Take a hearty sup from the Devil's Punchbowl


For first-time walkers looking for a slope with a lot of reward and not too much punishment, Mangerton Mountain, in Killarney National Park, is just the ticket, writes Tony Doherty

IF EVER I'M asked to introduce a group to the delights of hillwalking, my first choice is always Mangerton, which is near Killarney - so near, in fact, that it is the only mountain you can see from the main street of the Co Kerry town.

Its undistinguished flat-topped profile belies the dramatic scenery of its glacially scoured upper slopes, wherein lie the great cooms of the Devil's Punchbowl and the Horses Glen.

Mangerton is signposted from Molly Darcy's Pub on the Muckross road.

Starting from the concrete bridge, where there is a Kerry Mountain Rescue advice board, there is a well-defined track up to the Devil's Punchbowl. If the tyros haven't obeyed instructions with regard to footwear, they are going to have wet feet early on, as the first few hundred metres of the walk is across some very boggy ground.

Thereafter, the path runs uphill along the side of the Finoulagh river for two kilometres, to reach the 550m contour. There are plenty of excuses to take a breather, as the views over the Lakes of Killarney and Magillicuddy's Reeks open up. The gradient of the path gets gentler for the next 1,500m. Halfway along this section, the path crosses the stream. When my new recruits make it to the Devil's Punchbowl, and take in the splendour of this cliff-encircled coom, they generally forgive me for the pain of the ascent.

The Devil's Punchbowl got its name from a folk tale. Chieftain O'Donoghue Ross dined with the devil on Mangerton. During an argument that developed, the chieftain punched the devil in the face and ran off down the mountain. The devil bit a chunk out of the summit and threw it after him. He missed, and it landed in Muckross Lake to form Devil's Island.

The next leg circles around the northeast side of the lake, keeping to the high ground above the shore, to the narrow arete that separates the cooms.

If the Punchbowl impressed them, the Horses Glen will knock their soggy boots off. Below lies Lough Erhogh, with 400m crags dropping sheer to its shores, while, beyond, Lough Managh glistens under the looming bulk of Stoompa.

From here a path runs south up the arete to the summit plateau. This is steep and, to a newcomer, may appear to be far more exposed than it actually is. The summit cairn is 300m south of the arete, in the centre of a flat boggy plateau. In thick mist it is easy to lose one's bearings here, as there is no obvious path. From here there is a panorama of peaks, stretching from west Co Cork to Dingle Peninsula, which will whet the appetite of those who have been seduced by Mangerton.

Northwest from the summit is a large cairn that marks the beginning of a steep and rocky path leading back down to the entrance to the Devil's Punchbowl.

From here retrace the route back down the track, warning your charges to take care on the slippery bits and reminding them that 90 per cent of mountain accidents occur on the descent - just to take the wind out of their sails in case they are getting cocky.

Mangerton Mountain, Co Kerry

Start and finishA concrete bridge at grid reference 984 847.

How to get thereTake the N71 Muckross road from Killarney. Turn left at Molly Darcy's Pub. Then take the first right. Apart from a small area next to the bridge, parking is on the roadside. Beware of soft margins.

Time, distance and ascentUp to five hours, 10.5km, 700m.

SuitabilityA moderate hillwalk. Very popular with locals. You will find people of all ages there on a Sunday. As always, map, compass, warm clothing, good boots and rain gear are essential.

MapOrdnance Survey Ireland Discovery Series sheet 78.

RefreshmentsA wealth to choose from, but if you can't wait, Molly Darcy's, at the bottom of the hill, serves great pub meals.