Carrauntoohil – Cross Examination

(Thoughts of Paul Devaney following the Cross controversy)

What’s all the fuss about?
Someone cut down the 16-foot high steel cross from the top of Irelands highest peak (Carrauntoohil).

How did they do that?
Probably took a saw or grinder with them to the top – took a bit of effort.

Was it intentional?
It was certainly not opportunistic – the equipment required is heavy and dragging it up there required both intention and determination.

Why did they do it?
Nobody knows. The intent suggests it may be an anti-religious action, and general context suggests it may be motivated by Catholic Church abuse fallout. It could however be idle hands up to no good.

Was it Muslims?
Don’t be so damn stupid.

Was it those Dawkins-type Atheism believers?
Atheism is an absence of supernatural belief so you can’t be an atheism ‘believer’. It’s more likely to have been an anti-theist, someone with an axe to grind against religion or maybe just assholes with nothing better to do. We seem to breed more of those nowadays in our new mob-rule republic.

Everyone must be pretty horrified in Ireland?
Many are outraged at the nature of the vandalism. Many have good memories of reaching the summit and having their photos taken next to the cross, so it became iconic for them. A coalition of voices are calling for it to be re-erected, but many others are now calling for a different symbol to replace the cross. Others believe we should not be erecting man-made structures on mountains (crosses, cairns, OS columns, churches, signs, telecoms masts).

Whats going to happen now?
The MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountain Access Forum announced that the cross will be back up before Christmas 2014.

Who are they?
They are a non-governmental body, which includes local landowners, business owners and authorities as well as the Department of Environment and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Why do they decide?
Unlike UK, Scandinavia and other neighbouring outdoor nations, Ireland does not have ‘Freedom to Roam’ laws in place or associated central governance, although we do have representative bodies such as Mountaineering Ireland who do represent the interest and voices of trekkers/ramblers. Essentially our mountains are on private land and so bodies such as this one will form locally to manage such areas, maintain access points, counteract vandalism etc. These bodies are generally well meaning with a love for the outdoors.

Why don’t we have Freedom to Roam laws?
Because our history has made us insanely territorial people. The offshoot from a mountaineering perspective is that the signage, paths, access points and other things you take for granted while trekking elsewhere in Western Europe are non-existent in most parts of Ireland.

Should the cross be put back up?
It’s tricky. On the one hand if you replace it with something else then you pander to the idiots who done this. On the other hand, irrespective of the circumstance you now have an opportunity to erect something that reflects the views of todays community and should that transcend the circumstance that led to the discussion? I think it should be an open decision. I would personally prefer to see a small cairn or column on top.

Do many other peaks have crosses/markers?
Yes. Many of the world’s peaks have a marker at the summit. Kilimanjaro has a sign, Aconcagua has a cross, Denali has a marker, Elbrus has a small cairn, the highest peaks in Scotland/England/Wales all have OS column markers, Snowdon also has a restaurant and railway on the top as does Mt. Washington in USA, the Alps is a veritable smorgasbord of crosses and markers, Croagh Patrick has an entire church on the summit (along with a new shiny sign), Cairn Hill in Longford has a massive Telecoms mast, ditto for Sligo. I’ve climbed many big and small peaks worldwide over the past decade and its rare not to find some sort of marker on top.

Does it piss you off?
Not really. The new sign on Kilimanjaro made it look like a holiday resort so I’m glad that’s gone, but I’m equally glad I have a pic beside the original sign. I like iconography. Crosses don’t bother me once they don’t take away from the summit environment. I like having a marker at the summit, others do not. We need to decide democratically how to manage this sort of thing for the future.

Should crosses be removed from other peaks?
No. You don’t progress as a nation by deciding to delete your past from the horizon. After Independence we set about purging ourselves of many of the statues of Kings and Queens from our cities but we didn’t dismantle and return Trinity or GPO or the Bank of Ireland or the English market in Cork, even though they were also relics from British rule. Your environment is a byproduct of what you inherit and what you are, for good and bad. If we cannot demonstrate tolerance then we are not moving forward as a people.

Should we leave anything on mountains?
Ideally no. We should leave each mountain as we find it (no thrash, no mementos, no arrows sprayed on rocks). I think markers on peaks can have their place, but if it is agreed that we erect something then it must fit into the environment and be reflective of the period within which it has been erected. If you take the position that no man-made object should ever be allowed on mountains, then you become hostage to the premise that no people should be atop high mountains either because we don’t naturally belong there. The extension of such a belief is that you shouldn’t ever leave the house! So we need to be rational in our response.

Should we have Freedom to Roam laws?
Absolutely. The careful development of and access to the hills and mountains of Ireland should be open to everyone and enshrined in legislation. Decisions on what sits atop peaks should be made democratically for the common good rather than privately by well-meaning folks.

Is this linked to the Water Charges?
No – in the sense that there is no material link. Yes – in the sense that the behavior of people in recent weeks in chucking missiles at women politicians, trapping ministers in their cars, jeering & cursing at elected officials, jumping on the Taoiseachs car, Gardai flinging people from the streets etc. etc. indicates that we are embracing mob rule and violent protest to forward our goals. If you keep going down that route then don’t be surprised when some folks carry a saw up a mountain and start taking the law into their own hands.

(Photograph by John Quinn)

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