A Date With the Devil
The Devil’s Horseshoe is an 18 km circular walk in the Paltry Mountains, heart of Joyce Country, which takes in 5 summits all over 500m. This is a tough and challenging climb due to the uncompromising terrain and often fickle weather conditions.
We began our walk at the Glennacally Bridge and followed the rain swollen Glennacally River across saturated bog to the confluence of it and the Glenfree River, also in spate and carefully crossed, after which we headed straight uphill on the very steep NW spur of Maumtrasna. The summit sits atop a broad stony plateau that offered uninterrupted views of snow dusted Croagh Patrick, the Sheffrys, Mweelrea and Ben Bury. A long walk across partially frozen bog brought us to Glennagleragh Mountain, a pretty nondescript mound. Here we witnessed a cloud inversion which filled the Fooey Valley, an ethereal sight that left just the tops of Ben Beg and Bunnacunneen visible.
The cloud soon began to boil up from below, periodically snatching our view, but Knocklaur was clear when we arrived at the summit. The very steep descent from the summit in wet and slippery conditions, especially as the cloud began to stealthily envelop the landscape, required concentration as the track passes close to some precipitous drops into the Glennacally Valley. The route up to the Devil’s Mother was an unrelenting steep climb in wind driven mist blowing viciously up through the col. Predictably, there was no view from the summit, but never mind, I had kept my date with the Devil!
From Devil’s Mother we headed for the ridge that connects it to the North Top, which traverses very boggy, undulating ground. Through the shifting mist we gained fleeting views of Glennacally Valley and Killary Harbour, resplendent in shades of battleship grey and rust red in the fading sunlight. After gaining the North Top, we began the steep descent to the valley floor, initially following a grassy ramp then picking the least stony and steep route down to intersect an old peat track that led to the main road. Conditions were particularly bad, the saturated ground oozing slime making it impossible to avoid slipping. We completed the last part of the route in head torches, arriving back at our car in darkness.
We did this circuit in just under 9 hours, our speed slowed considerably by the sodden and icy nature of the ground and very slippery conditions on all descents. If you plan to undertake this route, it is best done in summer when the slopes are drier and the days longer, and we would advise winter climbers to give serious consideration to wearing helmets on the descent from the North Top, as slipping is pretty inevitable and a bad fall will almost certainly result in serious injury.
But don’t let that put you off what is one of Ireland’s most rewarding horseshoe routes. The views from the summits are some of the best in the island and well worth the effort of a steep climb up almost from sea level.