Saturday 10 December 2016

MacGillycuddy's Reeks diversity and communities celebrated in new book

Mountain range has a huge impact on local life, traditions and culture in Co Kerry, writes Wayne O'Connor

Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30

SITTING PRETTY: Lunch above the clouds on the summit of Carrauntoohil, on the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range with Rachel O’Toole and Peter Slattery. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan
SITTING PRETTY: Lunch above the clouds on the summit of Carrauntoohil, on the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range with Rachel O’Toole and Peter Slattery. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

Kerry's MacGillycuddy's Reeks, their diversity and the cultures within the mountains, have been recorded in a new book celebrating all aspects of the remote and rural landscape.

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Photographer and mountaineer Valerie O'Sullivan, from Killarney, has spent much of her career cataloguing the Reeks and photographing the 19kms they stretch along the Iveragh Peninsula.

Her new book, The MacGillycuddy's Reeks: People and Places of Ireland's Highest Mountain Range, looks at the communities and traditions she has encountered through her years working on the landscape.

Popular and well-known local people who live on the mountains feature throughout, with stories of the role the Reeks play in their lives.

Among them is Eileen Cronin of Cronin's Yard, the traditional starting point for climbers ascending Carrauntoohil at the entrance to the Hag's Glen.

Her home became the base for the Kerry Mountain Rescue team, the Gardai and the Civil Defence whenever the teams were called out to assist climbers who got into difficulty. It is a hive of activity every day of the year. She said she has fond memories of rescues when the teams would arrive to her family's home where constant cups of tea were served with buttered brack and ham sandwiches.

"We'd stay up all night, waiting for news.

"I loved making the tea and sandwiches, keeping the fire going. We were all great friends and still are today. Members of the rescue team and gardai would still call to me. We had great laughs.

"We had great craic, no matter how serious the rescue was. The house was always open." Older traditions are also celebrated within the book, including honouring 'The Biddy', one of the oldest and most colourful customs in Ireland celebrating St Bridget's feast day on February 1.

The locals travel about the area with an effigy proclaiming the saint had arrived and brought the first day of spring.

It is symbolic of the community spirit that still thrives.

Paudie Casey, from the Black Valley, said this is what makes the area so special.

"My most treasured memories living in the Black Valley is the neighbourly love, the great spirit of our close-knit community and being able to call upon our friends to help out on any job."

A chapter of the book is dedicated to the Kerry Mountain Rescue Team, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its members work on the MacGillycuddy's Reeks 365 days per year in all types of weather, assisting walkers and climbers in often treacherous conditions. A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the team.

The book will be officially launched by broadcaster Frank Lewis and rural recreational officer, South Kerry Development Partnership, Patricia Deane, on October 15 at 6.30pm in Kate Kearney's Cottage, Gap of Dunloe, Killarney.

Sunday Independent

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