summit 4: Slieve Gullion in Armagh, with Maryanne Doyle

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.

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Summit 3: Mt Leinster in Carlow, with Ciarán Oglesby

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.

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Honourable Mention 1: The Whangie, Stirling, Claire Cunningham

A few months ago, long before the 32 Summits project came to mind, my friend Claire and I discussed the idea of going on a hillwalk next time I was in Scotland. Claire is a choreographer and performer, who uses crutches, both for everyday mobility, and in her performances. We were both interested in the idea of how a person using crutches would move in mountainous terrain. Naturally, we decided to add some snow and ice into the mix, drive half an hour north of Glasgow, and take on The Whangie!

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Summit 2: Slieve na Calliagh in Meath, with John Nally

John is from Meath. My mother, who died three years ago, was from Meath. We found the house in which she grew up, and neighbours who knew her. In her hometown we saw a lighthouse built 48 kilometres from the sea. And from the OPW we sourced the key to the gate of the passage grave on the Meath summit.

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Just two summits in, and this little New Year’s Eve project is starting to look more and more like a bit of an odyssey.

Summit 1: Galtymore in Tipperary, with Cian Lyons

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.