Last week, while trolling through adventure videos, I came across a short of two guys bouldering in Ireland. It was a simple, effective edit: the rock was wet, the valley was green and bracken, the guys kept finding beautiful, big, dark rocks to climb. It inspired me to abandon my search for early morning news and type “bouldering Ireland” into Google. A site named The Short Span showed up in the first two spots. I clicked. There were videos, of “Ireland’s Strongest Dad,” of “The Beast from the East” and “The Wiener from the West,” and of the 2012 Gap of Dunloe Climbing Meet. There were forums and an archive of posts packed with data on remote Irish climbing locales.
Most of the posts were written by Dave Flanagan. He included pictures and detailed tips about where and when to climb. I eventually emailed Flanagan with a few questions, including why and when he started the site.
I just wanted to share information about the great bouldering I had found. The site started in 2000, I think. No one ever asks me where the name came from, I think they assume it’s related to bouldering, but it actually is a reference to a poem by a British climber and writer Geoffrey Winthrop Young.
“In this short span between my fingertips and the smooth edge and these tense feet cramped to a crystal ledge, I hold the life of a man.”
I hadn’t asked the question either, but wished I had. Flanagan also sent his list of the five top bouldering sites in Ireland, which I did ask for. His picks are listed below. If you want to know more, you can check out The Short Span or purchase the e-book version of Bouldering Ireland.
The Top 5 Areas for Bouldering in Ireland
By Dave Flanagan
5. Gap of Dunloe and Black Valley, County Kerry
The Gap of Dunloe splits the MacGillycuddy's Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountains. A small road, with boulders scattered on either side, winds its way through the Gap and down into the Black Valley. The rocks are purple sandstone with great friction and lots of slopers and pockets, and only a handful have been developed, so there are plenty of new problems to climb. The steep walls of the Gap mean that even in the summer cool conditions can be found in the evenings.
4. Doolin, County Clare
Doolin is best known for traditional music and nearby coastal limestone cliffs, which is why you’re here. A short drive from the village and a very pleasant 10-minute walk through a series of meadows bring you to an area called Lackglass by the locals. The limestone sea cliffs run for more than 500 feet and up to around 15 feet high—perfect for bouldering. The power of the sea is such that, after winter storms, huge boulders often have completely disappeared, so pay attention to the tides and the weather.
Eat and Drink: A bowl of chowder and a few pints while listening to traditional Irish music in McGann’s pub.
Stay: In the cozy rooms of the 300-year-old, award winning Aille River Hostel. (From $15 for a shared room.)
3. Fair Head, County Antrim
Near the top of Ireland, from where Scotland is visible across the water, lies five miles of dolerite cliff known as Fair Head. Steep corners and crack lines attract climbers from all over the country and further afield. Below the cliffs lie an infinity of huge boulders, including more than 50 test pieces that will appeal to strong climbers who favor physical, steep bouldering.
Eat: Yellowman, a chewy, toffee-like honeycomb that is a specialty of the nearby town of Ballycastle.
Stay: In The Castle Hostel. (From $37 a night for a two-bedroom.)
2. Glenmacnass, County Wicklow
The Wicklow Mountains are graced with a huge volume of granite boulders, remnants from the last ice age. The granite is a large grain and the individual boulders are pretty spread out. The walk into the boulders takes about 45 minutes—just follow the small stream up the valley. The bouldering is very technical. There aren’t many holds, but the landings are good and none of the problems are too high. The best way to appreciate the isolation and beauty of the valley is to camp on the soft grass beside the stream and pack your grub.
1. Glendalough, County Wicklow
Glendo is without a doubt the best bouldering in Ireland. The valley has been a popular tourist destination since a fella named Kevin, later dubbed Saint Kevin, put it on the tourist map about 1,000 years ago. The bouldering is at the head of the valley above the two lakes that give the area its name—Gleann Dá Loch, Irish for the glen of the two lakes. Scree covers the steep slopes and a ruined mining village that you can't miss is surrounded by massive granite boulders. There are over 150 problems ranging from V0 to V13.