emerald allsorts #2: Irish rock round-up 2014

Posted in Rock Climbing with tags , , , , on February 2, 2015 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

Well everyone,

Here’s the second edition of emerald allsorts, covering happenings on Irish rock in 2014. The first edition was amazingly well received — with thousands of reads and downloads — I’m surprised and happy that Irish climbing is of interest to so many.

This success has been overwhelmingly down to hosting on other sites, and sharing via social media. So if you’re an Irish climber, a climber interested in Ireland, or just plain interested, please think about sharing this along, hosting the zine on your blog (it’s easy to embed) or printing off some copies for your local wall — it’s free after all!

Thanks for all the positive feedback and support, and here’s to 2015.


ezine here

PDF here:



Irish rock round-up 2013. AKA emerald allsorts #1

Posted in Rock Climbing, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 23, 2014 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

This little e-zine was born out of a love for rock climbing in Ireland.

It’s a fledgling attempt to capture the essence of happenings on the rocks of this island in 2013, or thereabouts. Please feel free to download it, share it, print it, or host it on your website. If you like what you see, or have any feedback, then let me know either via the poll, a post, or both.

That’s about it.


PDF copy here: EA#1

The first first since

Posted in Rock Climbing, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 11, 2013 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

Busy times, the busiest of my life in fact, meaning I have about 10 minutes of procrastination time to write this blog.

Since my daughter was born in July I’ve been flat out, its been amazing and exhausting in equal measure. Parents know this well, so I won’t labour the point, nor will I fill this post with photos of her…she’ll be a digital native, so I’m not sure she’ll appreciate her father filling up the public domain with slightly embarrassing baby photos.

During downtime I work on the PhD, which trundles on slowly but surely, and having a child has been galvanising to my productivity – I write like a man possessed whenever she naps. Climbing has rightly taken a bit of a back seat, but I am a cabin-feverous soul, so the wall in the back yard has provided some much-needed movement, and kept my motivation for all things ticking over. Getting out on rock has been very rare indeed, but like the PhD I’m highly motivated to make use of the little time I have, whenever I get the chance. So it was lovely to get a little project of mine done on Sunday morning, a long extension to a problem I first climbed years ago. I had tried the extension a few times previously, but manflu and wet holds hadn’t really given me the chance to ‘have at it’. Sunday was different – I used one of Deya’s nappies to dry out the wet hold, then swarmed up it after a quick warm up. Slightly warm autumnal sunshine, a light breeze, and cold rock. Perfect. Later that evening I found some old footage (not great) of the last first ascent I made before fatherhood and bunged it together with Sunday’s footage. For me they mark interesting waypoints in a rapidly changing life:

For those that are local to or interested in bouldering in the Cooleys the Mexico block offers a nice collection of short steep ups and pumpy links, well worth a visit I think. I wrote a quick topo to lubricate your enthusiasm:


Trashing beautiful places

Posted in Environmentalism, Ramblings, Rock Climbing with tags , , , on July 16, 2013 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.

Jacques Yves Cousteau

Jacques is right. Globally, we produce something like 1 billion tonnes of solid waste each year. Of course, we take measures to contain it, but a quick wander along your local beach or equivalent green space after a public holiday will illustrate one thing: as a species we’re messy. Very messy. Despite our better intentions, we have an unfortunate habit of trashing beautiful places.

Cue the emotive picture of a baby seal wallowing in garbage:

Although no one could seriously claim that the inexorable rise of garbage on our planet is a good thing, it would also be wrong to claim the opposite because, much like man, one organism’s trash is another’s treasure.

Change is the currency of this conversation – whether it should be labelled good or bad is perhaps a matter of perspective. But we should leave the wider environmental debate to one side for a moment, and ask a strangely thought-provoking question:

What is it about trash strewn along a beach that affects you?

For me, and I guess for many others, the offence is primarily aesthetic. Funnily, the degree to which it pisses me off correlates pretty well with how wild I feel a place is. I will pick up trash on a mountain top, but not on a city street. In the latter case you could argue that’s because I know the public services will oblige, but I think there’s more to it. Plenty of evidence supports the idea that we gain tangible psychological benefits from green space. Moreover, and surprisingly, the degree to which we benefit correlates with fairly subtle things like biodiversity. Perhaps prettier, wilder places do us more good. Perhaps trash in these places represents a tangible, jarring insertion of us into a place which is very much not us. Perhaps I’ve gone too far.

Regardless, we do tend to gravitate towards these beautiful places and if we don’t make a conscious effort to manage our presence in them we can end up letting our messy selves get the better of us. One such place, Cala Barques in Mallorca, is something of a paradise for a particular kind of climbing; deep water soloing – combining all the things I like best about climbing – unencumbered movement, mental and physical challenge and, of course, lots of (preferably warm) water. At Barques all this comes, or rather came, together in an incredibly beautiful package; here you could camp on the beach or in caves and climb swathes of terracotta limestone above bath-warm, silly-blue water. But last time I visited things were already starting to go a bit west – I remember filling two bags with climbing-specific trash in a little cave just up the coast. This year it looks like the authorities have intervened.

It may not matter how things pan out for Barques now, it could just be too beautiful for its own good. A bit of a paradise lost, at least for me.

Last week I found a lovely little deep water soloing crag on a research trip to Canada. I took a day and climbed some new routes. Places like this make me happy, because the less than ideal elements collude to keep the crowds away – access is difficult, the routes are a little snappy and lichenous and there are loads of biting insects. It is what climbers call an esoteric venue. These places will, on a human time-scale, probably always be ‘as is’. In the right moment they are paradise.

All of which makes me think of Ireland, and how lucky we are here. Lucky that the weather is mostly terrible, lucky that the water is mostly cold, and lucky that the population has barely recovered to pre-famine levels. Some of our best and most frequented crags and places could probably be described as esoteric.

When the sun comes out, as it has in the past wee while, and everyone has that ‘Wow, I live in an amazing place’ vibe  it’s interesting to reflect on how that probably wouldn’t be the case if the weather was this good all the time. We’d be fighting the crowds and the trash just to get five toes in the sand.

We are the lucky and accidental custodians of paradise.

An afternoon in Niagara Glen

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2013 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

I’m currently in Canada where I’ve been attending an annual international conference on invasive species; this year it was in Niagara Falls, which is quite the place. The falls themselves are beautiful, but the town left me feeling like I was trapped in a perpetual garish carnival. So, whilst the conference was more than worthwhile, I was glad to escape the town one afternoon to do a bit of bouldering, only down the road, but a whole world away.

Thumbing the wagon down

Posted in Uncategorized on April 11, 2013 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

After rediscovering the pleasures of climbing on actual rocks, particularly untouched ones, my motivation to explore is well and truly back. Much of the legwork can now be done virtually; Google street view, Panoramio and Youtube are all brilliant tools but, as I’ve said in the past, the devil is in the details. So much rock holds superficial promise, but up close ends up giving no climbing, or terrible climbing.

So, when you find incredible unclimbed features amongst all the choss, the childish sense of excitement is difficult to suppress. Is this the biggest climbable roof in Ireland?


Given my current lack of fitness, and the greasy conditions I tried it in, it’s probably very doable with a little effort. The prospect of linking this is all the motivation I’ll ever need to get back on the wagon, and there’s only one crimp, so the gammy finger is no excuse.

I’ll be climbing 20 move power endurance roof problems on my home wall for the foreseeable.

Back to rock

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 7, 2013 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

Its been a long time coming, what with piles of PhD work, instructing, routesetting, finger injuries and blizzards, but I finally managed to get out on real rock last week. Had a wee dander to the Ring of Gullion to check out the potential for new routes – didn’t really find anything worthwhile, but I had a great day pottering about in the sunshine, and climbed some new problems in the process. Mostly, it was just nice to move over the rock and to remember what lichen smells like. Though I didn’t miss gorse, and all those little dry thorns that seem to accumulate in your socks. This crag may be of passing interest to locals, but probably not worth the visit otherwise…gotta love the Irish esoterica.

Do you have a fleg?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 13, 2012 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

All the current melodrama in Belfast, over what has become affectionately know as “de fleg”, reminded me of this bit of comedy insight from Eddie Izzard:

Flag Season

Posted in Politics, Ramblings with tags , , , , on June 18, 2012 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

I’m an Englishman, with Irish roots, and I’ve been living in Belfast for about 5 years. I remember arriving in Belfast for the first time, coincidentally right into the aftermath of the yearly 12th “celebrations” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelfth). Rubbish everywhere, smouldering bonfires and no one in sight, save the odd sleeping drunk. It all seemed pretty epic. I didn’t really know anything about it at the time, and I probably still don’t, but these days I call it flag season. At this time of year a lot of folk take off to the south, leaving others to get all angry and marchy.  Maybe that’s unfair, but it’s certainly how it initally felt to a mongrel outsider like myself. But, once you start getting to know a place like this, it’s not quite so piss-and-vinegar as the hundreds of flags and rioters might lead you to believe.

I live on a sleepy little protestant estate, everyone is very related, very friendly and generally it’s lovely. At this time of year little old ladies begin to struggle up ladders with their flags. Good old William. As much as I dislike the flag waving, there’s a sort of bigoted honesty to this whole process that’s more endearing than the  misguided re-branding of Belfast with this often mauve logo (specifically not one colour or the other, you see)  that you see all over town:

I think a lot of good things are happening in Belfast at the moment, but this isn’t one of them. It’s not Coca-Cola, it’s a vibrant, still fractured, often angry place. You might reasonably reinterpret the above like this (though I doubt it has much mileage with the policy makers):

Living here is still great, though, even through flag season, and this year I’ve decided to join in with the locals by putting something in the flag pole holder on the side of our house:


The promised land

Posted in Rock Climbing with tags , on June 8, 2012 by Dr Dan Barrios-O'Neill

Anyone who’s ever spent any time wandering around looking for new boulders and crags will have experienced something I like to call “diminishing boulder syndrome”, DBS for short. The sequence goes something like this:


1.Spot an amazing boulder in the distance, it’s majassive, at least 20 m high.

2.Trek towards it for an hour, bog, brambles, midgies. Ignore the fact that it now looks about 3 m high. It MUST be amazing.



Yes, it’s shit. Again.

99% of all exploration ends this way. Even if it is big enough to climb on so much of what defines good climbing resides in the details: too many holds, too few, quality of rock and, above all, quality of movement. Movement is king.
So, if you do find something brilliant amongst all the rubbish it’s like a gift of chance, a very special thing indeed. It’s that alone that keeps anyone psyched enough hammering away at step 2.