Monday 19 March 2018

40 years scaling the heights

Sligo Mountaineering Club members climbing in the Swiss Valley, Glencar.
Sligo Mountaineering Club members climbing in the Swiss Valley, Glencar.

THE late Fr John McGowan will always be remembered for his pioneering work with the youth of Sligo.

In 1973, he set up a new club for 18 to 21-year-olds. It was called 'The Progression Club.' From it, Sligo Mountaineering Club was also born.

Fr McGowan asked members of his new group what range of activities they would like to engage in. Three of them, Michael Mulligan his sister, Kathleen, and Leo Harrison replied 'hillwaking.' That was 40 years ago.

The SMC is now celebrating a special anniversary.

One of the founing members, Michael Mulligan said: "Seven of us from the club climbed Knocknarea on April 28th, 1974. That was the start of it all. We were led by Gerry Foley, who is married to my sister Kathleen.

"He and he was in the FCA and an experienced hill-walker. With Gerry's knowledge of maps etc., and our willingness to walk, we were on our way."

Michael added: "From those 'first steps' we have gone from strength to strength. We've walked extensively throughout Ireland, the UK, the Alps, Corsica and Austria."

Members of the Mountaineering Club also helped in setting up the Sligo/ Leitrim Mountain Rescue team in the 1980's.

The club's calendar of walks start on the first Sunday in September and continues to the last Sunday in June. Safety is paramount.

The first Sunday of each month is 'Club Sunday'-and for beginners, family groups and those who prefer less strenuous walks.

Newcomers are issued with a copy of the club's rules and regulations and also sign a disclaimer form.

If they return on the second Sunday, they pay an annual membership fee of €40 and must have proper kit and equipment.

Michael explained: "We have three grades of walks. The 'C' grade is for beginners and is a two to four hour walk with a leader.

"Grade 'B' is for reasonably fit members only and is for four to six hours. They must also be able to navigate. The 'A' walks are for experienced members, the very fit and those again with navigation skills.

"They can last 10 to 12 hours. We don't recommend people go from the 'C' walks to the 'A' walks straight away."

Michael added: "Our rules and regulations are obviously very important. Past and present members have always ensured that is the case."

Training officers insist all members reach a basic level of mountain craft. Navigation and mountain craft classes are held every February.

The Safety Committee keeps a watchful eye on members. The environment also benefits.

Michael said: "We have Environmental Officers who organise clean-ups along mountain tracks and car parks in Sligo."

The club is affiliated with the Mountaineering Club of Ireland. Members must be 18 and over.

Children can walk, but they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who is also a member.

Each year prior to the AGM in August, members offer suggestions for walks they would like in the annual calendar of events.

From these, the Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer draw up the calendar which is brought before the AGM.

Michael said: "We like to try to vary the walks. We all enjoy it and there is a friendly atmosphere, with many social events also taking place."

To mark the 40th anniversary members took to the slopes of Knocknarea recently.

Michael commented: "We really were going back to out roots."

Sligo Champion