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41. Mountain in Ireland during The Age of Imperialism (1800-1916)

DEC. 02, 2021


It's off to the Emerald Isle for the boys. Ryan leads Pete to the peak of adventure discovering the courage of the pioneering Irish mountain-climbers who would not be told it couldn't be done.

Mountain in Ireland during 1800-1916

This episode History Happened Everywhere is in the Emerald Isle… Ireland!

Ireland is, um, an island in Western Europe, in the north Atlantic to the West of Great Britain. It’s Irish name is ‘Eire’, which derives from the Old Irish mythological goddess Ériu .

Ireland has a population of 5 million but there are another 40 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry. Irish is the official language (very similar to Scottish Gaelic) and all official documents are written in Irish and English. In fact, the Irish language has decreased in use, but is still more widely read, spoken, and understood today than during most of the 20th century

Irish History overview

In about 6000BCE early man arrived, with hunter-fisher people first appearing. By 3000BCE - Stone Age burial chambers and rectangular timber-built houses were appearing, with beads, pendants and bone pins inside and engravings on the walls.

A mere couple of thousand years later in 1000BCE, Bronze, copper and gold were being exported to Britain and the Nordics from Ireland.

Perhaps surprisingly it was not until 300BCE and the Iron Age that brought about the arrival of the Celts, a group originating from east-central Europe. They established kingdoms and clans, with hill forts built to defend them.

By 200CE the departure of the Romans in England inspired the Irish to raid Britain and settle along the west coast and in 400CE the first signs of Christianity in Ireland appear.

Around 795CE saw the beginning of a period of Vikings raids, although eventually around 900CE the vikings abandon raids for trade.

Then came the English. 1166CE was the first period of English rule, where the country was divided into counties and English Laws were enacted.

The Irish were none too keen on all of this and there were frequent rebellions. Then in 1652 a campaign led by Oliver Cromwell crushed all resistance and Ireland was conquered. Territory was given to English soldiers and creditors and Irish landowners were left with nothing .

In 1791 the insurrectionist group known as the Society of United Irishmen was created, inspired by the American and French Revolutions. This led in 1798 to more rebellion which was also suppressed by the British, who tightened their grip on Ireland, signing the the Act of Union - making Ireland part of the United Kingdom.

Into the 1800s we start to see the effects of the industrial revolution on Ireland, and it’s bad news for Ireland as the value of agriculture drops and rural communities are hit hard. This was made even worse in 1840, when the staple food, the potato, caught a blight and rotted in the ground. Rent couldn’t be paid, a million people died of starvation and fever and millions more fled abroad to escape what became known as the Great Potato Famine.

By 1911 Irelands population was half what it once had been fifty years before. And they still didn’t like the British.

In 1916 the ‘Easter Rising’ saw the Irish Republican Brotherhood seize government buildings in Dublin – an insurrection lasting just 5 days but kickstarting a vigorous campaign for Irish Home Rule.

Eventually negotiations between Sinn Féin, the major Irish party, and the UK government led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which secedes five-sixths of Ireland from the UK.

In 1949 -legislation enabling Irish Home Rule was finally passed, abolishing the monarchy from Ireland and making the country a republic with a presidency.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. There was opposition from Irish unionists who opposed leaving the United Kingdom, which itself lead to a troubled later part of the 20th Century, with heated debate about the UK’s role in Northern Ireland remaining passionate up to today.

Mountains in Ireland

What is a mountain? It’s tricker to define than you think, and in fact there is no consensus on the definition of a "mountain", it means different things to different people.

Aspects to consider include elevation, prominence, isolation and location, but in general, the two measures which are considered are the full height at the peak and the height of the prominence i.e. the height of the summit relative to other nearby summits.

In fact, there are many various categories of hill and mountain including:
o Furth. A height over 3,000 feet (914 m)
o Real Munro. A Furth, with a prominence over 150 m (492 ft)
o P600 (the "Majors"). British Isles peak of any height, with prominence over 600 m (1,969 ft)
o Marilyn. British Isles peak of any height, with a prominence of over 150 m (492 ft)
o Hewitt. Peak over 2,000 ft (610 m), with prominence of over 30 m (98 ft)
o Vandeleur-Lynam. Peak over 600 m (1,969 ft), with a prominence over 15 m (49 ft)
o Arderin. Peak over 500 m (1,640 ft), with a prominence of over 30 m (98 ft)
o MountainViews. Peak over 500 m (1,640 ft), with prominence over 100 m (328 ft)

As a rule, though, and the basis for the official list of 100 Highest Irish Mountains - the minimum peak is 500 metres (1,640 ft)
Ireland is not famously mountainy though and its peaks are relatively low-lying and found mainly around the coast. In the east, west and northwest, they are granite and in the south they’re Sandstone.

These were formed by the collision of two huge supercontinents about 450 million years ago, coming together to form the island and at one point, around this time, when Ireland was below the equator, these mountains were much larger than today – perhaps more than 8,000 m, making them taller than Mt. Everest.

That was ages ago though, and they have eroded over the years, due in part to normal weathering but also due to at least two glaciations.

The three tallest mountains in Ireland are 1. Carrauntoohil at a height of 1038.6m / 3407ft, Knocknapeasta (988m) and Brandon (at 952m).

Other notable mountain names in Ireland include:
o Hollow of the wood
o Top of the Fang
o Long-haired mountain
o Fork of the horse
o Sunny Spot
o Rump of the drum
o Pass of the bullocks
o Mountain of the women
o Boggy Area, Long Grass
o Mountain of Ants
o The Two Breasts
o resemblance of Maeve's vulva (678m)

Irish Mountain Climbers

So, there are mountains in the chosen period, but are there any mountain climbers.

Yes. Yes there were.

In fact, the pursuit of mountaineering and mountain running was much more of an act of derring-do for independently wealthy gentlemen looking to outdo each other – than more seriously tackle the summits. But that’s perhaps because the Irish peaks were relatively… unchallenging.

However, outside of Ireland, the Irish had a much more tangible contribution to the Victorian and Edwardian age of mountain exploration – especially in the Alps.

From the 1850s to the early 20th Century, the Irish were centrally placed in establishing what is now recognised as The Golden Age of Alpine Mountaineering. Recent explorations into the history of Irish mountain climbing such as Frank Nugent’s excellent book In Search of Peaks, Passes and Glaciers: Irish Alpine Pioneers has revealed the significant Irish contribution that was made at this time.

For example, the first ever ascents of the Eiger, the Weisshorn and the famous Matterhorn were completed by Irish climbers.

Climbers like John Tyndall, a scientist from Carlow, who spent his summers in Switzerland studying glaciers and mountains. An expert mountaineer, he led one of the first teams to reach the top of the Weisshorn in 1861 and the Matterhorn in 1868.

Similarly, John Ball MP, a politician from Dublin, was the first to climb Mont Pelmo, and went on to become the first president of the Alpine Club, as well as the author of a series of guidebooks which led to the popularisation of the sport.

Anthony Adams-Reilly from Westmeath produced the first reliable map of Mont Blanc and Valentine Ryan, from Offaly, is often considered the finest Alpine climber of the early twentieth century.

But this episode of the podcast focussed on two particularly notable Irish mountaineers.

Introducing Charles Barrington

Daniel Anker, the Swiss Alpine journalist and climber, wrote of Charles Barrington, "He came, he saw, he conquered - and disappeared forever from the mountains, back to Ireland to pursue his passion for horse racing”

Which is a pretty cool way of doing things.

In the heart of the Swiss Bernese Alps, is a tiny picturesque village which lies in the shadow of a number of looming mountains, including the famous Eiger. The Eiger is most notable for its nearly 1,800-metre-high (5,900 ft) north face of rock and ice, named the Eiger-Nordwand, which is the biggest north face in the Alps, a ‘North Face’ being the name for the coldest, most unforgiving side of a mountain. In fact even the name Eiger gives away an impression of its danger, translating as The Ogre.

By 1857, the enormous Eiger remained unclimbed and many people had died trying to tackle tit. Europe's most famous mountaineer, a Viennese called Sigismund Porges, had attempted to climb the Eiger that year but had failed – just like everyone before him.

Enter Charles Barrington, a 24-year old Irish merchant, who arrived in Grindelwald in August 1858 looking for adventure

To start, he spent a few days clambering around the glaciers, sleeping in caves and among flea-ridden goats. But when he came back to Grindewald he felt restless and unfulfilled.

In his own words from a letter he wrote to his brother:
Walked back to Grindelwald. Here I met some Alpine men whose footsteps I had tracked down the glacier.

Talking about climbing, I said to them I did not think much of the work I had done, and was answered, "Try the Eiger or the Matterhorn."

"All right", I said.

"In the evening of the next day, the 10th, I made a bargain with two guides for the Eiger.

I walked up to the hotel, stopped to play cards for an hour on the way, then threw myself on a sofa to sleep

Pretty casual for a guy about to tackle a murderous mountain, although he had been smart in his selection of guides. They were the highly-experienced Christian Almer and Peter Bohren, known locally in Grindelwald as Peterli, the Wolf of the Glaciers.

The Irishman went on to describe his climb.

We started at 3.30 a.m. on August 11 for the Eiger. We took a flag from the hotel.

When we came to a point where one descends into a small hollow I looked well with my glass over the face of the Eiger next us, and made up my mind to try the rocks in front instead of going up the other side, which had been tried twice before unsuccessfully.

Almer and Bohren said it was no use and declined to come the way I wished. 'All right', I said; 'you may stay; I will try.'

So off I went for about 300 or 400 yards over some smooth rocks to the part which was almost perpendicular.

I then shouted and waved the flag for them to come on, and after five minutes they followed and came up to me.

They said it was impossible; I said, 'I will try'

So, with the rope coiled over my shoulders, I scrambled up, sticking like a cat to the rocks, which cut my fingers, and at last got up say 50 to 60 feet. I then lowered the rope and the guides followed with its assistance.

So, up they went, until they did it – they made it to the peak of the Eiger.

I was met at the bottom by about 30 visitors, and we went up to the hotel. They doubted we had been on the top until the telescope disclosed the flag there. The hotel proprietor had a large gun fired off, and I seemed for the evening to be a 'lion'

A lion indeed.
After succeeding where nobody else had done before, Barrington then packed up, went home, and he never climbed again.

He went on to live quietly in Fassaroe, making the local headlines only once more in 1970 when he trained a race horse and won the Irish Grand National, and later donated a gold watch for a race up and down the Sugarloaf Mountain in 1870, a competition revived in 2006 by his great-great-grandson.

Barrington finally died on April 20, 1901 and was buried known only as a merchant, although to this day, he is still spoken of with the greatest of respect in Grindelwald.

In fact, on the 150th anniversary of Charles’ victory over the Ogre, a joint celebration was planned between the swiss village and Charles’ family. The special event was marked by the erection of two memorials and a recreation of the original ascent featuring two climbers from the Mountaineering Council of Ireland.

Michael Crawley and his climbing partner Niamh Burke, tackled the climb together, saying at the time that, "It is through people like Charles that my generation has these opportunities to explore and achieve what may seem impossible."

Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed demonstrates a woman’s work

One final mountaineer from our period that merits attention was a woman by the name of Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed. Also known as Mrs Aubrey Le Blond or Lizzie Le Blond, she was an Irish pioneer of mountaineering at a time when it was almost unheard of for a woman to climb mountains.

She was also an author and a photographer of mountain scenery, and a film maker and much more besides.

Born in an upper-class background, as the daughter of Captain Sir St Vincent Hawkins-Whitshed, 3rd Baronet, she was related to the Dukes of Portland. She grew up in the south-east of Ireland, but when her father died, leaving no other children, the Lord Chancellor took her on as his ward.

She moved to London, married, had a child, and then started researching ways to improve a lung complaint that she had.

Apparently ‘fresh air’ was the answer.

So she abandoned London societal life, moved to Switzerland, and there she learned to climb mountains, getting two-thirds of the way up Mont Blanc on her first ever climb. Not bad for a beginner.

Sadly, she became best known by the public for photos taken of her climbing dressed in a skirt, causing her grand-aunt to write about her in the paper saying “‘Stop her climbing mountains; she is scandalising all London and looks like a Red Indian”
However, this couldn’t stop Lizzie performing remarkable feats including:
o conquering Mont Blanc TWICE
o conquering over 100 ascents, of which TWENTY no-one had ever climbed
o exploring the Norwegian arctic and mapping uncharted territory there
o writing 69 books, seven of which were on mountain climbing

She was also one of the world’s first female film-makers - producing ten documentaries of her alpine adventures covering topics like tobogganing and ice hockey.

And when climbing became too physically exhausting, she formed the Ladies' Alpine Club (an alternative to the male-only Alpine Club), where she became its first president and oversaw the gradual begrudging acceptance and eventual merger of the two clubs.

Lizzie died on 27 July 1934, and was buried at Brompton cemetery in London.

What a woman.

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