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Paul Swail

An IFMGA Mountain Guide who splits his time between Chamonix and Ireland, Paul has some impressive ascents to his name. He has been instrumental in developing the Northern Ireland climbing scene and organises the Fairhead Meet.

Over the weekend of the 2nd-4th June 2017, Northern Ireland once again played host to the annual Fair Head Meet. This gathering of climbers started 9 years ago as a social event to boost awareness of the climbing at Fair Head and its central aim remains to attract climbers to this somewhat underused crag, in a friendly, vibrant and enjoyable atmosphere.  This generous spirit, on which the festival was founded, was definitely apparent throughout the weekend, with like-minded climbers sharing route recommendations, advice on approaches and their evening meals.

I think it's fair to say that most UK-based trad climbers have now heard of Fair Head, and over recent years a lot more interest has been generated, with climbers from the rest of the UK and further afield now travelling over to sample its delights.

For those of you not familiar with the area, Fair Head is a 5km expanse of dolerite situated on the North coast of Northern Ireland.  Currently there are over 400 recorded routes, many of which follow splitter crack lines, requiring techniques such as off-widthing, hand jamming and general all-body squirming to make upward progress!

With little advertising and only a guest speaker or two to entice folk along to the meet each year, the event has grown impressively in popularity – a true testament to just how good the climbing at Fair Head is. Since that first weekend 9 years ago it has been organised by myself and supported by Mountaineering Ireland, the Irish governing body for climbing activities. This year, Rab also offered to support the Fair Head meet by providing one of the guest speakers, Tom Randall. Tom delivered an excellent insight into a few of his favourite things; horizontal roof cracks, training techniques and how to use tinder to meet US park rangers! I think it's fair to say that everyone was in awe of him by the end...if a little confused as to which way they should hold their heads!

As well as Tom’s talk, this year we also had a special treat of a presentation with Calvin and Clare Torrans recounting the history of Fair Head climbing. Judging by the standing ovation they received at the end of their talk, I think the crowd enjoyed it! A big thanks to Tom, Clare and Calvin for providing the entertainment for the weekend.

The weather over the past few years has been on our side, but this year was mixed to say the least - unfortunately we all know that is something we take a gamble on, especially in Ireland! Thankfully this didn’t deter visitors and Fair Head saw a strong 300+ crowd across the weekend. As for what was climbed this year, nothing too ground breaking...but the traffic on the classics will keep them clean for a good wee while!

Thanks to all who attended the weekend and an especially big thanks to Sean and the McBride family for all their help.

See you all next year.

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