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Climbing Diamond Hill

Diamond Hill, overlooking Connemara National Park Visitor Centre in Letterfrack, is one of the most easily climbed mountains in Ireland, rewarding those who venture to the summit with magnificent views in every direction.

Indeed, for those daunted by the prospect of walking to the top of a mountain, Diamond Hill (Irish: Binn Ghuaire, meaning “Guaire’s peak”) could be the answer to their prayers thanks to the paving stones that go all the way to the top.

Encompassing some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland, the route to the summit took us along a signposted pathway, a boardwalk, and paving stones carved into the rock, leading all the way to the top of this conically shaped quartzite peak that owes its name to the fact that it sometimes shines like a diamond in the reflected sunlight.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a Sunday afternoon stroll up a local hill.

At 420m (1,380ft), climbing Diamond Hill will include lots of breaks along the way which I gladly took advantage of to rest and enjoy the panoramic vistas over an unspoilt mountain and coastal wilderness of breathtaking beauty.

Looking west, as you ascend, beautiful island-dotted Barnaderg Bay comes into view, overlooked by Tully Mountain to the north, and on its southern flank, pretty Ballynakill Harbour.

It’s a landscape painter’s dream scene and all set against a magnificent wild Atlantic seascape stretching from Clare Island and Inishturk in Mayo to the nearby Inishbofin and Inishshark islands off Connemara.

As we made our way upwards along the twisting and winding rock stairs, the magnificent Twelve Bens came into view while below us sparkling in the sunshine were Pollacappul Lough, Kylemore Lough (Loch na Coille Móire), Kylemore Abbey – and further north the distant Maumturk Mountains veiled in the shimmering heat of a perfect summer Sunday.

Flow of walkers

Looking West: The beautiful Barnaderg Bay and pretty Ballynakill Harbour from Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Co Galway. Photo Anthony Hickey
Looking West: The beautiful Barnaderg Bay and pretty Ballynakill Harbour from Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Co Galway. Photo Anthony Hickey

It was one of those ideal days for walking – clear blue skies dotted with a few passing clouds and a pleasant temperature making it a perfect day for mountain walking with no need for raingear or layers of clothing.

The constant flow of walkers of all ages winding their way slowly up and down the mountain helped shorten the journey and added to the enjoyment of the 3-hour trek as we exchanged greetings and banter with a United Nations of fellow climbers.

Picnics and family snapshots were the order of the day, at the halfway point, marked by a monolithic stone standing like a lighthouse on the boggy slopes. This is also the spot where the serious climbing begins and the lungs are tested along the rocky trail cut into the mountainside.

Near the summit, the winding path becomes much steeper, but the challenge is eased somewhat by the steps cut into the quartzite ridge and, most of all, by the reward of seeing the unfolding vista of the Twelve Bens from nature’s mountaintop balcony.

Kylemore Lough (Loch na Coille Móire) and the Maumturk Mountains from Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Co Galway. Photo Anthony Hickey
Kylemore Lough (Loch na Coille Móire) and the Maumturk Mountains from Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Co Galway. Photo Anthony Hickey

The Twelve Bens stretched into the distance amid undulating valleys, marked by streams and dotted with patches of green. All around us were mountain slopes with the vegetation sun-burnt to muted shades of yellows and browns, and layers of vibrant purple heather stealing the show amid the grey peaks and ridges of the exposed rock.

Relived and fulfilled having reached the top, we stopped for photographs on the summit cairn and obliged some equally delighted walkers from France by taking a group snapshot on one of their phones.

The descent along the eastern flank of Diamond Hill is steep, to begin with, but the paving again makes it much safer than it would otherwise be the case.

The return loop along a valley was much easier than the ascent and by the time we reached the huge rock we had passed earlier, it was an easy stroll back to the Visitor Centre where a pot of tea and a scone were most welcome.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.