Photo courtesy of Ciarán Taylor

It was in the valley of Gleann na Smól, just outside Tallaght, where the heroic warrior Oisín met his death, the legend goes.

Having returned from Tír na nÓg, he took pity on the puny men he saw attempting to move a massive boulder, so he bent down from his horse to help them lift it.

But remember that Oisín had been warned that if he touched the ground of Ireland, time, which had stood still in Tír na nÓg, would catch up with him.

He tossed the boulder to the top of the mountain with ease, but as he did so his stirrups broke and he fell from his horse. He aged 300 years in seconds, and died soon after.

“Most people know that story, but they mightn’t know that it’s right there near Dublin and near Tallaght,” says Ciarán Taylor, the artist behind a new folklore experience and challenging hike that draw their inspiration from the tale.

“Can we now recreate Oisín’s mythic feat but with 300 people?” he asks. “We have a mission, we have a giant task.”

“A Giant Task”

Rock to the Top is a public art project that aims to bring people together to each carry a piece of a boulder to the very place, Kippure, where Oisín’s boulder is said to have landed, near the top of the mountain.

Along the way, they will learn about the folklore, nature and place names they pass, says Taylor.

Gleann no Smól is an important place in mythology. “It would have been the hunting ground of Fionn, between there and Howth, would have been the two places the Fianna hung out,” he says.

The Rock to the Top project started with a trail-blazing walk in June that included a ceremony at the boulder.

Those who took part in that event heard from local man Pat Lee, who has written a book of all the field names of Gleann na Smól, says Taylor.

“He read out a list of all the fields we would passing along the way … even various rocks have names,” says Taylor. “He gathered all the names by which the people of the valley would have been able to orient themselves.”

The first walk to start moving the pieces of the boulder will take place on 26 August. It starts from the Square in Tallaght, says Taylor, and soon joins the Dublin Mountains Way.

“You have this amazing journey from the city out into the countryside out by the lakes and up to the top of the mountain,” he says.

He says that within an hour you are in the countryside and another hour after that you reach the wilderness.

Each person will take a piece of the rock and when they reach the top, they’ll use the little rocks to build a cairn, a kind of ancient burial mound, he says.

“There is something elemental about that. For thousands of years we have been going to the top of mountains and making piles of stones,” he says.

Tallaght itself is an ancient monastic site, he says, and he wants to create more of a connection between the city and the Dublin countryside.

It’s not just the walks either. Taylor has a vision for a number of other events he would like to create in the mountains. He hopes to involve as many people as possible and is looking for volunteers and ideas.

“I’m looking for people with local knowledge, folklore, mountain knowledge,” he says.

The walk this month is the first of many that will take place throughout the year, he says. The plan is for one a month.

A Challenge

This, mind, is no Sunday stroll. It is a 22 km hike with a rock.

“Well it’s a challenge,” says Taylor, with a laugh. “If we are going to recreate Oisín’s mythic feat.”

It is a long walk that gives people time to get to know each other, he says. The connections that will be created between people are an aim of the project.

“There is a real satisfaction when you complete a journey like that,” he says.

He doesn’t want to exclude anyone though, so during the year he will build in options for people to meet the walk halfway, to facilitate children and others who cannot manage the whole hike, he says.

And, if there is enough interest, he plans to organise a staged walk, over the course of a couple of Saturdays, to allow those who can’t do the whole walk at once to still complete the task.

There’s another reason he doesn’t want to turn anybody away. “I am relying on people showing up to get the rock to the top,” he says, laughing. “Otherwise I’m carrying it myself.”

Because he is trying to bring people together, he isn’t doing any social media, he says. Instead, he has been talking to people directly and asking them to tell people about the project.

“I’m trying to let the word spread organically,” he says. “A challenge is something that pulls people together. It doesn’t have a practical purpose, and that is the artistic element of it – it has a creative purpose.”

The participants are not an audience, but part of the performance, walking and taking the time to link in with nature. The challenge of moving rocks across the landscape is something people have been doing for thousands of years, he says.

“When you are walking for 22 km you get to link in with this timelessness,” he says. People have a natural urge to find that old rhythm.

“Its just about a change of pace, a change of rhythm, in a way it’s an antidote to the speed of the internet and social media and the idea that you are immediately connected,” he says.

There will be a surprise halfway up, he says. But refuses to give any hint as to what it is.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at

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