Access to Natural World needs to be in balance with Habitat Conservation

Senator & MEP Grace O’ Sullivan

I don’t need to convince people in this neck of the woods, of the beauty of the Comeragh Mountains. Even if you have never ventured up close to this magnificent resource on our doorstep, you’ll have seen the range in all its glory as one of the highlight views of a cycle or walk on the Greenway, or there as it flanks the roads and stands proud in the distance on the drive to Cork.

Grace O'Sullivan MEP with Helen Lawless, Mountaineering Ireland, Con Murphy, Kilmacthomas Walking Club, Jack Bergin, Mountaineering Ireland and Jim Bowdren, Kilmacthomas Walking Club.

Grace O'Sullivan MEP with Helen Lawless, Mountaineering Ireland, Con Murphy, Kilmacthomas Walking Club, Jack Bergin, Mountaineering Ireland and Jim Bowdren, Kilmacthomas Walking Club.


With accessible roads through the heart of the Comeragh lowlands, there’s no excuse not to be able to enjoy the sights up close. Nowadays, with a surge of interest in healthy outdoor pursuits and the growing popularity of hillwalking, many want to experience our uplands at even closer quarters.

For those of you familiar with the Comeragh Mountains, names like Coum Tay, Coumshingaun, Crohaun and Crotty’s Lake and Rock might be familiar words that trip off the tongue. But even for many Déise natives, our nearby mountains might as well be located at the foot of the Himilayas and most people’s experience of the mountains has only ever consisted of a trot down the well trodden and (deservedly) popular path over to Mahon Falls.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be guided through stretches of the surprisingly vast hills by some of the hugely knowledgeable Kilmacthomas Walking Club, as well as some of the Mountaineering Ireland crew who brought me ‘exploring.’

It really was a day well spent. The landscape is rich in flora and fauna and we were surrounded by miles of largely unspoilt countryside. We saw birds and insects and frogs and great stretches of grass that was so untouched that the raindrops from a recent shower clung to their tips in a way that made the place almost vibrate with glistening as the sun came out to greet us.

Grace O’Sullivan exploring the Comeragh Mountains

Grace O’Sullivan exploring the Comeragh Mountains


You’ve got history in abundance up there too, with traces of archaeological remains about the range. Jim Bowdren of the Kilmacthomas Walking Club shared some of his vast knowledge of how past life in the mountains would have seen different scenes to those we were viewing, where the remains of what was once a busy mountain roadway was now a beautiful boggy stretch of wilderness.

I have to say, that when we sat down to have a cup of tea and a sandwich on a cluster of rocks in the middle of nowhere, it was definitely the nicest cuppa I’d had in a long time. Con Murphy of the Kilmacthomas Walking Club and Jack Bergin of Mountaineering Ireland had me enthralled with their stories of getting into hillwalking and, for Jack, more serious mountain climbing.

It was so wild, so untouched and so peaceful up there. The air is pure and clean and the only sounds about were the gusts of wind and an occasional bleat from a nosey sheep. With natural paths that wind through the heather and have been traversed by sheep and other animals (including humans), the many popular routes are accessed on foot. Part of the beauty of this and indeed mountain ranges throughout Ireland and beyond is that it’s undeveloped. It doesn’t need to be, because the resourse and attraction is in itself, the fact that this is a truly natural landscape.

It’s something the decision-makers must bear in mind when planning around public access to the countryside. Sadly we’re somewhat behind in this area in Ireland. When we went to look at the restoration of the roadway that had been bull-dozed up the Mahon Valley in 2015, for example, Helen Lawless, who is Mountaineering Ireland’s Access and Conservation Officer, said it raised more questions than it answered. Boulders and rushes have been placed there, but it’s not the landscape as it was before the unauthorised work took place and you would have to question the thinking behind attempting to rip an unnecessarily wide access path into the mountainside, leaving gaping exposed ground open to the elements and in danger of crumbling down into the river, when there is a well established and well maintained road and path already in place that goes all the way into Mahon Falls.

The Mahon Valley is part of the Comeragh Mountains SAC (Special Area of Conservation), a site designated under European legislation for the importance of its habitats and the species it supports. The underlying message, for me, is that we can and should be encouraging people to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, to join walking clubs and really get to know the wonderful resources we are surrounded by. But we don’t have to wreck the landscape and damage sensitive, precious habitats in the process.

Enjoy the mountains folks, and get out and do some happy, healthy, gentle, ecologically-sound walking!

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