Mourne Mountains

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
The Mourne Wall, looking towards Hare's Gap
The Mournes from St John's Point, County Down

The Mourne Mountains also known as the Mournes or Mountains of Mourne, are a granite mountain range in the south of County Down. The range includes the highest mountains in Ulster, of which the highest of all is Slieve Donard at 2,789 feet.

Many visitors come to the Mourne Mountains every year. The Mournes have been designated an "area of outstanding natural beauty" and have been proposed as the first national park in Northern Ireland. The area is partly owned by the National Trust.


The name Mourne (historically spelt Morne) is derived from the name of a Gaelic clann or sept called the Múghdhorna.[1]

Some of the mountains have names beginning Slieve, from the Gaelic word sliabh, meaning mountain. Examples are Slieve Donard, Slieve Lamagan and Slieve Muck.

A number of curious names are found here too: Pigeon Rock; Buzzard's Roost; Brandy Pad; the Cock and Hen; Percy Bysshe; the Devil's Coach Road; and Pollaphuca, which means "hole of the fairies or sprites".

The mountains

The Mournes are visited by many tourists, hillwalkers, cyclists and rock climbers. Following a fundraising drive in 1993, the National Trust purchased nearly 1,300 acres of land in the Mournes, which included a part of Slieve Donard and nearby Slieve Commedagh, at 2,516.4 feet (767.0 m) the second-highest mountain in the area.

The Mourne Wall is among the more famous features in the Mournes. It is a 22-mile dry-stone wall that crosses fifteen summits, constructed to define the boundaries of the 8,895.8 acres area of land purchased by the Belfast Water Commissioners in the late 1800s. This followed a number of Acts of Parliament allowing the sale, and the establishment of a water supply from the Mournes to the growing industrial city of Belfast. Construction of the Mourne Wall was started in 1904 and was completed in 1922.

The Mournes are very popular as a destination for many expeditions carried out as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

The mountains look out over the Irish Sea. The Isle of Man and even Snowdonia in Caernarfonshire can sometimes be seen across the sea from some parts of the Mournes on clear days.

Vegetation and wildlife

Panorama of Silent Valley Reservoir in the Mournes

Aside from grasses, the most common plants found in the Mournes are heathers. Of these, three species are found: the cross-leaved heath (erica tetralix), the bell heather (erica cinerea), and the ling (calluna vulgaris). Other plants which grow in the area are: Bog Cotton, Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea), Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Marsh St John's Wort, Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum), Wood sorrel and Heath Spotted Orchids.

Sheep graze high into the mountains, and the range is also home to birds, including the common Raven, Peregrine Falcon, Wren, and Buzzard, and native Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Stonechat and Snipe. The Golden Eagle, a former inhabitant, has not been seen in the Mournes since 1836.

Possible national park status

Mourne country near Spelga Dam

It has been proposed that the Mourne Mountains be made Northern Ireland's first national park.[2][3] The plan has been subject to controversy because of the area's status as private property, with over 1,000 farmers based in the proposed park,[3] and also because of fears over the impact on local communities, bureaucracy and house prices.[4]

Popular culture

The mountains are immortalised in a song written by Percy French in 1896, "The Mountains of Mourne". The song has been recorded by many artists, including Don McLean.

The Mourne Mountains also influenced C S Lewis to write The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.[5]


The Mournes are a very popular area for hiking, the Wall providing a convenient navigation aid.

There are a large number of granite cliffs, in the form of outcrops and tors, scattered throughout the range, making the Mournes one of Northern Ireland's major rock-climbing areas since the first recorded ascents in the 1930s. The rock forms are generally quite rounded, thus often depending on cams for protection, but with good friction. The 1998 guidebook lists 26 separate crags, with a total of about 900 routes of all grades.[6][7]

Outside links


  1. Joyce, Patrick. The origin and history of Irish names of places. 1869. p.128
  2. "Minister paves the way for national park in the Mournes". Northern Ireland Planning Service. 2002-09-25. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Peterkin, Tom (2007-08-29). "Mourne Mountains national park status row". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  4. Cassidy, Martin (2007-02-23). "Community split over national park". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  5. "Mourne Mountains Page". Discover Northern Ireland. Retrieved 2011-12-06. 
  6. "Irish Climbing Online Wiki - Co. Down". Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  7. Mournes: MCI Guide, ed Robert Bankhead (Mountaineering Ireland, 1998)
  • Kirk, David (2002). The Mountains of Mourne: A Celebration of a Place Apart. Belfast: Appletree Press. ISBN 0-86281-846-X.