Shane Horan on the Art O’Neill Challenge 2011

In January 2011, one of the Full-Time MBA students participated in the 55km long Art O’Neill Challenge in aid of Barretstown. Here’s his story of a trek that, although it was never going to be easy, proved to indeed quite a challenge…

At midnight on 7th January 2011, approximately 500 ‘adventurers’ set off from Dublin Castle on an arduous 55km trek to the Valley of Glenmalure in the Wicklow Mountains. This trek is called the Art O’Neill Challenge and follows the route taken by Art & Henry O’Neill and Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill on their escape from Dublin Castle on 6th January 1592.

The Art O'Neill Challenge RouteAs we waited for the off under a soft Dublin sky, I took the time to relax with my fellow adventurers, don my compulsory Santa hat (a requirement for the sponsorship of a certain clasmate!) and to have a look around the square and try to comprehend why we were all gathered here. But the answer was beyond me. I then went to complete compulsory safety and equipment check, which required me to bring one or two items more than the escapees had with them 400 years ago. However, just as it was back then, the Castle gates were kindly left open for us.

Leaving the Upper Courtyard at the stroke of midnight, we set-off down Patrick’s Street in the direction of Harold’s Cross. Upon reaching Harold’s Cross, one of my fellow adventurers started to regale me with stories, one being the story of the ‘Old Bull and the Young Bull’, and then proceeded to leave me behind! Keeping up was not a concern of mine, finishing was! Walking at a brisk rate, in my trainers, I managed to cover the 15km from the Castle to the Stone Cross in 2 hours.

Turning off the paved road at the Stone Cross, we proceeded to trek the final 10km to Kippure House along a snow covered track. The trainers, which were so beneficial on the paved road, were quickly becoming the greatest obstacle to my progression. I had become ‘the human manifestation of an Irish car before Christmas.’ However, with great encouragement and assistance from my fellow adventurers, I succeeded in catching the adventurer who left me behind and in reaching Kippure House by 4am. Oh how rewarding it was to remind him of his stories!

It is often said that the worst thing about stopping is starting again, and in this case the analogy is most certainly true. After the brief stop in Kippure House, where I changed my footwear and filled up on the nicest soup hands ever made, I set off into the snowy Wicklow night with every muscle in my legs aching. However, if I was hoping that the worst was behind me, those hopes were soon dashed as what lay in front of me was 30km of possibly the most challenging terrain I have ever experienced in Ireland.

Starting with 3km hike, by the light of head torch, through bog and marsh on Ballinabrocky, I should have been alerted to the fact that this was going to be tough, however, the 5km tease that was the road section made me think otherwise. But then came the realisation!

Moving off road onto a frozen scree path, which was the 2km route up Black Hill, every step forward felt like a defeat as, more often than none, my footing was lost on the ice covered rocks. Finally, after an hour of trying, the Hill was conquered and I received my reward. An 8km trek through marsh, bog, river systems, farmland and a Coillte nursery, in the middle of a ‘white-out’ and with a frozen water supply. Happy days! But hey, this was never intended to be a walk in the park.

Equipped with a working compass, I tackled this section in the only way I could – with blind faith. And after three hours of trekking, my faith was rewarded, as I came upon the final checkpoint where I received my “Art’s Breakfast” (watery porridge containing raisins and nuts) and complementary hugs. Oh, how my heart was encouraged! After this respite, it was time to set off on the final leg of the Challenge – the 12km hike to the finish containing the main ascent; the steep 5km 250m climb up Glenreemore Brook to Art’s Cross.

As with all other cross-country sections of the Challenge this too was though the bog. Now I know you think a man from the midlands should be used to bogs, but after 9 hours of walking through them, there is only so much one person can take. Regardless, after coming this far I had no intention of quitting, and I somehow forced my legs to push me up the mountain when all they wanted to do was stop.

After the climb to the Cross, those complaining legs remarkably found new life and the final 8km to the finish were a joy. It didn’t matter that my body ached, my feet were blistered and my stomach had long since given up on food, I was about to finish my Challenge, and that was all that was important.

Shane Horan UCD Smurfit MBA student Art O'Neill Challenge 2010

Looking back now, the feeling of elation brought on by finishing the Challenge, completely outweighed any physical distress its undertaking caused. And considering that, I’ll probably be back next year, pink Santa hat and all!!!

– Shane Horan, FT MBA 2010/2011