30 October 2008 Edition
Mourne Mountain challenge
By Declan Murphy
On what must have been the most inclement day of the year The Kingdom of Mourne Mountain Challenge began at 7.30am on Saturday 4 October. We had teams from Cork to Derry, with much representation from Belfast and South Armagh. The South Down organisers along with Banjo Bannon were on the go from 6am, setting up a registration camp at Bloody Bridge, Newcastle and putting marshals onto Slieve Donard.
Despite the heavy wind and rain the south Armagh squads were the first to arrive in a very competitive mood. By 8.00am 172 participants were on the mountain. By 9.00am Ciaran Quinn, Belfast was the first casualty claiming the soles came of his boots. There is no doubt it was a struggle and an achievement for all of the teams to make it to the peak of Donard, the highest mountain in the Six Counties.
After coming off Donard, the participants had to face the cruellest elements on their journey down the Brandy Pad, Trassey Track, and on to the halfway mark at Deer’s Meadow. This was a 16.5 km trek and a fantastic achievement under the weather conditions. The only mishap was for the Short Strand Special Forces who, due to a navigational error took the wrong path and ended up back on the road, “Slieve Donard, a mountain, quite big, you can’t miss it?”
The organisers had set up camp at Deer’s Meadow, with a welcoming cup of soup, sandwiches and a water refill for all the walkers. Most teams had had enough and called it a day. Around 35 walkers embarked on the second half of the challenge which commenced at Rock Eagle Mountain and finished 16.km over the mountains in Rostrevor. First team in were the lads from Derry, followed by a Louth, Sligo and Meath team which included TD, Arthur Morgan. Armagh came in third, led by Ultan McNulty, and one of the Belfast teams followed with Shauneen Baker at the helm. The second woman to complete the course was Mary McLoughlin from south Armagh. All participants had use of the shower facilities generously provided by one of the local football teams and a well-earned bowl of stew in the local social club. Later in the evening the presentations to the winning teams took place. Caitríona Ruane, local MLA, spoke highly of all the competitors and thanked the South Down men and women who put so much effort into ensuring this was a successful day.
The winners of the Brian Keenan Memorial Shield, picked by Banjo Bannon, on the basis their display of courage and comradeship, qualities synonymous with Brian Keenan, went to Shauneen Baker’s team from Belfast. The Keenan family, who were at the function, were represented by Seán Keenan who presented the shield to Shauneen. Seán Hughes, who completed the course in one piece, paid tribute to our comrade Brian. Spot prizes were also given out on the night, which included one for John O’Flaherty from Newry for his massive effort on the day. While it was a tough course and made all the more difficult by the weather, it was never meant to be easy. For those willing to take up the challenge next year, get out onto the local mountains and start training.
Brian Keenan Memorial Sheild: Shauneen Baker receiving the shield from Seán Keenan