It was just after the War of Independence when the Countrywide Hillwalkers Association was founded in 1922. And, after 100 years, over 80 hillwalkers gathered in the Wicklow Heather restaurant in Laragh on Tuesday to celebrate the anniversary. President Frank Hayes told the gathering that he was ‘amazed that somebody would even think of starting a walking club just after the War of Independence, World War 1 and the Spanish Flu pandemic!’
The club was the brainchild of James Doyle and the first meeting was held at his home at number 4, Cavendish Row, opposite the Gate theatre. The club’s first President was Fred Eason of Eason’s books and he held that post until his death in 1964, aged 99, with over forty years service. Frank Hayes remembers that Fred was always referred to as ‘Mr Eason’ and that as a strong supporter of the Temperence Society, he forbade alcohol at their gatherings. He went so far as to avoid premises that served alcohol.
In those early days, Frank said, ‘there was no special clothing for hiking and members just wore ‘sensible shoes’. They regularly embarked on very long walks, up to 17 miles and remember very few had a car. So members would use trains and charabancs to get to the mountains.’
On the night, the longest serving member of the group, Ivy Cassidy, cut a special cake with a Wicklow theme which boasted a mountain lake, a river and lots of rocks. Members were also presented with souvenir centenary badges. The Association has also produced a centenary book with photos of rambles going back to the twenties.
Denis Poynton, who, along with his wife, Cherry, has been a member for 20 years, said that hillwalking is ‘a great opportunity to make new friends in a terrific social atmosphere out in the open air. We enjoy the environment and, especially, finding new places for walking.’
The group is very conscious of the upkeep and care of Wicklow’s mountains and contributes to both the Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team and Mountain Meitheal Ireland.
New members are always welcome and can contact the group via their website cha.ie.