There was no sign of the swampy murk that usually hangs on the summit of Mt Brandon like a hat on a peg, an occasion of such wonderful rarity that it left even Tony O’Callaghan momentarily awestruck by the spectacle.
For two hours we’d been steadily making our way up Brandon’s glacier-carved northern side, above us nothing but a shimmering blue sky decorated by the odd puff of wispy cloud scudding past on the wind. As we crested the ridge just below the summit, and Ireland’s western coast suddenly unfolded at our feet, all Tony said was, “Magnificent”.
Loop Head in Clare scratched the surface of the northern horizon; white horses danced on the peaks of the wind-whipped sea. The colour palette of the water shifted with the depth from a vibrating, electric blue to a translucent green, frothy at the edge where it ran up on the white sands of the Dingle Peninsula’s scalloped northern shoreline. A grizzled veteran guide with the contours of his native Kerry imprinted in his legs, Tony has been here countless times before. “Usually,” he said, “I’m just looking at a thick curtain of mist, trying to imagine the world beyond.”
Lifted by the views, we floated over the final section to the top, where a shared sense of euphoria appeared to have taken hold. Two women broke into giddy sprint to the finish, giggling as they darted up the final hundred metres. Walking groups cheesed it up for the camera, the strong breeze making a mockery of their pre-photo primping and preening.
Soon enough, the exuberance of arrival faded into a respectful reverence. Like the others, Tony and I found shelter from the wind, unpacked our lunches, and quietly looked out at the Blasket Islands, or back along Brandon Ridge to the Conor Pass and beyond to the Iveragh Peninsula and the lumpy peaks of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, the only place in Ireland higher than where we now sat on Brandon. It left me feeling that walking – the slowest form of travel – could carry me further than any other.