Rock Climbing in Ireland

There are many reasons to come to Ireland, some come to find forgotten houses and gravestones belonging to their ancestors torn by emigration, others to enjoy the lush countryside and friendly people. Some too come on climbing trips and such a trip is a great way to enjoy Ireland and the Irish.

Rock climbing takes place on outcrops of rock, which by their nature are generally located abundant in nature. Climbers climb routes up a rock face which often follow a prominent crack line. Routes are described and pictures shown in guidebooks which are produced for various areas. Climbs are given grades so that climbers new to an area can have an idea of what is within their ability range. Climbing normally takes place in pairs, both climbers are tied into opposite ends of the (lead) climbing rope and belay each other in turn.

Ireland being the small island it is and a land of hills rather than mountains, a lot of rock climbing takes place on sea-cliffs (not discounting some wonderful inland crags). There is no sport climbing in Ireland, only what is termed trad climbing. Sport climbing is characterized by the climbing protection taking the form of bolts which are pre-drilled into the rock face. In trad climbing the leader (climber who ascends a route first) places their own protection by putting passive (set size) or dynamic (adjustable size) camming devices in cracks or breaks in the rock as they climb. In both types of climbing the leader clips the rope into the protection as they climb.

One of the favourite destinations for Irish and visiting climbers alike is Ailladie, situated near the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher which rise majestically 200m from the sea. This sea crag is on the ocean edge of the infamous Burren in County Clare between the popular Doolin and Fanore and has an abundance of routes to challenge all levels of climbers. Climbers normally camp right beside the sea, with a lovely view out to the Arran islands. If it gets really wet or one fancies plusher accommodations, there are many inexpensive ($15 per night) hostels in Doolin or nearby Lisdoonvarna. Both towns are popular nighttime destinations to sample the local genius (read Guinness) and incomparable trad sessions (traditional music).

A lot of the climbs at Ailladie are accessed by hiking down to the Dancing Ledges. This area is characterized by a boulder field that gets strewn around by the sea in the sometimes ferocious winter storms, hence the name. The Dancing Ledges are also popular for fly-fishing. Further South towards Moher the ledges disappear and climbs are accessed by abseiling dwon to the base of the route. The belayer anchors themselves at the bottom to the rock and/or abseil rope and belays to the unbeatable sound of the waves crashing at their feet. It is inevitable with the Irish weather, particularly on the west coast, that some climbing days will be sent sitting out the rain in the tent, car or pub in front of a roaring fire. However, in the summer months you will get many gorgeous days for climbing and may even get to pull out the shorts from the bottom of the rucksack!

The other big sea crags are at Fair Head in Antrim and Muckross Head in Donegal, there are many others, some less frequented and less explored, scattered around the seemingly endless mazes of coves and inlets that cover the Irish coast. Glendalough in County Wicklow is one of the memorable inland crags, other unmissables spread across the Mourne Mountains and Donegal, with smaller outcrops all over the country.

Visitors will find both Irish climbers and others they meet in their nationwide travels invariably friendly and very welcoming. See you at the crags.

Irish termUS termExplanation
Abseiling Rappelling Descending a rock face with the use of technical equipment (rope, descending device). The equipment used is called a figure-of-eight, the climber threads the rope through the figure-of-eight which provides friction as the climber slides (abseils/rappels) down the rope.
Belayer Same (different pronunciation) Climbers belay each other in turn, anchored into the rock they control the flow of the rope, taking it in or letting it out, depending on the progress of the climber above (leader) or below (second) them. The principal of belaying is similar to abseiling (see above), a friction device is used to control the flow of the rope. A number of friction devices have been developed, including the belay/stitch plate and Tuber. A figure-of-eight can also be used though itís not ideal.
Crab Biner Both terms are slang for carabiner, which in general is an oblong ring of metal that can be snapped/ screwed open/shut. These are used to clip the rope into and to clip into gear (see protection).
Extender Quickdraw 2 carabiners joined together with a length of webbing, one carabiner is clipped to the protection (see below) and the other to the free-running rope
Leader Same Climber who climbs up the route first
50m 165ft Approximate comparison of the standard climbing rope length. Normally lead ropes are 10.5 to 11mm thick. Depending on the nature and location of the route climbers may opt to use double rope technique, whereby using 2 ropes of usually 8 to 9mm thickness.

Destination information

Climbing in Ireland is best undertaken by a group of experienced climbers who bring their own climbing gear with them. However, there are guides available to take out both experienced and beginning climbers. Guidebooks are more readily available in the Dublin climbing shops or can be bought through the mail. See the Irish Rock Climbing home page (information below) for additional details and/or contacts.

Climbing on the web

Detailed info about climbing areas in Ireland and guidebooks available can be got on the world wide web at the Irish Rick Climbing home page. URL: Other useful climbing information and contacts can be got at URL:

For climbing in general check out the climbing Archive, information here includes a chart comparing rock climbing grades used in the USA and Ireland. URL:

This was published in the Irish American Post in May 1995. As a result some of the above URLs may be out of date.