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The Coomloughra Horseshoe – the best mountain ridge walk in Ireland?

a view of the side of a mountain


Heading towards Beenkeragh
On a hot summers day in June, a few days before the summer solstice, I hiked a popular route in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a compact but stunning range of mountains in the southwest of Ireland.  This circular route is known as the Coomloughra Horseshoe.
The hike is around 12 km ( 8 miles), with 1300 metres (4265 ft.), of total ascent in the day, and goes over the summits of the three highest mountains in Ireland; Carrauntoohil, Beenkeragh and Caher.
At 1040 metres Carrauntoohil is not a huge mountain, but its high crags rise from near sea level, and give it an imposing air more typical of mountains on the west coast of Scotland.
The impressive Carrauntoohil
The circuit takes in the Beenkeragh Ridge, a short but narrow and exposed traverse that connects the two highest peaks. Though not technically difficult, this ridge can prove a challenge for those not used to the exposure.
I had planned to do the traverse in a clockwise direction, and started at the car park below the ‘hydro road’, from here there is a steady climb to reach Lough Eighter.
Looking up to my left, I started the pull up to the first top, the minor one of Cnoc Iochtair at 747m. From here it was onto Skregmore, the faint path a mix of soft, springy grass and scattered blocky boulder fields.  This presaged the steep, rocky, and
The Beenkeragh Ridge
sometimes scrambling ascent of Beenkeragh, Ireland’s second highest mountain at 1010m.
A short but steep descent over similar bouldery ground and I am at the start of the Beenkeragh Ridge. The ridge is several hundred metres long, an undulating narrow traverse punctuated by blocky rock obstacles, and with considerable exposure on either side.
In wet and windy weather this is a route to treat with care and respect, but today was dry and very warm, with little wind, and the traverse was a real delight.
Beenkeragh Ridge can be a bit exposed
At the end of the ridge I joined a well worn path that comes up from the Hags Glen to the north, a route known as O’Shea’s, as it climbs through a gully of the same name. From here I followed the rocky and scree strewn trail up to the top of Ireland, Carrauntoohil, an imposing mountain with steep crags on its’ northern and eastern faces.
The summit is marked by a large cross, maybe 4 metres high, that in good weather can be seen from the valleys below.
There were perhaps a half a dozen people at the summit, the first folk I had seen all morning. All the more remarkable as it was such a benign and beautiful day.
Carrauntoohil summit cross
From the summit the route descends and flattens out to a pleasant path that follows the edge of the crags that mark the head of the valley. It soon begins to rise again on the approach to Caher, the third of the three peaks over 1000m. The relatively gentle eastern slopes are in stark contrast to the almost sheer drop of 400m on the northern side, this valley having been carved out of the mountain by ice, some 10,000 years ago.

From here the views are stunning, both toward the mountains, to Carrauntoohil and the eastern Reeks, but also to the northwest where the horizon is drawn by the hazy line of the mountains of the Dingle peninsular.
Between me and the mountains of Dingle the blue sea shimmers and glistens in the bright sunlight, with the golden yellow sand-bars exposed by the retreating tide.

The final act of this grand performance is the minor top of Caher West, which marks the end of the horseshoe.
All that remains is the relatively easy descent down a broad grassy ridge back to Lough Eighter, and the return journey on the hydro road track.
Beenkeragh and Carrauntoohil from Caher
Looking towards the Dingle peninsular
The Coomloughra Horseshoe
So, is this the best ridge walk in Ireland?
I will leave you come and decide for yourselves, but it’s certainly up there with the best of them, and if you are ever down in that part of Ireland I would recommend you give it a go.