Facts about Physical Landscape

Relief of Ireland

With many - but certainly not all - of the highlands and uplands close to the coast, it is easy to see how Ireland can be compared - in a very generalised way - to a saucer or, perhaps more accurately, to a pie crust that is high at the edges but sunk, rather irregularly, near the middle. This analogy is all the more striking when it is appreciated, as the geographers Gordon Herries Davies and Nicholas Stephens have shown, that not one of the 45 peaks which exceed 750 metres lies more than 56km (35 miles) from salt water.

The highest point above mean sea level is Carrauntoohil in the Macgillycuddy Reeks of County Kerry (1038 metres). Each of the other provinces has its own mountain zone. Lugnaquilla, Co. Wicklow, is the highest in Leinster (924 metres); Slieve Donard

Slieve Donard Mountain

Slieve Donard is the highest mountain in the Mourne Mountains area.

Courtesy of Simon Stewart

 , Co. Down is the highest in Ulster (850 metres), and Mweelrea

Mweelrea, Co. Mayo

Mweelrea, Co. Mayo, is the highest mountain in Connacht.

Courtesy of Simon Stewart.

 , Co. Mayo, the highest in Connacht (814 metres).

But a striking feature of Ireland is that, away from the northern and central parts of the midlands, its mountains are widely scattered and that many of them, like Galtymore, Co. Tipperary (919 metres) and the Slieve Bloom on the Laois-Offaly border, belong to small, relatively isolated groups. Some of the most famous, like Slievenamon

Slievenamon, Co. Tipperary

Slievenamon, is a mountain in Co. Tipperary. It is located in the south of the county, near a town called Clonmel.

Courtesy of Simon Stewart

 , (Co. Tipperary, 719 metres), Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick is situated five miles from the town of Westport, Co. Mayo. This mountain is 763m high, permitting views of Clew Bay and the surrounding Mayo countryside. Croagh Patrick is renowned for its Partician Pilgrimage in honor of Saint Patrick.

Copyright Irish Imagery Ltd.

  and Nephin, (Co. Mayo, 763 and 806 metres), and Slieve Gullion (Co. Armagh, 575 metres) are just one mountain wide.

More extensive mountain groups are confined to a few districts. In the west, these include the highlands of Donegal, the Ox mountains of Sligo, the Twelve Bens of Connemara

The Twelve Bens of Connemara

The Twelve Bens or 'The Twelve Pins' of Connemara, refers to a mountain range on the West Coast of Ireland.

Courtesy of Simon Stewart

 , and the mountains of the Kerry and Cork peninsulas (most notably those of Iveragh

Iveragh Mountain

Stumpa Duloigh is the highest mountain in the Iveragh area and the 55th highest in Ireland.

Courtesy of Simon Stewart

  and Dingle

Brandon Mountain, Dingle

Brandon Mountain, Kerry Peninsula.

Courtesy of Simon Stewart.

 ). In the south, there are a series of smaller mountain groups that extend eastwards through the Boggeragh, Derrynasaggart and Knockmealdown

Knockmealdown Mountain

Knockmealdown is the highest mountain in the Knockmealdown Mountains area. The Knockmealdown Mountains are situated at the border of Tipperary and Waterford.

Courtesy of Simon Stewart.

  Mountains to the Comeragh mountains of west Waterford. In the east, the most extensive mountain groups are the Mourne and Carlingford

Slieve Foye Mountain, Carlingford

Slieve Foye mountain lies to the west of Carlingford village, a medieval coastal village in northern County Louth.

Courtesy of Colm Rice

  mountains of counties Down and Louth, and the Wicklow mountain group that reaches south-westwards to Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs mountains in Co. Wexford.
Plateaus characterise other upland areas, usually with altitudes between 150 and 400 metres. They are most notable in the north-east, where the steep-sided Antrim Plateau

Slemish Mountain and the old iron ore factory

This photograph captures Slemish Mountain and the Old Iron Ore Factory. Slemish Mountain is an ancient volcanic plug on the Antrim Plateau.

Image Copyright Philip Blair.

 dramatically overlooks the famous Antrim Coast Road, and glowers over the Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway and the sea

This photograph shows the Giant's Causeway which is located on the coast of County Antrim.

Courtesy of Nicola Smith

  on the north coast. This plateau originated in the lava flows that produced here basalt rock in a great period of volcanic activity over fifty million years ago.

Elsewhere, plateaus are associated with areas where grit and shale rocks from the much older 'Upper Carboniferous' geological period overlie the more widespread limestones. Such plateaus occur in parts of the south-east (Castlecomer,

Castlecomer Plateau

The Castlecomer ‘plateau’ is a 30 km long (NS), 22 km wide (EW), basin-shaped, upland, wedged between the valleys of the Nore and Barrow rivers. Located mainly in north Kilkenny and south Laois, the plateau is called after the town and district of Castlecomer near its centre, and rises steeply from the adjacent lowlands and is mostly at a height of 200-300 metres. Composed of sandstones, grits and ‘coal measures’ from the Upper Carboniferous, this area has been worked for coal from the seventeenth century and perhaps earlier. Mines, most of them shallow and small- scale operations, were once quite widespread, but commercial operations are now long ceased. The steep escarpment of the plateau is especially striking when viewed from the Barrow valley. A smaller plateau, the Slievardagh hills, lies to the south-west, beyond the Nore valley. Like Castlecomer, the Slieveardagh plateau was in the past a focus for small-scale mining activity.

Copyright Alan Vaughan.

  Co. Kilkenny, Slieveardagh, Co. Tipperary), in west Co. Clare and across extensive areas of west Limerick, north Kerry and north Cork. Other plateaus capped by hard limestones occur in the north-west (Sligo-Leitrim), where the great flat-topped, steep-sloped Ben Bulben

Benbulbin Mountain, County Sligo

This photograph shows Benbulbin Mountain in County Sligo. This photograph was taken from ground level and it shows how striking the mountain appears against the relatively flat foreground.

Courtesy of Sam Moore, Archaeologist.

  (526 metres) is a particularly prominent feature.

However, most of the landmass, particularly towards the centre, is low-lying. Less than 5 % of the island lies above 500 metres, and well over 80% is below 200 metres. In many parts of the country, therefore, relief is quite subdued. It can nonetheless be quite varied - for example there is a major contrast between the hummocky low hills that make up the drumlin country of south Ulster and the near-level, plain-like conditions that prevail in some parts of the midlands such as mid-Tipperary, west of Dublin, and in east Galway.

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