It was always thought, by those that cared, that the records of the brotherhood from 1903 were taken to England by an original member and could not be traced. However, five years ago, out of the blue, two notebooks were discovered, containing records, not only of the founding of the group in 1903, but details of its activities each year until the 1940s, thus completing the group’s records for 112 years.
The “Brotherhood” was founded by Messrs Redmond, Ross, Scanlan, Bateman and Martyn on Wicklow’s highest summit, Lugnaquilla, on March 8th 1903. While it is clear from the written evidence that they were prodigious walkers, they were a fun-loving bunch that, in spite of the grand names they gave themselves, never took themselves too seriously. From their records, in fact, it is not clear which activity they took more seriously, walking the hills or carousing!
The names of some of their meeting places are still familiar today, such as the Purty Kitchen, the Bailey and the Royal Hotel in Bray.
A typical day might involve a trek from Blessington via Ballysmuttan, the Coronation Plantation and the Sally Gap to Lough Bray, where they had ‘dinner’ in McGuirks Teahouse and afterwards did their ‘usual toddle’ into Bray, a walk of some 35 kilometres. The ‘cradle’ of the Lug, as they called it, was the Ovoca Hotel in Avoca, where they held their annual dinners and stayed overnight before their annual ascent of Lugnaquilla. Vivid descriptions in the notebooks of their climbs and walks include references to getting lost in cloud on Lugnaquilla ( no proper maps or GPS to help! ) glimpsing a glockenspiel on Maulin, braving blizzards in various parts of the mountains, and of course, regularly getting drenched in the rain. Early on there was a discussion of the need for ‘safeguards’ on the mountains and it was agreed to purchase for the group, a compass, at 7/6 and a ‘flash’, as being caught on the hills after dark was a not infrequent experience for them. It is interesting to note that they walked considerable distances on roads – of course mountain roads those days were mainly gravelled, and there was no motor traffic. No pub was passed without calling for ‘certain articles that were dispensed on the premises’, and the Widow Byrne’s at Greenane and the Star Inn at Valleymount were popular places of resort.
Each annual dinner is described in detail. Apart from the cuisine enjoyed, records were played on the gramophone and songs were sung accompanied on the piano or on one occasion, a bassoon. A rule was passed ‘that any member who will not sing, dance or in any way amuse the brethren, when called upon, shall be sent to bed!’ A 1930 note refers to the Chaplain of the Lugs, Rev. Fitzjames Russell, ‘PP of Tinnehinch and Rector of Mullaghcleevaun’, leading them in ‘that beautiful hymn, My Mother said I never should Play with the Gypsies in the Wood’.
My involvement with the Brotherhood of the Lug began when a friend introduced me to the legendary J.B. Malone, the ‘Master-in-the- Field’ of this mysterious walking group. I was a big fan of J.B.’s “Open Road” articles in the Evening Herald so I was delighted to be admitted to the ranks and over the years we became firm friends.
The Wicklow Way was originally proposed by J. B. in a series of newspaper articles in the 60s. In 1977, he was appointed to the Long Distance Walking Routes Committee of the National Sports Council and set about bringing his vision to fruition. The first section opened in 1980 and the trail was fully completed in 1982. It became the first of many National Waymarked Trails to be developed in Ireland: there are now over forty such trails, covering a distance of over 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles). The Way forms part of European walking route E8 which stretches from the Atlantic coast of County Cork to Istanbul in Turkey. A memorial to J. B. Malone, who died in 1989, was erected on the Wicklow Way, near Lough Tay, in honour of his contribution.
The current Brotherhood of the Lug had, up until the finding of the diaries, imagined the founders to be a rather serious and masonic group, but were delighted to learn that they were anything but that, and today’s members would have fitted in well in 1903. Their practice of not taking anything too seriously, enjoying the wonderful experience of long walks in the hills, socialising with like-minded companions, enjoying their food and their libations is indistinguishable from that of the early Lugs. There are no formal meetings, no written rules and the Grand Master’s word is law!