ADVENTURES AROUND THE WORLD© Christopher Earls Brennen
Hike F6. Slieve Donard
- Hiking time: 4-5 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 5.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 2796ft
- Topo Map: Ordnance Survey Map of Northern Ireland, Sheet 4
- Difficulties: Cold, wind
- Special equipment: None
Slieve Donard in the Mourne mountains of County Down is the highest mountain in Northern Ireland. It is named after Saint Donard (Domhanghart in Irish), a disciple of Saint Patrick. There are several small structures at the summit. Most prominent are the stone walls, known as the Mourne Wall, built in the early 1900s to enclose the catchment area for the Silent Valley Reservoir south of the mountain and prevent livestock from polluting the water. The wall goes up the western slope to a stone tower on the summit and then down the southern slope. Close by the summit are two burial cairns, one of which, the Great Cairn, was the site of a Neolithic pasage tomb dated to 3300-3000 BC. The other, the Lesser Cairn, appears to have been an early Bronze Age cairn dated to 2300-1950 BC. Both cairns have been badly damaged and augmented by modern hikers, despite the fact that Irish folklore suggests that such disrespect would bring a curse on the perpetrator.
Slieve Donard from Newcastle
To reach both trailheads drive to the seaside town of Newcastle, County Down, Northern Ireland, about 35 miles south of Belfast.
For the standard route: In Newcastle head towards the Town Centre. At this point the Glen River enters the Irish Sea. Leave the Boulevard at this point and enter the large, well-marked parking lot. This is the trailhead for the Glen River Route to the summit of Slieve Donard. The route from there is well-signposted.
For the alternative Bloody Bridge route: Drive south from Newcastle along the coast road toward Kilkeel for about 3 miles to the bridge over the Bloody River. The trailhead is on the left side of the road at the bridge itself. The round trip hike from here is about 6.2 miles.
The most common route to the summit of Slieve Donard starts in Newcastle at a well-marked parking area where the Glen River flows into the Irish Sea (54o12.65'N 5o53.67'W). The trail follows the Glen River path through a very lovely pine forest known as Donard Woods and climbs alongside the picturesque mountain stream. There are a few bridges along the way as you cross and re-cross the cascading river. However at an elevation of about 1000 ft, the forest abruptly ends and the terrain becomes the heath and bog typical of the Irish highland landscape. In the absence of the trees, you are often exposed to strong winds and rain. The trail continues along the Glen River up to the saddle between Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard. Here you first encounter the afore-mentioned Mourne Wall (54o11.00'N 5o56.06'W). Climb over the wall and proceed east up to the summit of Slieve Donard. The trail is a little steep in places as you follow the south side of the wall; you encounter several false peaks before you arrive at the summit, marked by the stone tower at the summit corner of the Mourne Wall.
The views from the summit (54o10.82'N 5o55.25'W) are great. On clear days you can see as far as Belfast (30 miles to the North) as well as Dublin (55 miles to the south). Towards the east you have tremendous views over the Irish Sea, only a couple of miles away from the summit. The two previously-mentioned prehistoric cairns are nearby.
Alternative Bloody Bridge Route
The alternative route starts in the east at the Bloody Bridge parking area (54o10.70'N 5o55.46'W). The Bloody Bridge River and Bridge take their names from a 1641 sectarian massacre when a group of Protestant captives were killed at the bridge by their Catholic captors and their bodies dumped into the river turning it blood red.
This route follows the Bloody Bridge River for most of the route. As you climb west you will come to the saddle between Slieve Donard and Rocky Mountain, a location known as Bog of Donard. From this point, the route follows the Mourne Wall northwards toward the summit.
On the summit of Slieve Donard
Last updated 3/21/16.
Christopher E. Brennen