Irish Mountain
Running Association

Annagh Hill


Alan Ayling

Annagh adventures

The 8th incarnation of the Annagh Hill Race saw Paddy O'Leary storm to victory, with Caroline Harney winning convincingly in the women's race. Wexford native Paddy had built a small lead up the notorious first climb, then hesitated when unsure of the route, allowing Enda Cloake to draw level. The two matched each other for a long section of the race until the second big climb, when Paddy found an extra gear and pulled away again, eventually finishing almost four minutes ahead. Enda held onto second, with Warren Swords 3 minutes plus back in third, a further minute had Adrian Hennessy just ahead of Gerard Maloney who ran a very strong race to take fifth. No one else broke the hour mark.

There is something very special about the north Wexford gem that is Annagh Hill. At a modest 454 m it can't even be technically called a mountain - but try telling that to your lungs and legs when you've just hauled yourself up that beast of an initial climb. Much of the forest is unappealing or felled. And yet... the trails along the ridge and beyond over Connahill make for superb running - not too steep, fast in places, slow in others, lots to negotiate - roots, rocks, bits of collapsed wall, puddles, undulating gradient... always something to occupy the mind as well as the legs. Throw in the savage steep climbs and descents used to get onto and off the ridge and you have more than just a mountain race - you have an adventure.

I'm open to correction, but I believe the original race was the brainchild of local runner Paul Joyce back in 2011. Since then there has been input from Bernard Fortune and of course current Race Director Mick Hanney. A few course variations have been tried, with varying success. Today's route seemed to get just about the best out of all the options. Notable features this year included
- left of the wall up the initial climb (Mick went to the trouble of agreeing access, as left side is private land)
- right of the fence/wall all the way along the ridge on the way out and the same side on the return
-straight out over Connahill on the way out, to go down the steep slope that people struggled to get up a few years ago, then back up the ride by the wall that was previously a notorious descent
- a loop of fire road at the far end was also (thankfully) omitted
- the "water feature" is still there, but now has a causeway built alongside it, as part of two new official walking routes on the hill. So being immersed to the chest is no longer an obligatory part of the race
- the final descent ("Enduro Falls") has been sanitised somewhat as well, as part of the same walking route initiative. It's still tricky, but not as rough as before. The sort of place you're glad to have a bit of a lead over the lad behind you, and not be in full battle mode trying to stay upright as well.

The result was a true test of mountain running ability. 10.4 km, 550 m, widely varying terrain types and gradients, a nasty rain shower. The race had it all.

Outdoor food and drinks at the GAP pub made for a fine way to bring the adventure to a close. Kudos to Sean at the pub for his ability to serve so many of us so effectively in line with current Covid restrictions. I also gather he helped arrange the land access. We may have been at the benches outside instead of clustered around the pool table, and not had a prizegiving, but The Gap remains one of my favourite post IMRA race pubs.

Thanks also to Mick and the volunteers without whose time and dedication none of it would have been possible.