We approached Ireland’s answer to Table Mountain via the Gleniff Valley along the western branch of the Horseshoe Road past Oughtagorey and the deserted shell of Gleniff School. It was a sunny mid-May morning in 2008 and we paused to admire the view of the NE face of the Belbulbin massif with its waterfalls leaping some 900 feet down over sheer cliffs. Of great interest are several prominent crevices, eroded faults in the rock that lead upwards to the plateau, and numerous dark holes that mark secret entrances, for this mountain harbours a warren of tunnels excavated in the quest for minerals. Barite was mined intermittently between the 1830s and 1979 leaving a wealth of industrial features that seem slightly incongruous in such a tranquil setting; the plateau is riddled with old mine workings so great care should be exercised when walking here, especially in poor visibility.
With the farmer’s kind permission (as access is restricted), we were able to walk up the old mine road that winds to the SE round the mountain. At Glencarbury where the road ends, there are some interesting features down slope dating from the 1940s including workshops, loading bays, a magazine, a sanitary block, a miners’ hostel and the rusting pylons of an aerial ropeway built to convey ore down the Glencar Valley. The shell of a concrete crusher building surrounded by waste rock can also be seen here dating from the 1970s when Ireland was Europe’s main producer of barite, as well as a grassed over settling pond just to the east and the Middle Portal (C (G7312 4530)
), half blocked up with a metal pipe sticking out. With special kit we entered this to explore the accessible sections of the mine (over 1km in extent) with the permission of the DCENR.
We then headed uphill towards the summit of Slievemore, passing two excavated shafts and a deep crevice where mining upwards from an underground level has intersected the surface to form an unfenced chasm. From the summit incredible vistas emerge: the broad sweep of the horseshoe from Truskmore to Benwiskin, north to Donegal Bay and down the Gleniff Valley, with the winding road we had walked up lending a positively Alpine ambience. We then traversed the escarpment rim to abseil part way down a gully to the west of the summit (D (G7267 4641)
). In the late 1800s a series of timber ladder-roads over 140ft high were erected here to transport the ore via cable and buckets to Gleniff from where it was carted to Ballintrillick for processing, quite a feat of engineering! We spotted a rusting sheave wheel from this era on a crag at the top of this gully.
We then headed back down towards Glencarbury inspecting Barton’s Boot (E (G7289 4582)
), a 5m x 5m-wide unfenced open hole, presenting a significant hazard to the unwary, before retracing our route back down the mine road to our car, arriving some 8 hours later, dirty and hungry after a fascinating day. Linkback: mountainviews.ie/summit/282/comment/4597/