Following up on the successful completion of the National Three Peak Challenge, (ok…. arguably successful) I had another chance a couple weeks later to ride the “highest peak” kick I have been on since Ben Nevis last October. This time during a 3-day weekend to Dublin, Ireland. However, the tallest mountain in the Republic of Ireland is completely on the opposite end of the island in Kerry Country, about a 4-1/2 hour drive from Dublin. While it is doable during a Saturday to Monday trip, it certainly wouldn’t leave much time to savor the experience or do much else.
When most tourists visit Dublin, probably a majority of them are oblivious to the fact that Northern Ireland is less than 2 hours away. I must admit personally, Northern Ireland has never been on my touristic radar. The concept that I have of Ireland with the lush landscape and the music has always been in the context of the Republic of Ireland.
I was very excited when I discovered that the highest peak in Northern Ireland is not far across the border with the Republic of Ireland near the coastal town of Newcastle. Slieve Donard at 850m in elevation is actually only the 10th highest peak on the entire Irish island. (Note: this ranking seems to vary by website but I will go with this one) But it has the 4th highest elevation gain. This is due to the fact that it sits close to the sea, so the base of the mountain is barely above sea level. In one shot, I would get to visit a new country and climb it’s highest mountain in the same day.
Slieve comes from the Irish word Sliabh meaning mountain. Saint Donard is a figure of folklore who was supposedly a missionary during the era of the Christianization of Ireland from the 5th to the 8th centuries. He was also a follower of Saint Patrick. The mountain certainly has held significant importance to the ancient people of Ireland as two burial cairns dating from 5000 years ago are still visible at the peak.
This hike is very straightforward. Park at the Slieve Donard parking lot and follow the same trail up and back.
- Starting Point: Slieve Donard parking lot
- Ending Point: Slieve Donard parking lot
- Distance: 10.2 km
- Time: 2 hours 26 minutes
- Eating Point: None
From the parking lot, it is an unremarkable hike uphill through the forest. Getting to the edge of the treeline and seeing the valley open up gives the first great views of the hike.
Further up the valley when Slieve Donard comes into view. I used the view for a beer photo of a can of Harp lager. Harp was being brewed in the town of Dundalk, which is near the border of Northern Ireland, for over 50 years until the production was moved to the Guinness brewery in Dublin in 2013. Northern Ireland remains a big market for Harp and was the beer recommended by some students in a supermarket when I asked them to point me towards the Budweiser of Northern Ireland.
Approaching the end of the valley, the climb up to the ridge becomes visible.
Up on the ridge, there is a great view of the valley with Newcastle in the distance.
The way to the peak is along the wall.
At the peak, I popped open that can of Harp lager and had a look over the Mourne mountains.
Also here I took a photo of a bottle of Hen, Cock, & Pigeon Rock beer by Whitewater Brewery which is located north of Newcastle in the town of Castlewellan. The beer is named after three peaks in the Mourne mountains.
Climbing back down, I would recommended taking the opposite side of the wall to avoid the hikers climbing up.
This hike was done on the Sunday of a 3-night stay in Ireland. This hike was combined with a Saturday driving tour of County Meath in the Republic of Ireland. I stayed in the small village of Stamullen which gave good access to the M1 running south towards Dublin airport and north towards Belfast and Northern Ireland. I will write about the County Meath drive in another post. It would have been icing on the cake to have visited the Whitewater Brewery, but their tours are on Friday and Saturday. Nevertheless, back in Stamullen, I enjoyed the Hen, Cock, & Pigeon Rock beer in my Airbnb as I basked in completing my third highest mountain of the U.K. countries in the month of May after Scafell Pike and Mount Snowdon a couple of weeks earlier.