Carrauntoohill, December 2014


Carrauntoohill is the large peak on the right

I’ve been hillwalking in the MacGillycuddy Reeks since the 1980s and I’ve probably been up Carrauntoohill, the highest peak in the range at 3,406 feet – and the highest in Ireland – at least once a year over that time.

It was in the news recently when some people carried an angle-grinder to the summit and cut down the steel cross that had stood there since 1976. This was in protest, apparently, at the number of schools run by the Catholic Church in Ireland. The culprits have not been identified nor are they likely to be.

The incident resulted in some debate in the media as to what should be done – should the cross be re-erected or, as Atheist Ireland recommended, should there be a “more inclusive” symbol put in its place – if, indeed, there should be any object put there at all. The need for planning permission was mentioned, something that was not of concern back in 1976.

In the event, one week after the felling, the cross was re-erected by a group of local people and there it stands none the worse for its sudden impact with the stony ground. The culprits unwittingly helped in its swift restoration due to the clean cut at the base and because they did not cut it into pieces and hurl them down the steep northern side of the mountain. I suspect that once they felled it they got out of the area as quickly as they could.

I’m glad it’s back upright. The first sight of the cross as one makes one’s way through the last few hundred feet to the summit is always a relief – finally! I’ve made it! In poor visibility it serves as a useful landmark. I’ve never regarded it as a symbol of Catholic triumphalism – it’s just a simple steel cross that has been there for a long time and the summit would not be the same without it. Leave it be.

The incident prompted me to make another trip to Carrauntoohill last Saturday. The recent cold weather would have the Reeks looking their best with their winter raiment of snow. The forecast was for good sunny spells and the only consideration at this time of the year was the hours of daylight – it would be getting dark shortly after 4pm and the round trip to the summit would take about 6 – 7 hours so an early start was necessary. I left home around 5:45am for the 1.5 hour drive to the starting off point at Cronins’ Farm and I began my trek up the Hag’s Glen at 7:30am. The sky was beginning to brighten but a head torch was necessary for the first 20 minutes or so.


Sunrise behind the Eastern Reeks


Sheep crossing my path up the Hag’s Glen  


The first rays of sunlight hitting the flank of Carrauntoohill 

My route was up the glen and thence the ascent of the Devil’s Ladder – a 500 feet steep gully – on to the saddle (a narrow, level stretch of ground between Carraountoohill and the Eastern Reeks) and thence the remaining relatively easy 1000 feet to the summit. This is the most popular route although there are more interesting options such as via The Bone, The Heavenly Gates or O’Shea’s Gully.


Ascending the Devil’s Ladder

The snowline began about half way up the Ladder and it was thick on the ground on top. The usual path was not visible due to the snow and so I just followed the footsteps of a climber ahead of me. By the time I got to the summit visibility had significantly worsened. It was obvious that there wasn’t going to be any sunlit vistas of the Reeks anytime soon and it was too cold to linger there for  long. After a bite to eat I set off back down the slope. It was snowing now and the marks of my footsteps on the way up were becoming indistinct. I was soon down below the cloud however and the saddle at the top of the Devil’s Ladder wasn’t too far away.


Looking towards the summit of Carrauntoohill from the top of the Devil’s Ladder


The first glimpse of the summit cross in the deteriorating visibility


I usually try to avoid going down the Devil’s Ladder as it can be awkward to negotiate and there is a lot of loose rocks to contend with. However, my preferred option of descending via the Zig Zag path would have meant climbing Cnoc an Toinne the top of which was above the cloud line and I wasn’t prepared to deal with poor visibility in the snow. I made my way down the Ladder therefore and my walking poles gave me badly needed support.

It was disappointing that despite the good weather forecast the night before there wasn’t a clear sky on top. The views are spectacular when there is and especially so when there is snow on the mountains. Still, seven hours traversing this wonderful part of Ireland is always a pleasure regardless of the weather.

Photographing the Wreck of The Astrid

On the morning of 24 July 2013 the beautiful Dutch training vessel The Astrid struck rocks off the Cork coast at Ballymacus near Kinsale after suffering engine failure.  All 30 persons on board were rescued.

I was abroad at the time but I read about the drama on the web. Subsequently, I saw some fine artistic photos of the ship from the likes of Baltimore based photographer Rohan Reilly and others online. I was determined to take a trip down there to see what I could capture. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was though so I had to do some detective work using Google Earth to establish the location. I saw from the online photos that there was a pair of rocks in the distance and having located those on the map  (they are known as the Sovereign Rocks) I had the wreck site more or less nailed down. The next problem was that access to the cliffs above the wreck site was through a farm. How would the farmer react to a request for access? Since the ship went aground there have been reports of items being stolen from it and so there might be sensitivities around allowing strangers like me to get near it. Was it actually still there? Maybe it had since been towed away? All those thoughts bothered me as I made my way to Kinsale on 9th August.

My SatNav brought me to the farmhouse I had identified as nearest the wreck. There was a large dog lying outside the door as I walked towards it but he was docile. I knocked and a pleasant young woman – the farmer’s wife – answered. Yes, the ship is still there. Yes of course I could go through the land. Just park my car behind the shed and follow the path through the cornfield.

That was a relief. I got my camera gear together and headed down the path towards the cliffs. At the bottom of the cornfield was the Irish Coast Guard “do not pass” tape that the farmer’s wife had mentioned to look out for. I stepped over it and made my way through some bramble – it was obvious that other people had followed the same route  – until I got to the cliff edge. And there was The Astrid in all her tragic glory. What a sight! Time to get nearer.  A steep grassy slope led to a rocky ledge. I gingerly made my way down but I momentarily lost my grip and slipped a fair few feet with my tripod taking its own independent downwards trajectory in the process.  Apart from a sore thumb we both survived intact.  Phew!

I set up the tripod, mounted my Canon 5D Mk11, fitted the Canon 24-105 L, composed and focused, changed the lens to manual, fitted the Lee 10 Stop ND (“the Big Stopper” ) and a Lee grey-grad.  My plan was to take a series of long exposures to get that smooth glass-like sea effect. I wasn’t interested in reportage, in recording the scene as is. I was after a more artistic approach (if you will excuse the pretension). Trial and error resulted in optimum exposures of around 70 seconds at f/22 at 100 ISO. I switched the 24-105 L for the 17-40L for some of the shots.

I spent about an hour there and then I made my way slowly and very carefully up the steep slope to the cornfield and thence back to the car. I stopped off at the house and handed the farmer’s wife a five-euro note and suggested she buy some sweets for her kids.  I felt it was appropriate to make such a gesture. She had allowed me access her land when she could easily have refused.  I had the privilege of photographing one of the most dramatic scenes I have seen for some time.  It was the least I could do.

(Left click the photos to see them in a larger size) 


A colour shot and (below) a monochrome version of the same exposure


These monochrome conversions were done using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2


This blue treatment was achieved by changing the White Balance in Adobe’s Camera Raw converter







Fastnet Lighthouse


I recently had the opportunity to go on an evening trip around the Fastnet Lighthouse in West Cork.

It is a place that has held a fascination for me for a long time. This wonderful lighthouse stands on a rock 8 miles off the coast in an area notorious for its heavy seas. It was once known as “Ireland’s Teardrop” as it was the last part of the country that Irish emigrants would see as they sailed to America in the 19th century.

Lighthouses are all operated automatically now but it was manned until March 1989 and one can only admire the resolution and bravery of the lighthouse keepers who worked here over the years.

The construction of the present lighthouse was begun in 1897 and was commissioned on 27th June 1904. It replaced an earlier one started in 1853 but which was too weak to cope with the often severe weather. It is comprised of 2,047 dovetailed blocks of Cornish granite. It is 44.5 metres high.

The tower was first built in the Cornish yard of the contractors John Freeman & Sons to make sure that each granite block fitted perfectly. It was then disassembled and each block shipped to Ireland. It is a wonderful feat of construction. When it was completed the vertical variation from the original plan was only 3/16th of an inch. And despite the battering it has got from storms it still looks pristine and I understand the interior is perfect as well.

Every second year the Fastnet Race sees yachts competing in a 608 nautical mile course from Cowes on the Isle of Wight around the Fastnet Rock and finishing at Plymouth. In 1979 a storm with gusts of up to force 11 resulted in the deaths of 15 yachtsmen and 3 rescuers.

The sea was unusually calm on the evening I was there and that, combined with the beautiful light of the setting sun, helped me to take some nice photos of this beautiful lighthouse.