reprinted with permission from Outsider Magazine, July 2016
Patricia Deane swapped her office job for a life in the great outdoors working as Rural Recreation Officer in South Kerry and has never looked back. Catherine Murphy catches up with her to find out more about the role and what’s happening in the Kingdom, from the ‘Friends of the Reeks’ initiative to ‘The Uphill Downhill Trail’ which was named and worked on by local school children.
Where are you based?
“I work in Killorglin which is centrally positioned in the county. I live in the Slieve Mish Mountains, overlooking the Macgillycuddy Reeks, which means I get to see Carrauntoohill every day.”
How did you become a rural recreation officer?
“I worked in the HSE for 10 years, then as a rural development officer working with low-income families. Getting out of the office into the countryside was a big change; I love it. The job has opened my eyes to what’s on my own doorstep.
“I think it’s important to be a tourist in your local area sometimes. Many of us don’t realise what’s there.”
The new Rural Recreation Officer logo.
What is the most important project you’re working on?
“The Pilot Macgillycuddy Reeks Mountain Access Project which was set up to assess the potential for permitted access to the uplands and doing so in a sustainable way. Most people don’t realise that the Reeks and Carrauntoohill are 100% privately owned. One hundred and thirty farming families have rights to the land.”
How does that impact on access to the mountain?
“For many years, there was a tolerated access by landowners but no proper system of agreed access. The Macgillycuddy Reeks Mountain Forum – of which I’m secretary – was set up to ensure that the concerns of all stakeholders are taken into account.
“Our farmers are brilliant; without them we would have nothing. There are quite a few charity and commercial events taking place on the mountain but we need to remember that the Reeks are also farming land for 130 families.
“It can be a bit annoying for farmers to see guides charging a fee to take walkers up the mountain when they (the farmers) are not getting anything from it. It’s also not ideal when a farmer is bringing 200 sheep down from the hill and finds 400 charity event walkers going up at the same time!”
How do you keep everyone happy?
“We recently launched a ‘Friends of the Reeks’ initiative. Individual walkers can become a member by paying €10, guides and small businesses pay €30 and larger companies pay €50. It’s a way of giving something back and paying towards route maintenance.
“This is sensitive terrain in a special area of conservation and a balance has to be struck between offering access and protecting the area.
“Where groups of 10 or more are going up the mountain, we ask for a form to be filled out detailing when, where and how many. It provides some information on how much activity is going on and also gives farmers some indication of when to avoid bringing sheep down, for example.”
How many walkers and climbers access the Reeks and Carrauntoohill each year?
“We’re in the process of gathering those figures and it’s vital because without knowing how many people use the mountain, you can’t manage it properly. We have infrared counters at the main access points which show how many people are heading up the mountain every hour of every day and we also carry out surveys every weekend.”
How else can walkers contribute to maintaining routes?
“We have honesty boxes in some of the car parks accessing the mountain. The one that does the best is next to a novice route. Luckily, the boxes don’t get vandalised or robbed, there’s no anti-social behaviour.”
At 214km long, the The Kerry Way is the longest way-marked trail in Ireland and is one of Patricia Deane’s ongoing projects.
What other projects are you working on?
“The Kerry Way is my other baby – 214km, the longest way-marked trail in the country and 270 landowners to work with! One of my favourite places is on the Kerry Way – between Glenbeigh and Cahirciveen – you climb along an old carriage road that looks 1,000 feet down over a disused railway line, which we’re hoping to convert into a greenway.
“It’s a magnificent place with views across the Dingle Peninsula and people don’t even know it’s there. Splendid isolation, one American tourist called it.”
What’s the hardest part of your job?
“Every area wants a trail but sometimes you have to break a community group’s heart by telling them that a trail in their area won’t work because it will cost too much money or won’t be sustainable or will be too difficult to maintain. That’s difficult.
“On a more positive note, I worked on a trail in my own parish with the local schoolchildren and was blown away by their input and enthusiasm. They picked the name; ‘The Uphill Downhill Trail’ and came up with lots of interesting facts about the area that you wouldn’t otherwise hear about.
“One boy’s grandfather told him the graveyard along the route was the oldest in Kerry; I was able to take that information and do some more research. Having that kind of local input is central to the work I do.
“The children are all massively proud of their section of the 13km walk but sometimes the parents come up to me and say; ‘You’re some cow,’ because the kids have them out walking the route every Sunday!”
What other benefits have you seen in the area?
“Some of the farms are in isolated areas where there isn’t much employment. The farmers get involved in projects partly in the hope that it will create employment for their son or nephew or neighbour. They’re involved for the sake of the community.
“Local people are beginning to see tourism in a new way, they see that there’s work in providing packages for visitors, transporting luggage from place to place, that sort of thing. Well-established businesses like Cronin’s Yard are also expanding a bit each year, developing their product.”