‘I don’t need to travel abroad to experience some of the most beautiful places in the world’ – Insta star Marius Monaghan
If you’re pining for adventure this year, there are plenty to be had here at home. For inspiration, look to Marius Monaghan — the young photographer and explorer whose striking social media posts have gained him a big following and a new career
Every new year starts with a fresh sense of possibility. The blank canvas of the empty calendar is ripe with opportunity. A chance to do something different, explore uncharted territory or experience a new adventure. Well, that’s usually the case, anyway. With the spectre of Covid-19 and all its attendant uncertainties still on the menu, many of us might have felt less hopeful than usual as we entered 2022.
But one person keeping the spirit of adventure alive and well is 25-year-old Marius Monaghan, originally from Tyrone but now living between Donegal and Dublin, whose stunning social-media content exploring Ireland has earned him thousands of followers... and a new job to boot.
If the word ‘staycation’ makes you shudder, then the young photographer’s work will almost certainly change your mind. The Ireland he showcases steps outside the familiar, instead focussing on hidden dunes, dawn ascents to pink-tinged mountain tops and windswept rocky coastlines where there’s rarely another soul to be seen, never mind an ice-cream van.
There’s a wild sense of freedom and exhilaration to his posts, which have captured a growing legion of fans — some 200,000 followers on TikTok; over 13,000 on Instagram @mariusmonaghan — and now the corporations are starting to take notice.
In September last year, just 10 days before he was due to start an accountancy training job, Monaghan was offered, and quickly accepted, a dream job working on the social-media accounts for Fáilte Ireland.
Now Red Bull has come knocking for a collaboration. “There were three companies that I would have idolised and dreamt of working with,” Monaghan says with a smile. “One was the tourism board, the second was Red Bull and the third was GoPro. I’m working with two of the three now.” GoPro, if you’re reading...
There’s an authenticity to Monaghan’s posts that stops you mid doom-scroll. His passion for exploring might now be something he can monetise, but it comes from the heart.
After finishing school, he went travelling for a year to some far-flung, exotic places. “But it was only when I came back that I started to appreciate the beauty we have here. It hit me then that I didn’t need to travel to different countries to experience some of the most beautiful places in the world.”
He reckons that the restrictions of the past few years have opened others’ eyes to the same fact. Pals, who previously would have been more inclined to a pint in the pub, are now asking him for hiking recommendations. He gets messages on social media every day from people wanting him to point them in the direction of the hidden waterfalls and unspoilt beaches he’s showcased online.
“Social media is unlocking hidden gems that people maybe weren’t aware of before, and it’s great to see how many people have been bitten by the bug. Even if their hand may have been forced at the start.”
The bulk of the 25-year-old’s content (and following) was created during the pandemic and it’s heartwarming to hear that, during a time when so many have felt isolated, his social-media presence has helped bring about interaction and real-life friendships. “I’ve friends, like-minded people, in every corner of Ireland now, just through social media.”
One is the Co Donegal rock climber Iain Miller (@uniqueascent) who will be joining Monaghan in his first big adventure of 2022.
“I’m creating a mini-series, sponsored by Red Bull, presenting different locations around the west coast and showing how Ireland is still amazing in the winter months,” Monaghan says.
Along with caving in the Burren, island camping and a sunrise hike up Carrauntoohil, Monaghan and Miller will be tackling sea stacks off the Donegal coast.
“We’ll be scaling sheer cliffs about 40 or 50 metres high with waves crashing around the base,” says Monaghan, clearly delighted at the prospect. “I’ll be in safe hands with Iain,” he adds quickly. “He’s the man. I met him last year and he took me on a mountain safety course. With all the risky stuff, it’s high-octane and it’s good fun, but it’s good to have a bit of training behind you too on what to do if something goes wrong.”
And there’s no denying that some of Monaghan’s most eye-catching content is also the most hair-raising (although thankfully, to date, nothing has gone wrong). One of his images, taken near Mussenden Temple in Co Derry, made the BBC NI news last year, with the local coastguard urging others not to ‘risk their life’ for a copycat photo.
Monaghan maintains his shot was “as safe as houses”. “It was just angles,” he explains. “There’s a ledge underneath [where the person is sitting] so there’s a two-foot drop, but on the camera it looks like there’s a 300-feet drop. A lot of my photographs are close to cliff edges and maybe that’s where I can get angles that other people wouldn’t be comfortable getting, but I’m not going to do something silly to risk my life or risk anyone else’s life.”
His responsibility also extends to the environments he showcases — he doesn’t post beauty spots that couldn’t handle serious footfall — and to his content. Yes, he’s happy to accept the influencer label, but not at a cost to his credibility. “No teeth-whitening ads, no mirror selfies,” he jokes.
The moratorium on the latter might disappoint some fans of the adventurer (who has also worked as a model) as not everyone who messages him privately — or ‘slides into his DMs’ as the Instagram community would say — is looking for travel advice. “Yeah, that happens quite a lot,” he says laughing. “It’s good fun. I’m not complaining.”
Nor is he of the belief that everything has to go on the grid. The camera is always with him and he freely admits that he might take 100 or so shots to capture the image he wants, but he’s loath to live life through a lens. “If I’m sitting with friends enjoying a lovely sunset, then that might be a time to leave the camera in the bag and just sit enjoying making memories, rather than destroying the peace for a few likes on Instagram.”
His kit is simple — a Sony A7 III, a good pair of shoes and a jacket — and filters are a no-no, with all shots minimally edited on Adobe Lightroom. “I know some people like to take a photo and change the sea to the brightest blue, but that wouldn’t be my style or how I’d choose to represent Ireland. I think what we have here is good enough without having to fabricate scenes.”
He’s a great lesson in how opportunity can come from adversity, and how to embrace what you can manifest with what’s on offer and what you’ve a passion for.
“It’s funny how things turn out. I do feel like I’ve landed on my feet but I guess you make your own luck in many ways, too. The last six months have turned up some of the goals or dreams that I had at the start of my social-media journey when I first started posting my adventures.
“I’m buzzing from everything that’s come about so far and can’t wait to see what 2022 has to bring.”