Record Participation in Galtee Challenge 2023

A steady stream of traffic pouring into the small village of Anglesborough in Co. Limerick, just after 6am on Saturday June 24th, meant it was not an ordinary Saturday morning! Instead it was the day of the biggest event in the Galtee Walking Club’s annual calendar, the Galtee Challenge, a walk that traverses the Galtee Mountains from Cahir Co. Tipperary to Anglesborough Co. Limerick, taking in the highest peaks of the range, including Galtymore, Galtybeg, Greenane, and Lyracappul among many other peaks. The hike covers 31 km with 1700 m of climbing involved and is considered to be one of the best challenge walks in Ireland.

Almost 250 people took to the Galtee Mountains on Saturday, making it a record in the 19 year history of the Annual Challenge. Tickets went on sale in early March, and the scramble for places in recent weeks and months left many disappointed that they had to miss out this year. For the first time in its history, we also held a Shorter Challenge event spanning 18km and 1200m of accent.

A sense of anticipation filled the air as we efficiently got the hall ready, set up the registration stations and the tea/coffee area, before participants began arriving well before 7am! At the same time, James Hanly, Eoin Lonergan, Fiona O’Leary and Darren Walsh were on car-park duty. To quote Fiona, who had just come off a night-shift at work “I had great craic doing the car park”.

At base the Hillwalking Radio Group were also busy setting up to provide invaluable VHF radio communication on the mountain, especially in the few spots where phone signals are problematic. A huge thank you to Denny O’Dwyer and the rest of the team who helped out on the day – Pat Boland, Joan Caulfield, Ann Cummins, Kitty Dench, Noreen Holmes, Anne Moloney and Mattie Quirke.

Over 170 people streamed through the Community Hall in Angleborough to register for the Full Galtee Challenge, with everyone in high spirits as they eagerly awaited the 30 minute or so bus trip to Cahir to commence the Full Challenge walk. For the committee and helpers it was lovely to greet walkers from all around the country, including family groups, a couple celebrating 42 years together, the youngest participant – 16-year old Conor O’Brien – and friends old and new. With Margaret Barry, Martina Lonergan, Tom Lyons and Aileen Power staffing the registration desks, the process ran like clockwork. Participants received a route card and a yellow wrist band with printed emergency contact numbers which doubled up as their bus ticket and voucher for the post-hike meal. At the same time, Sharon Aherne, Noreen Holmes, Sarah Reidy, Joe O’Brien, Katie O’Donoghue and Rebecca O’Neill were busy offering tea, coffee, scones, brownies and other treats to enhance the blood sugar levels; these treats were provided thanks to Breege Doherty, Noreen Holmes, Martina Lonergan and Joe O’Brien. An Instagram cut-out was doing the rounds with many availing of the photo opportunities. Nevertheless, as soon as an O’Sullivan’s (Kildorrery) coach arrived it was quickly filled. John Lonergan, Chairperson of the Galtee Walking Club, and Pat Boland were busy ushering people onto the buses, checking tickets and ensuring everyone was accounted for. Kevin Finn, Sheila Lenihan, Eoin Lonergan, Declan O’Brien, Thos O’Neill and Pat Ryan accompanied participants of the Full Challenge on the 4 large buses, with Sheila, Thos and Pat, the 3 record-holders for this event, acting as sweepers on the walk itself.

Meanwhile back in the hall there was a slight lull before the 70 or so people taking part in the Shorter Challenge began to arrive at a more relaxed pace to register and receive their route cards and orange wrist bands to distinguish them from Full Challenge participants. While we termed this walk the “Shorter Challenge”, it was still 18km and about 1200m of ascent, just 500m short of the Full Challenge height gain and included 2 of the 3 steepest sections of the route. Most of this group opted to be led by members of the Galtee Walking Club, especially as navigation was more difficult with the peaks being shrouded in low cloud leading to very poor visibility. A special thanks to Aidan Dilworth for leading the pack, accompanied by John Lonergan, who coordinated the entire group, Sharon Aherne, Pat Boland, James Bourke, Ann Cummins, Emily Gleeson, James Hanly, Noreen Holmes, Tom Lyons, Ciarán O’Brien, Joe O’Brien, Fiona O’Leary and Darren Walsh. Darren, Fiona, Joe and Pat took on the role of sweepers on the walk, encouraging everyone along the route despite the inclement weather conditions. The group took off shortly after 9am from the well-known Black Road, but started much further down that road to get a good chance to warm up walking on an even surface for the first few kilometres.

As we ascended to the col between Galtybeg and Galtymore we already had reports about the wind strength on Lyracappul, with localised effects coming into play there. At this stage, we were already in low cloud, low visibility territory and it was important for us to keep our led group close together. The north face of Galtymore provided some welcome respite from the 80 kilometre per hour or so winds, while some availed of the opportunity to take an obligatory photo as the well-recognised Galtymore cross, freshly painted a few weeks ago! The winds abated as we moved to lower ground beyond Galtymore and we eventually took refuge in the shelter of the old famine wall for a welcome lunch stop just after midday.

The fastest of the participants of the Full Challenge overtook us along the way, as Derek Lyons of Na Sléibhte managed to complete the route in just under 5 hours and Ann Daly and Bridie O’Connor of the Ballyhoura Bears arriving in under 6 hours.

After lunch we continued on towards Lyracappul – the winds were not a strong by then – then down into the col between Lyracappul and Temple Hill, the last climb of the day. Although the ascent is only about 160m from that side, it’s never an easy climb, with most very relived to see Temple Hill’s trig pillar and many availing of the opportunity to sign the Temple Diary and be part of the documented history of the mountain. The first of this group arrived in Anglesborough before 3pm, with about 20 of the Full Challenge group already back before them.

While we were out on the mountain in the wind and rain enjoying interacting with our group and describing what they might see if the cloud cleared, Margaret Barry, Goretti Campbell, Breege Doherty, Martina Lonergan, Michelle Mahony, Katie O’Donoghue, Brendan O’Dwyer, Eileen O’Dwyer and Rebecca O’Neill, were busy in the hall arranging certificates and gifts, preparing the tables, helping the catering company and welcoming the first of the walkers back. A special thanks to Breege Doherty and Denny O’Dwyer for collecting the few participants who needed to leave the mountain early.

Over the next few hours we welcomed all participants back to the hall where they could interact with fellow walkers, take a rest or some photos, grab a main course and dessert prepared by Eileen Condon, absorb the atmosphere, try on their blue Galtee Challenge custom-made buff and reflect on what they had just achieved in far from ideal weather conditions. To quote one of our helpers in the hall: “As I carried out my duties, there were moments when I would pause and take in the laughter and smiles all around, offering me a perspective I had never seen before. Witnessing the genuine happiness of those around me made the day truly special.”

The club is indebted to everyone who helped to make this event such a success. We would really like to thank the community of Anglesborough for the use of their hall and for facilitating a large crowd in their community. Thank you to the local farmer Paudie Gallahue for allowing us to park in his field, and to Tipperary County Council, Kerrygold, McCarthy Insurance Group, Glenpatrick Water, and Paul and Vincent Ltd for their support for this event.

In recent weeks, we spoke with many club members who have taken part in the Challenge over the years (these conversations were posted on our Social Media channels) and 2 common themes arose from all of the conversations. The first is that the weather plays a huge role on the day and unfortunately, that’s out of our control. The second is that the people you meet along the way or in the hall before or afterwards form some of the best memories you have of the day. On that note, we really enjoyed welcoming all of you to our local mountain range and engaging with you before and after the walk.

The Galtee walking club was founded in 2003 and holds walks at all levels, mainly in the Galtee, Knockmealdown and Comeragh mountain ranges. The walks take place on Sundays, with additional midweek walks throughout the summer. The Galtee Challenge was initiated in 2005, with only Pat Ryan and Thos O’Neill holding the accolade of completing each Challenge since then, followed closely by Sheila Lenihan, who has completed it 18 times!

2024 will mark the 20th Galtee Challenge. We hope that many of you will consider taking part again to mark this momentous, and no doubt special, occasion. Watch this space!!

Link to a video compiled by John Finn:

Link to video compiled by Caoimhín Mac an tSaoir:

By Emily Gleeson, PRO Galtee Walking Club

2023 June 24: The Galtee Challenge