A Brief History. © Tom Barragry

The oldest walking club in Ireland is the Brotherhood of the Lug. It dates from 1903. It currently numbers about  25 members and on every second  Sunday of the month  it organises walks  through the Wicklow & Dublin  mountains , valleys, and  forests  . Additional walks are held on Wednesdays, usually along a flatter  terrain to suit some older members  ,or simply to suit some of our younger members who just wish to get out and about in a not too exertional fashion ,midweek.  Other walks go to the Comeraghs,The Dingle Way, Carrantoohil or the Maam Turks in summertime when weather and other considerations allow.

The club has produced over the years a beautiful ,full coloured programme of the  schedule of walks for the upcoming six months , complete with colour thumb nail maps and photographs. Thus a clear schedule is laid out ,and retrospectively walk reports and photographs are posted on the Lugs website.(www.the Brothers of the Lug.ie)

The Lugs lead a busy social life, and after each walk , some libations are always held  in the adjacent  local hostelry.In addition, weekly  coffee club meetings  are held, and also the club has  two annual dinners….one in the St Stephens Green Club and one in another  chosen hotel on a rotational basis. The Lugs are a fun and quirky club with a very colourful history. It current group of members are directly in line with the founding members insofar as informality is the core value , a good sense of humour is an essential  and no one takes themselves too seriously. Walks are well planned in advance ,and in accordance with the Lugs colour brochure ,a route is chosen,and under the stewardship and the guidance of the Grand Master ( Chief of the Lugs…more about him later)) and the Master in the Field  (walk leader ,navigator and cartographer…..more about him later also) who, complete  with compass, map ,GPS and Viewranger, leads the lugs out over the Wicklow hills, lakes ,and forests every second Sunday…………..as they have been doing since 1903

This club ,or the Lugs ,as they are called was founded on the summit of Lugnaquilla in 1903 by five  hardy mountain walkers messrs Redmond, Ross, Scanlon, Bateman,&  Martin.

These men were Dubliners  a few of whom were civil servants (Dept of Revenue) one was ,a court clerk in the Four Courts  and another worked in a die sinking works  in College Green.  An old photograph from that time shows the five founding fathers dressed in the tweedy apparel ,waistcoats, great coats, ties  and the leather  shoes of 1903 .. without  a Goretex ,Brasher  walking boots nor North Face waterproofs between them!!.!  A number of old sepia photographs of the founders survive from 1903 ,because some ten years ago, the two original diaries written by the founding members, (complete with the five 1903 photographs) were serendipitously discovered in an attic suitcase by a descendant  of an older member.  These diaries  were happily   handed over to the club.and indeed this was a real hoard for the Lugs,  insofar as these diaries  accurately  and authentically chronicle the founding of the club, the establishment of the old  rules in 1903  ,the unusual honorary titles bestowed on senior members at that time , the social venues used for the Lug’s dinners  and the general  organization , walking life and social activities of the club in the early days…..at the time of Joycean Dublin.

At the inception of the Lugs in 1903 all members had buttonhole badges of green and gold displaying an ear– the ear being also referred to as “a Lug” in old Dublin -speak.  Special gold medals were presented to Lugs for long service or distinguished service. Starting In 1930, an annual gold medal was presented  at the dinner to a Lug member  ”  for the  bravest deed of the season”

The club also had it’s own  colours and ribbons of blue and purple,together with summer time strawboater hats. The elected Leader was referred to as the “Grand master” or GM. He was elected each year on the summit of Lugmaquilla (where he took an oath and  raised a glass !). Following descent from Lugnaquilla,this ceremony was then followed by an AGM and a dinner,  quite often held  in the nearby Drumgoff hotel. Other venues used for AGMs and dinners were the Purty Kitchen,the  Queens in Dalkey,the  Enniskerry Hotel,the  Vale ,View hotel Avoca and many others.

Other club titles ,of a slightly mysterious and  masonic sounding nature, awarded to senior members , were the Grand Prior,the Grand Constable  and Grand Harbinger. These titles are still used today by the modern Lugs with a sense of utter flippancy, and tongue in cheek frivolity . Nothing is taken too seriously.

Walks in the old days were of a formidable distance,usually from one train or tram terminus to another.Trains or trams were frequently boarded at Harcourt st and went  to Bray ,Greystones or Blessington where many of the  walks commenced. Occasionally a model T  Ford  car or a char- a -banc was  used to get Lugs  to a starting point  when it was situated deeper down  in Wicklow, often necessitating  an overnight stay in Drumgoff or Avoca ,prior to the walk.

With neither proper walking gear nor outdoor clothing as we know it, and without good maps nor GPS and barely a compass, strenuous  walks of 25 miles were not uncommon across the breadth of Wicklow. Old favourites like Kelly’s Lough,Kippure,Lough Brays and  the Featherbed featured prominently in the old walking schedules of the 1920’s

The Lugs were frequent visitors after Sunday walks to McGuirks tea rooms at the foot of Lough Bray  Many of the  old visitors books of the 1920’s  from that premises ,were signed by the Lugs displaying the  symbol of an ear beside each name, and a mention of the walk undertaken. We have a number of these pages from McGuirks visitors book dating from the 1920’s signed by messrs Rooney & Scanlon ..the original founders from 1903/04. The Lugs diaries from 1903  were continually written up, right until 1937.  Mention was made of one walking member who was killed in France in  WW1 and a minute’s silence was held  for him at an annual dinner ..the diaries referring also to  curfews for meetings and  ” all this trouble” being caused “by mad Kaiser Bill”.  Membership in those years reached a maximum  number  of twenty. It was recorded that  at the dinner in 1910 there were 18 participants which was noted to constitute  “a record attendance ” for the club dinner at  that time.The old diaries provide a wonderful historical record and  birds eye narrative of hiking in Wicklow and Dublin in the early twentieth century as well as colourful details of their social activities  and functions at that time from 1903 until 1937.

1937 until the Present Day.

Many of the old Lugs had passed on by 1937 and no diaries exist following that date.One surviving Lug of that era, Michael Finn, worked in the civil service and continued to walk with a few friends. A Kerryman ,John White from Tralee, worked in the Dept of Revenue/Finance  at the same time and he formed a sizeable walking group also.  White and Finn were close friends and in 1938 they decided to throw in their lot and amalgamate their two groups to keep the Brotherhood of the Lug alive and in existence. Thus the last remaining Lug (Finn) merged with the walking group from the Dept Finance (White)  . This  coalescence led to the formation of the  new Lugs and thus the club survives  and thrives to this present day .

Notable members of the post war Lugs were JB Malone who was a leading member throughout the  1940’s until the 1980’s. Born in 1913 in Leeds in England, to Irish parents, J.B. Malone was the most influential force in the development of walking, particularly hill walking, as a leisure activity in Ireland. He began to explore the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains on foot as a young man in 1932, and by 1938 he was writing a weekly column on walking for the Evening Herald which continued until 1975. These columns and his earlier books The Open Road (1950) and Walking in Wicklow(1964), inspired countless readers to exchange the city for the hills and to enjoy healthy exercise and the joys of the natural world. His informative writing was not confined to rural Ireland, however; he also produced over a thousand articles for the Evening Herald about places of note and the buildings of Dublin.

In the forties he had a vision of a long, way-marked walking trail in Wicklow, and in 1979,when he was appointed Field Officer to the Long Distance Walks Committee, he began putting the 132 kilometre-long Wicklow Way in place. Opened in 1982, it was Ireland’s first Long Distance Walk, and the forerunner of the many such trails that exist today. His book describing the route, The Complete Wicklow Way, was a best seller.. A civil servant ,he worked in Posts & Telegraphs.

Active up until the last, he died in October 1989 and is buried in Bohernabreena Cemetery. Many of his diaries and his notes of Lug walks ( from 1940’s–1980’s) still survive and he was of course broadcasting on RTE in the early 1960’s(“Mountain & Meadow”)  as well as writing regular columns for the Evening Herald & Independant, and eventually of course drawing up the Wicklow Way. 

Another notable and experienced Lug was Brendan O Connor  who climbed the Matterhorn and who had a stellar career  walking the Alps and many other famous peaks. Brendan O Connor was born in Tralee, and became a very strong walker  and a serious and accomplished mountaineer.   His father Henry  O Connor was a journalist from Tralee and was editor of the “Leinster Leader”.and a contributor to the “Kerry Champion” & “Freemans Journal”.  Henry was a close friend of Austin Stack and Cathal Brugha.  Henry moved from Tralee to Appian Way Dublin in 1911. His house in Appian Way was used for early cabinet meetings post 1916.  Mick Collins being a frequent visitor together with Arthur Griffith ,Liam Cosgrave,  Risteard Mulcahy and Countess Markiwicz  .Henry’s son Brendan became a leading light in the Lugs and was also a founder member of Kerry Mountain rescue.  Space does not permit description of  many other notable members.

Currently the club numbers  twenty eight members, and  it  is highly active every second Sunday in Wicklow …be it Tonlagee ,Camaderry ,Derrybawn , Luggala ,Lough Dan,Sorrel Hill or any of the beautiful well known Wicklow trails.  Midweek Wednesday walks , take place over flatter terrain (Royal or Grand canal, Roundwood Reservoir, Clara Vale etc), and each year a summer trip is made to one of the islands of Ireland. This year the club go to Inisbofin (Clare island,Beare Island, Achill etc all having figured previously) .In addition  a  trip is made overseas each year to  an attractive  European hiking venue  for a period of a week or so( Zermatt with the Matterhorn behind it,  Kitzbuhl in Austria,Competa,and Chamonix,all having been visited in the recent past).

The Lugs enjoy life and are a wonderful walking club with a long and proud tradition. Members of the Lugs,, in keeping with their very long tradition, are  a most interesting group of highly individual hikers with a great sense of humour and do not believe in taking life too seriously. The lugs were never a highly regimented  nor overly organised group–but they always, but always, reach the summit ,attain their goal and arrive attheir destination….but not necessarily in record time…..and always albeit after a good break (or “suss” as we call it) for tea and sandwiches.!

We hope to survive at least another hundred years.!!