Outsider’s man of the mountains Declan Cunningham heads to Tipperary to explore Ireland’s greatest inland mountain range. The Galtees stretch over 20km from Mitchelstown to Caher (also known as Cahir) and offer a myriad of hiking options with fantastic views.
The Galtee Mountains: The lowdown
Just a mention of the Galtee mountains and the first thing to pop into the average Irish mind is that glorious sizzling sound and the promise of a full Irish on a Sunday morning – but those aren’t the Galtees I’m on about. With the Galtee Mountains though you can have the best of both worlds by fuelling up with that well-deserved fry and then heading down to Tipperary to work it all off on Ireland’s greatest inland mountain range.
And never mind the song; it’s not such a long way if you can make use of the M8, whether you’re coming from north or south. And, if you’re the keen early riser type, there’s no reason you couldn’t grace the place with your presence even on a day trip. There are popular start points with good parking on both sides of the range so you never need to do exactly the same walk twice unless you want to.
They are very changeable places and have more mood swings than a teenage supermodel actress
As with most mountain areas, in Ireland at least, they are very changeable places and have more mood swings than a teenage supermodel actress. So check the forecast before you go so you can pick an appropriate route. I’ve visited the area several times in less-than-welcoming conditions and as the Galtees come with plenty of cliffs at no extra cost, it’s worth knowing what and when to detour.
This time out we elected to start from the south side and we were lucky enough to get views of our intended route as we left the little town of Kilbeheny. Great spurs stretched out from Temple Hill and Galtybeg like welcoming arms. It was a beautiful sunny day and the main summit was clear if a little frosty so the beetle in the matchbox that holds sway over the fickle Irish weather was very much on our side today.
The main ridge is relatively easy to navigate but on a bad day, one mistake could easily be your last if you stray to close to some of the sharp drops.
It has secure parking, a snack shop, hot drinks and even camping facilities if you fancy making a weekend of it.
The secluded car park at Galty Castle Woods is an ideal start point with its own picnic area and looped walk. Across the river, you’ll find King’s Yard which was new to me but is another gem along the lines of Cronin’s Yard in the McGillicuddy Reeks. It has secure parking, a snack shop, hot drinks and even camping facilities if you fancy making a weekend of it.
Our route took us along the Attychraan River for a very pleasant start through mixed forestry and beautiful sunshine. More direct routes are possible but sure isn’t the whole idea of getting away from it all to simply leave everything behind and see where the trail takes you. Early on, we even left the trail behind and detoured towards Knockeenatoung which is a little tester peak before the challenge of its more famous and less eroded neighbours. On a worse day the old concrete shed on the summit of this sizeable hill (601m) would make a welcome shelter but we were happy to spoil ourselves with a few jellies and some much longed for vitamin D.
The first major climb
It is a short descent to the col where we picked up the Black Road. Despite the slightly ominous sounding name, it’s a popular ascent route to Galtymore that starts on the north side of Seefin near Skeheenaranky. At this stage though it did little for us but point us in the direction of the first major climb up Galtybeg.
There was a right bite in the wind now but the day remained as sunny as our dispositions as we ascended. Galtymore had a pretty impressive cap of ice on it from the previous cold spell but even though there is little more than 100m vertical difference between the two peaks the smaller summit remained clear of all but just a dusting of patchy rime ice.
Incidentally, legend tells of a serpent that was tricked by none other than St Patrick himself to hide in that very lake.
The Galtees are quite a linear range that stretches over 20km from Mitchelstown to Caher and I think they are like a compacted version of the Comeraghs with their scattering of cliffs and corrie lakes.
We couldn’t see Lough Boreen from our frozen perch but you could sense its presence as the land just falls away into the invisible lake below. The Galtees are quite a linear range that stretches over 20km from Mitchelstown to Caher and I think they are like a compacted version of the Comeraghs with their scattering of cliffs and corrie lakes. The main ridge is relatively easy to navigate but on a bad day one mistake could easily be your last if you stray to close to some of the sharp drops. Of course on a day like we had it would be the shock from the cold water that would be your undoing rather than the fall!
The border detours over the very summit of Galtymore which means you can be on the highest point in two counties at the same time.
Galtymore wasn’t going anywhere but it wasn’t going to climb itself either so we descended to the col. It’s at this point that even the Tipperary-Limerick border takes a sharp left to avoid a fall into the icy cold waters of Lough Diheen. The border detours over the very summit of Galtymore which means you can be on the highest point in two counties at the same time.
Snakes and lakes
Incidentally, legend tells of a serpent that was tricked by none other than St Patrick himself to hide in that very lake. He waits patiently for the day Luan (Monday) which never comes and so in the lake he remains. Sure with all the stories about St Patrick it’s not surprising he turned out to be a little ‘shnaykey’.
The trail was nice and frozen for our visit but would otherwise be a boggy, slippy affair that skirts above the impressive cliffs that plunge into Lough Diheen. Watch your step here or you will understand the fate of the serpent all too well.
I’m told you can see the Reeks in Kerry from there on a clear day but we didn’t feel one bit short-changed as we started our descent.
The wind had picked up even more and we zigzagged through the rime and ice to the Arctic-like peak. Everything was coated in an impossible tangle of white shapes, pointing their icy fingers accusingly into the cold southern wind. It was like some celestial fire extinguisher had been emptied all over the place.
Regardless of the inhospitable nature of the place there was a beauty here that demanded we delay a bit
Regardless of the inhospitable nature of the place there was a beauty here that demanded we delay a bit so we found a corner out of the wind and hunkered down for a quick snack and to take in the spectacular views over to the Knockmealdowns to the south, the great Glen of Aherlow to the north and even the wonderful sweep of the Galty ridge as it lead the eye toward Slievecushnabinnia. I’m told you can see the Reeks in Kerry from there on a clear day but we didn’t feel one bit short-changed as we started our descent.
On our way down we had to forego the pleasure of following the great navigational aid that is the Galty Wall – nearly 4km of dry stone engineering in an out-of-the-way place but a blessing for shelter or to keep you on track on a worse day.
Our path headed south and we plodded happy and tired through the soft heathery ground over Knockduff to pick up the homeward trail. A grand day out but unlike the morning fry these Galtees will always leave you wanting more.
Getting to the Galtees:
Use the M8 whether you are coming from north or south and take the exit just north of Mitchelstown. Then take the R639 through Kilbeheny and follow the brown signs for Galtee Castle Wood where there is ample parking. The nearby King’s Yard is another great start point where you will get a welcome, safe parking, a snack shop for well-deserved post-walk treats and even showers or camping if you like.
Words: Declan Cunningham
Photos: Declan Cunningham