Ireland, perched on the westernmost edge of Europe, is renowned for its sprawling, verdant fields, earning it the endearing nickname, the Emerald Isle. But these green expanses are ringed almost entirely by coastal highlands, with rugged hills and low mountains.
The principal mountain ranges crisscrossing this lush landscape include the Blue Stack Mountains in the north, the Wicklow Mountains in the east, and the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks in the southwest, among others. But the question is, what are Ireland’s highest mountains? Well, it just so happens we’ve got the answers.
Ireland's Highest Mountains: What’s in a Measurement?
There are various lists that catalogue the highest mountains in Ireland, each with differing criteria and classifications. This can lead to very different results in terms of rankings. One crucial variable is the distinction between elevation and prominence. The elevation represents the height of the mountain’s summit above sea level, while prominence measures the height of a summit relative to the lowest contour line encircling it but containing no higher summit within it. In other words, whether it is an independent mountain or part of a larger one.
Certain lists will exclude or limit based on one or other of elevation and/or prominence. For instance, Beenkeragh in County Kerry soars to 3,307 feet above sea level, making it second in rank among the tallest mountains in Ireland by elevation. However, it has a prominence of just 302 feet. Even with this impressive stature, its low prominence excludes it from several notable lists. Instead, the intriguing Cnoc na Peiste, standing at an elevation of 3,241 feet, appears as the second-highest on many lists.
At the zenith of the highest mountains in Ireland list is the majestic Carrauntoohil, reaching skywards at 3,407 feet. Nestled in County Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula, it’s at the heart of Ireland’s highest mountain range, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. The mountain’s composition of Old Red Sandstone, dating from the Devonian period, showcases Ireland’s geological history. The sandstone bears a purple-reddish hue, stained green in patches, revealing its age of approximately 350 to 410 million years. Despite its rugged grandeur, it holds a humble secret in its northeast face: the Eagle’s Nest corrie, cradling Ireland’s highest lake, Lough Cummeenoughter.
Cnoc na Péiste
Cnoc na Péiste proudly stands among the biggest mountains of Ireland. This County Kerry resident boasts an elevation of approximately 3,241 feet and a prominence of around 830 feet, this latter figure giving it the edge over the higher Beenkeragh on many lists. Meanwhile its intriguing name, translating to “hill of the serpent,” is thought to allude to a monster in the lake below, only enhancing its allure as one of the most iconic peaks in Ireland.
Mount Brandon beckons as one of Ireland’s highest mountains, reaching up to 3,123 feet. Beyond its elevation, it holds religious significance, named after Saint Brendan and marking the end of the Christian pilgrimage trail, Cosán na Naomh. This mighty mountain, part of the Brandon Group range in the Dingle Peninsula, contributes to the panoramic beauty of County Kerry.
Lugnaquilla, another of the tallest mountains in Ireland, dominates the Wicklow Mountains at approximately 3,035 feet. It overlooks the picturesque Glen of Imaal and Glenmalure, adding a slate-capped, granite-rooted profile to Ireland’s varied mountainous terrain. This “bulky mountain” reveals its ancient origins with crags of dark-grey schist protruding from its upper cliff walls.
In the province of Munster, Galtymore, or Cnoc Mór na nGaibhlte, said to mean ‘big hill of the Galtees’ rises to 3,011 feet high. In addition to being one of Ireland’s highest mountains, it’s the highest of the Galty Mountains which run between counties Tipperary and Limerick and the highest point of both counties.
The Highest Mountains By Province
A different sort of classification for the biggest mountains of Ireland is that of the highest peaks in each of the provinces within the Republic of Ireland. Naturally, this includes Carrauntoohil. It also includes Mweelrea of County Mayo as the highest peak in the southern province of Munster at 2,671 feet, and Lugnaquilla as the highest peak in the eastern province of Leinster.
The Biggest Mountains of Ireland
In conclusion, the lush and rolling landscapes of Ireland are punctuated beautifully by towering peaks, each telling its own tale of geological history, ancient folklore, and breathtaking vistas. To “summit” up, the tallest mountains in Ireland are not just geographical high points, but also high points of Ireland’s rich cultural and natural heritage.