Tipperary men discovered evidence of ancient desert environment on Carrantuohill

Tipperary men discovered evidence of ancient desert environment on Carrantuohill

Above - Michael Maunsell (left) and Matt Joy conducted the first-ever research on mountain plants and geology on the 'Howling Ridge' approach to Carrantuohill, Ireland's highest mountain.

Michael Maunsell from Russelstown, Clonmel and Matt Joy from Killenaule, both experienced mountaineers, recently climbed the steep 300 metres north-east face of Carrantuohill, Ireland's highest mountain. 

In doing so they followed a route known as ‘Howling Ridge’, regarded as one of the classic Irish mountaineering routes. 

Michael is a science lecturer and researcher at the Department of Applied Science in Limerick Institute of Technology, where Matt is completing his Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science. 

While climbing, both men carried out the first-ever research on mountain plants and geology on ‘Howling Ridge’. 

Matt recorded the unique collection of Mediterranean plants that came originally from the Iberian Peninsula (North Spain and Portugal), most of which are found only in the south and west of Ireland. 

“It's unlikely that they have survived from before the last Ice Age and there is no conclusive explanation for how they arrived here, they are absent from Britain”, he said.

Near the summit ridge, Michael carried out the first-ever survey and identified the fossil ripple marks on some of the slabs of rock on the ridge between the peaks of Carrantuohill (1038 metres) and Beenkeragh (1008 metres), the country's second highest peak.

This is the highest these fossil ripple marks have ever been recorded in Ireland. 

The ripple marks are evidence that these rocks were formed by river systems in a relatively flat, desert-like environment around 350 million years ago.  

At that time Ireland was located south of the equator. 

Since then, the sand has been compressed into rock and folded by huge forces, so much so that the sand which was once laid down horizontally is now standing almost upright in places, resulting in Ireland’s highest mountain range, the MacGillycuddy's Reeks and other sandstone mountain ranges across Southern Ireland.

Michael explained that by examining the ripple patterns and the shape of the ripples, it is possible to tell the direction of flow of the current that formed them, millions of years ago. 

Michael said that while standing on the exposed Beenkeragh ridge, he “wondered how these ancient ripple features, the highest sand ripples in Ireland, had survived after being covered by glaciers, many times over thousands of years, which had been so destructive in this area and could grind even the hardest granite to a smooth surface”.