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

When you're driving between Killarney and Killorglin, glance up and you'll see Ireland's highest mountains glinting at you from the horizon many miles away.

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 find Michael Dyke and Eileen Tangney, who set up the Black Valley hostel in 1964, basking in the warmth of a roaring fire.

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