On October 7, 2010 during the Adventure Travel World Summit in Aviemore, Scotland, the International Appalachian Trail welcomed nine new European chapters to the IAT, including Ireland. Other new chapters were Wales, England, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland.
The official welcome came 16 months after the first IAT delegation visited Ireland and Northern Ireland in June 2009, and gave presentations on the IAT in Dublin and Belfast at meetings hosted by the Irish and British Geological Surveys.
The island of Ireland has since adopted a North-South cooperative approach to the IAT, with the goal of extending the trail route across both regions and ending at Belfast near the ferry to IAT Scotland.
Where better to identify Appalachian Landfall on the island of Ireland than at the majestic cliffs of Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) in the southwest of County Donegal? Rising to a height of almost 600m, the most imposing in this part of Europe, they watch over an area rich in associations which closely link Ireland with Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The surrounding Slieve League Peninsula has an impressive range of megalithic tombs, some as old as 4,000BC, as well as Christian and more recent ruins. Its blend of spectacular scenery, varied wildlife (both marine and terrestrial), archaeology and history all combine to assure the visitor of a stimulating experience.1
The bedrock here forms part of the Dalradian Supergroup, whose outcrops stretch from the west of Ireland through Northern Ireland to the Highlands of Scotland. That name, Dalradian, is no ordinary name but was adopted for these rocks by the celebrated geologist, Sir Archibald Geikie (1835-1924), from the name of the Gaelic Kingdom of Dal Riada:2
"In selecting a suitable geographical word, regard should be had to the extension of the rocks through both Scotland and Ireland. It is well known that from the old kingdom of Dalriada, in the north of Ireland, a colony settled in Argyllshire, and gradually acquiring dominion over the whole of Scotland, gave that kingdom its present name. I would therefore propose that the term "Dalradian" might be adopted as an appropriate and useful appellation for the crystalline schists of the north of Ireland and the centre and south-west of Scotland".
The Slieve League area is situated in the Donegal Gaeltacht, an area where Irish is used as a community language by a substantial number of local people. This is a powerful linguistic bond that connects Donegal with significant areas of Scotland (and indeed other Celtic regions including Wales). The historical context is also rich and diverse: for example St. Columba, or Colmcille, who was responsible for spreading Christianity to Scotland, lived at one time in nearby Glencolmcille on the Slieve League Peninsula.
The Dalradian rocks are truly spectacular in their diversity and in recording much about the earlier evolution of our planet. They developed long before the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, when North America and northwest Europe were contiguous with each other, and so they can be traced into the bedrock of Newfoundland where they are represented by the Fleur de Lys Supergroup. These rocks formed on the same margin of an ancient, long-vanished continent called Rodinia which was situated in the Southern Hemisphere. We had some different neighbours at that time, including Morocco, which we look forward to partnering with on the International Appalachian Trail.
The Dalradrian rocks were deposited as a thick sequence of sandstones, limestones and volcanic rocks that have been deformed and metamorphosed in the long subsequent history of plate tectonics. In the area of Slieve League the dominant rock type is the Slieve Tooey Quartzite, of which both Slieve League and the neighbouring Slieve Tooey are constructed. It is a fairly pure quartzite formed in the shallow waters of the continental margin of Rodinia. Below the quartzite lies the Glencolumbkille Limestone, a unit of carbonate sediments deposited in the warm seas of Rodinia, now metamorphosed to marble.
IAT Trail Route
The relevant organisations in Ireland and Northern Ireland which comprise IAT Ireland are currently evaluating the options for the initial segments of the International Appalachian Trail on the island of Ireland. We expect it will use existing trails in south Donegal, going eastwards from Slieve League via, Slí Dhún na nGall and the Bluestacks Way. It will cross into Northern Ireland probably near Lough Erne, and then likely follow the well-established Ulster Way.
Below is an overview map of the current IAT Ireland route through the northwest corner of the Republic of Ireland
and the Flagler Films IAT Ireland video produced in 2012.
When the trail route is finally established, IAT Ireland may be featured on websites such as www.irishtrails.ie and www.walkni.com, and be linked from the websites of supporting organisations.
We have many challenges to face, but with the enthusiastic commitment of our supporting bodies we are more than equal to the occasion. We will also learn from our sister organisations across Europe and North Africa on how best to achieve our ambition.
1. Mitchell, F. and Ryan, M. 2007. Reading the Irish Landscape. Town House, Dublin. 392 pages.
2. Geikie, A. 1891. The Anniversary Address of the President. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, volume 47, pages 48-162.
3. Sleeman, A., Mc Connell, B. and Gatley, S. 2004. Understanding Earth processes, rocks and the geological history of Ireland. Geological Survey of Ireland, 120 pages.