Peak viewing in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks
Photographer Valerie O’Sullivan captures daily life on the Iveragh Peninsula
Mike O’Shea and Anthony O’Shea working to reinstate the Landmark Cross on Carrauntoohil, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan
Watching on and looking at the clouds below the summit of Carrauntoohil.Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
Nathan Kingerlee, of Outdoors Ireland, with a group canyoning The Serpent Lake, Gap of Dunloe, Killarney. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
The Kilgobnet Biddies, calling to Nora O’Shea’s house in Shanera, Beaufort Co Kerry. Photo:V alerie O’Sullivan.
A view of the Eastern Reeks from the summit of Carrauntoohil. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
The Black Valley in County Kerry, is a remote location in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks situated south of the Gap of Dunloe and north of Moll’s Gap. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
John and Ester Cronin of Cronin’s Yard Tea Rooms at the entrance to the Hags Glen, Mealis, Beaufort – the preferred departure for hikers traversing the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan
Photographer: Valerie O’Sullivan.
A view from the Devil’s Ladder looking down to the Hag’s Glen, as clouds gather towards the Eastern Reeks.Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan
Piaras Kelly operates ‘Kerryclimbing.ie’ a local guiding company offering guided treks on the reeks, and the south west. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan
Rachel O’Toole and Peter Slattery enjoy lunch above the clouds on the summit of Carrauntoohil. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan.
The sunrise from Strickeen Mountain, as cloud and fog linger in the Valley of Killarney, and St Mary’s Cathedral still rises above the cloud. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan
In her new book of photographs, Valerie O’Sullivan gets close up and personal with MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in all their ancient, wrinkled, weathered glory, capturing the peaks in many different moods: sugared with snow, shrouded in fog, smothered by clouds.
But her real subject is not the mountains themselves. It’s the people who live on the Iveragh Peninsula, raising sheep and cattle amongst the most extreme nooks and crannies in Ireland – and also the increasing numbers who visit the Reeks for recreation, running along vertiginous ridges, scrambling up frozen waterfalls and cycling through tranquil valleys.
People, of course, come with stories attached.
We meet Michael Foley from Beaufort, wrapping his bales of silage in fuchsia pink as part of a campaign to raise cancer awareness in rural Ireland, and Margaret Kerssens, who whips up 100 different varieties of pancake in her 200-year-old cottage/restaurant, Strawberry Fields Forever.
We accompany the Kerry Mountain Rescue team as they carry out training drills on snow-covered hills and we gaze at Cork mountaineer Pat Falvey – the second Irish person to reach the summit of Mount Everest – who looks for all the world as if he has just returned from the Himalayas.
O’Sullivan is clearly no mean climber herself.
For every photograph of a mountaineer atop a summit, there must be a photographer even higher up – carrying her own weight in cameras and equipment into the bargain.
Some of the most memorable pictures are of trail runners and adventure racers pitting themselves against gravity and the vagaries of weather; the shot of Leon McCarron standing with his bike on the summit of Carrauntoohil, for example, is an absolute cracker.
But she has also included images of happy hillwalkers, as well as detailed instructions for a walk “through the hidden valleys” from Galway’s Bridge to Lough Acoose.
And she celebrates traditional activities, from hill farming to the annual Gap of Dunloe horse fair, from the annual St Brigid’s Day outbreak of anarchy known as “the Biddies” to regular pub sessions and children doing sean nós dancing.
People look happy in O’Sullivan’s pictures – which makes it a happy book to read. And perfect for a spot of armchair travelling.
But above all else, it makes you long to get your boots on and get up there.
* The MacGillycuddy’s Reeks: People And Places of Ireland’s Highest Mountain Range, by Valerie O’Sullivan, is published by Collins Press