The Fei Sheehy Challenge is a 3-day hill-walking challenge set up to remember Fei Sheehy, an 8 year old girl who sadly died of Osteosarcoma in 2012. The challenge involves crossing three mountain ranges in Munster – the Comeraghs, the Galtees and the Knockmealdowns – covering about 95 km and 4200 m of ascent. This year was extra special as it marked the 10th anniversary of the event, with proceeds going to Samaritans Ireland and Marfan Syndrome Support Ireland.
The heatwave conditions of August 2022 were luckily not replicated! Instead the record July rainfall played its role in making the Comeraghs and Galtees particularly soggy underfoot. Over 50 participants took part, with 33 completing all three legs of the Challenge. 15 walkers from the Galtee Club took to the hills, thanks to the promotion of the event by Club Treasurer Pat Boland.
Friday August 11th saw participants gather eagerly before 7am at Hillview Sports Club in Clonmel ready to take on the longest of the 3 Challenge walks. The Comeragh mountains span from Dungarvan to Clonmel and encompass peaks such as Seefin (one of the many in Ireland!), Knockanaffrin, Knocksheegowna, as well as many picturesque lakes such as Coumshingaun, Coumduala and the Sgilloges. The terrain between Seefin and Coumfea could be described as a swamp, and the wind on the Knockanaffrin ridge was challenging to say the least. But after 36 km and about 1300 m of ascent, all focus switched to the Galtee Mountains, the toughest traverse of the three.
While the weather on the Comeraghs was showery and windy, the rain was much more persistent over the Galtees as the day went on, with conditions underfoot muddy and slippery for much of the route. The morning sign-in with David Power in a field in Anglesborough was very relaxed, with David later quoted as saying “Who knew spending most of your day in a field could fly by so fast?”. The Galtee traverse from Cahir to Anglesborough is about 30 km with 1600 m of ascent. The gradual incline starts right away and continues on for more than half of the route, after which you are faced with the three steepest sections – the peaks of Galtybeg, Galtymore and the infamous Templehill, which doesn’t seem to get any easier with practice. There was a strong headwind on Galtybeg and Galtymore and along the ridge, but it was nowhere near the strength it was on the 2022 and 2023 official Galtee Challenge days. With low visibility for much of the day, even those who are very familiar with the range, found themselves checking the map as a precaution from time to time. Most participants feel that the hardest part of the Fei Sheehy 3-day Challenge is over once they reach the trig pillar on Templehill. I wonder how many signed the famous Temple diary this year!
And so on to day 3 – Sunday August 13th – Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary, from where we were bussed to the northern side of the Knockmealdowns, undoubtedly the easiest of the 3 mountain ranges to traverse. Participants can cross the mountain ranges taking any route that they wish, which means that most will skirt around the peaks of Sugarloaf, Knocknalougha and Knockshanahullion but take in the Waterford county top – Knockmealdown! The first thing that many remarked on was how much better the ground was underfoot – no sinking or sliding, and the slopes were much more gradual. The visibility improved as the morning went on, allowing views of the entire mountain range and across to the Galtees, which were shrouded in low cloud the day before. After the ascent to Knockmealdown peak, the route back to Ballyporeen by the Blackwater or Avondhu Way over Crow Hill and Farbreaga was quite relaxing.
And so that was it for the Fei Sheehy Challenge 2023. 95 km and 4200 m across 3 mountain ranges. Some are looking for fast times and personal bests, some are catching up with hiking friends old and new but all share a love of the mountains and are lucky to be able to take on such a challenging endeavour. To quote Gerard Sheehy “These participants aren’t ‘just hillwalkers’, they’re athletes that have a professional approach to their activity – from fitness/endurance, to hydration, to nutrition, to navigation, they tick all the boxes.”
On a personal note, it was a pleasure to walk with the Ballyhoura Bears across the Galtees including Mary O’Connell, who won this year’s Epic Effort Award for helping an unwell friend off the Galtee Mountains. It was also great to walk with the Peaks Mountaineering Club, led by Josephine O’Brien, across the Knockmealdowns – the local knowledge of best routes and shortcuts was greatly appreciated by so many, as was the craic and banter all along the route and the special birthday celebrations at the lunch break!! Josephine, also a Galtee Club member, completed 29 of the 30 legs of the Fei Sheehy Challenges since its inception, and was a very deserving winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award. The Galtee Club succeeded in retaining the Fei Sheehy Challenge Cup for a 3rd year – no doubt there will be serious competition for this in 2024! Lastly, a huge thank you to Gerard Sheehy and the Na Sléibhte Club for putting on such a great weekend of Challenge walking and creating a lovely, inviting atmosphere around the whole event – what better way to remember 8 year old Fei Sheehy.
Recollection by Emily Gleeson, PRO Galtee Walking Club, who walked the Galtee and Knockmealdown legs of the Fei Sheehy Challenge 2023.