A Guide to Hillwalking and Mountain-climbing for People who don't know what the F**k they're doing! – Knocknarea

The post-holiday depression has well and truly hit. Buoyed by the fact that I am now experiencing and enjoying a second lockdown in Co. Kildare, it makes me wonder are holidays worth it at all? Is there a way to get rid of the after holiday blues? I fear not and I must state that holidays should be banned! We should all have to work all year round. Every day shall be called Monday so that nobody can complain about Mondays anymore. If we are working all year round with no weekends or holidays then we will never experience these bouts of sadness at being back in the real world again! Genius!

Imagine that! In all seriousness, the beauty in the landscape of Sligo and Mayo made me appreciate Ireland and her beauty even more than i do. Feeling a bit down at being back in work after a break is totally worth it when you see some of the pictures I took atop Knocknarea, the resting place of Queen Medb.

Asking for directions

Preparations

We didn’t make any specific plans for preparing for climbs recently. We picked Sligo and Mayo as our holiday destination because of the sights we wanted to see and also because of the fantastic walking opportunities.
Lockdown had eased completely at this stage and with it our attempt at walking everyday. Fortunately, myself and K are both fit enough that we would take on any challenge.
We had attempted this short walk and climb the day previously but the lashing rain put me off so we said we would try again in the morning.

I am so glad we waited.

The keeper of the path

Thoughts Throughout

Despite persistent rain and sheep dung blocking many of our paths, this was my favourite climb/walk we have done so far.
We reached Knocknarea car park at about 10 am. There were maybe three or four other cars there. We started on our walk, 1.2km to the summit. There is an initial path with fields and ditch on both sides that will lead you to the foot of the hill. Along this path were puddles, planks to cross them and, most enjoyably, a cow with his head almost on the path. He was simply watching us go by, contentedly munching on grass and watching us pass.

After getting to the actual hillside we realised that there was thick mist surrounding us. We could not see more than 10 or 15 feet in any direction. Upon reaching a level part of the hillside after climbing up for most of the walk, we took a breather. It was eerily calm. In that moment I believed in fairies, banshees and the gods and goddesses of old Ireland. It felt like the place was humming with magic.

At the top, appearing suddenly out of the fog, was Queen Medb’s resting place. Queen Medb, or Maeve, is one of Ireland’s most famous historical/folklore figures. She raised armies for an impressive bull, the Donn Cualigne of Cooley, so that her wealth would match that of her husband. She clashed with many powerful men and came out on top in her fantastical lifetime. Her stories give her credit for numerous place names around Ireland, whether it be through Cú Chulainn trying to kill her and felling her pets or maids, or the Ulster Bull she captured killing her husband’s bull and dropping his remains in different parts of Ireland. The way the mighty cairn loomed over us was terrifyingly impressive. Check out my video of the cairn in the mist.

Out of the mist..

At just under two hours up and down, with an elevation of around 327 m, this climb is fine for all ages and experience.

A village deserted since the Famine lies halfway up the hill.

Afterthoughts

This was more about the history resting on the summit than the actual climb for me. A deserted village lies halfway up, empty since An Gorta Mór. Sheep graze quietly alongside you as you ascend and several smaller cairns and resting places dot the hilltop surrounding Queen Maeve’s grave.
The climb was probably a tiny bit more difficult because we went up in a fog, which was unintentional, but I am so happy we did. Away from the noise of fellow walkers, cars and the modern world in general, we could have been in any time period. Queen Maeve herself could have been walking the hills, enveloped along with us in the mist.

I would definitely recommend going up as early as possible. Maybe go to Shell’s café in Strandhill first for a spot of breakfast. Their scrambled eggs were sent from the Gods! Then drive the two to three kilometres to begin your walk. Because we’re in Ireland and the weather reports don’t mean anything, bring shorts, pants, snowboots, a jumper, a rain jacket, a hat and sunglasses. You may need them all!

Leaving the fog and the magic behind

So, go up and steep yourself in Irish history. See Ireland’s most favourite queen on land’s (Gráinne Mhaol rules the sea) resting place while breathing in the beautiful Sligo air. Happy trails everyone. Wear your masks and stay safe!

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