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Dublin: 4°C Thursday 13 May 2021

Hey cyclists, can you handle the toughest climbs in Ireland?

Clip in and drive on. But mind those sheep on the way down.

AS CYCLING MANIA reaches most corners of the country, we scour the land to find the hardest and most epic climbs you can ride on two wheels.

Some may be road racing classic climbs used in the country’s biggest races while others are on private land and well, quite frankly, not safe to put humans up, let alone watch them come down.

The feeling of achievement at the top is quite something, and the views aren’t bad either…

Mamore Gap

The race heads up the Gap of Mamore 24/5/2007 The Rás heads up the Mamore Gap in 2007. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Where: Near Buncrana, Donegal

Length: 1.1kilometre

Maximum gradient: 22%

Average gradient: 12.4%

Hazards: Loose chippings, sheep, strong winds

The Mamore Gap was last used in the An Post Rás — Ireland’s only UCI-ranked cycling race — in 2012 and the feedback afterwards was one of utter shock at how difficult it was. The climb itself is short and at 1.1 kilometre it lacks the length of all the others that have made this list. What it lacks in length, however, it makes up for in how steep it is and not only will you need to be in exceptionally good shape to get over the top of it, you’ll have to face up to the fact that there are most likely going to be flocks of sheep all over the road. So be careful!

Healy Pass 

Riders descend off the Healy Pass Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Where: Adrigole Co Cork and/or Laragh, Co Kerry

Length: 7 kilometres

Maximum gradient: 11%

Average gradient: 5%

Hazards: Loose chippings, sheep, strong winds, dangerous bends, traffic, surface water, falling rock.

The Healy Pass is one of the most spectacular roads in the country and a must-do for cyclists. The original track, called the Kerry Pass, was cut during the Great Famine as a poor relief public works project but nowadays is as busy with tourists and locals as it is with cyclists – so be warned, it’s a busy road.

The climb is steady but not steep, save for a few short sections – particularly if travelling from the Kerry side. The descent is dangerous though — for the myriad reasons outlined above. Crashes during charity sportives and races are not uncommon.

Mount Leinster

The Peleton they make there way over Mount Leinster Source: James Crombie/INPHO


Where: Bunclody, Wexford.

Length: 13 kilometres

Maximum gradient: 16.3%

Average gradient: 6%

Hazards: Grass, sheep, strong winds, dangerous bends, traffic, surface water.

The highest of the Blackstairs mountains is impossible to miss on a clear day as RTÉ have their TV transmitter at the summit. Other than that, there’s very little else up here.

It looks comparable to some medium length Tour de France climbs and though the first few kilometres up to the car park are gentle, the pain soon sets in and the road is as unrelenting as it is narrow.

The climb has been used in stages of the Tour of Ireland and in the Rás several times. It may be climbed from the Borris side in County Carlow or the Bunclody side in County Wexford. Ascending from Borris the climb is 11km long and has an average gradient of 6.9%.

The last two kilometres are gruelling and reach a gradient of almost 16%. Although the climb from Bunclody is slightly longer at 13 km its average gradient is 6%. The last kilometre of this climb is difficult with a gradient of 16.3% but once you hit the private road to the mast, it’s a different story, running straight into an impossibly steep section. To get the top requires a very high level of fitness.



Where: Ballyvourney, Cork

Length: 7 kilometres

Maximum gradient: 19%

Average gradient: 7.5%

Hazards: Strong winds towards the top (always), sheep, cattle grids, an angry farmer, sharp turns, steep descent, oncoming traffic, a dog.

Park the car at the Mills Inn in Ballyvourney and the road up behind the bar/restaurant will take you where you’re headed, though you do branch left after around 1.5km.

Up to here it’s straight forward, save for a pesky dog who always wants to come along too — until he sees the gradient. The road rises upwards all the time and there’s absolutely no respite until you have to stop after around 3 kilometres to open the gate onto the state-owned land that houses one of RTÉ’s five original TV transmitters.

Then the real climbing starts and won’t stop for at least half an hour. The road surface is poor, particularly in winter where fine gravel gathers at the lower slopes and skids are common. You’ll cross two — maybe even three — cattle grids  which are slippery so be sure to be in the saddle for this. The last few hairpins are truly awful but the views at the top are spectacular.

The descent is over all too quickly, and be extremely careful on the bends at the start.

Wicklow Gap

Alexander Wetterall heads up the Wicklow Gap 29/5/2010 Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Where: Lauragh, Co. Wicklow

Length: 7 kilometres

Maximum gradient: 16%

Average gradient: 5%

Hazards: Strong winds towards the top (always), sheep, steep descent, oncoming traffic.

What makes the Wicklow Gap so difficult is just how long and unrelenting and exposed it is. In total, you climb 340 metres and for that reason alone it’s one of the most feared climbs in the country. A regular fixture in the likes of the An Post Rás, the climb of the Wicklow Gap is often key in deciding the race. From the start point in Lauragh the road winds its way upwards, at the top of which the views of the surrounding countryside are truly awesome.

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