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Twelve Bens (Twelve Pins)
Irish: Na Beanna Beola; the peaks of Beola
Boats and mountains, Roundstone (6047965086).jpg
View of the range from Roundstone village.
Highest point
Peak Benbaun
Elevation 729 m (2,392 ft)
Dimensions
Area 161.3 km2 (62.3 sq mi)
Naming
English translation The peaks of Beola
Language of name Irish language
Geography
Location Connemara, County Galway, Ireland
Provinces of Ireland Connacht
Topo map OSI Discovery 37, 44
Geology
Age of rock Precambrian-Cambrian
Type of rock quartzites, grits, graphitic
Climbing
Normal route
  • "Glencoaghan Horseshoe" (Irish: Gleann Chóchan)
  • "Twelve Bens Challenge"

The Twelve Bens or Twelve Pins (Irish: Na Beanna Beola; the peaks of Beola) is a mountain range of mostly sharp-peaked quartzite summits and ridges located in the Connemara National Park in County Galway, in the west of Ireland. The widest definition of the range includes the Garraun Complex to the north as well as several isolated peaks to the west, and is designated a 16,163-hectare Special Area of Conservation.

Topographically, the range is partnered with the Maumturks range to the east of the Inagh valley (a Western Way route); and both share a common geology being largely composed of metamorphic marine rocks, being predominantly resistant quartzite but with deposits of schists in the valleys (known as Connemara Dalradian rocks). The highest point is Benbaun at 729 metres (2,392 ft). The range is a popular location for hill-walking activities with the 16–kilometre 8–9 hour Glencoaghan Horseshoe (Irish: Gleann Chóchan), considered one of the best ridge-walks in Ireland.

Naming

"Ben" an anglicized translation of the Irish language word "Binn", meaning "peak". According to Irish academic Paul Tempan, "An odd thing about the Twelve Bens of Connemara is that nobody seems to know exactly which are the twelve peaks in question", and noting that there are almost 20 peaks with "Ben" or "Binn" in their name. Tempan notes that term "twelve peaks" can be at least dated to the Irish historian Ruaidhrí Ó Flaithbheartaigh, whose writings in 1684 said: "On the north-west of Ballynahinsy [Ballynahinch], are the twelve high mountaines of Bennabeola, called by marriners the twelve stakes [stacks], being the first land they discover as they come from the maine [sea]", but he did not list them.

The most common list of the twelve peaks in question are the peaks with an elevation above 500 metres in the core range, and that are not considered subsidiary peaks (e.g. they have a non-trivial prominence, and have been traditionally noted as peaks on historic maps, per Twelve Bens § Notes below).

Tempan notes the issue of "twelve" does not arise in the Irish language name as they are simply labelled "Na Beanna Beola", which translates as "the peaks of Beola". Beola was a leader of the Fir Bolg, and a giant; his name appears in the Connemara village Toombeola, or Irish language "Tuaim Beola".

Geography

Glencoaghan Horseshoe, Twelve Bens, Ireland
Glencoaghan River from Bencullaghduff

The Twelve Bens range is a core massif of 22 peaks above 100 metres in elevation, centred around the highest peak in the range, Benbaun 729 metres (2,392 ft). To the north of this core massif lies the separate subsidiary massif of the Garraun Complex with 9 peaks around Garraun 598 metres (1,962 ft). To the west of the core massif lies 7 other isolated or subsidiary "outlier" peaks, thus giving a total of 38 Bens with an elevation above 100 metres.

While the Bens are not as high as those of the ranges in Kerry (e.g. MacGillycuddy's Reeks and the Mountains of the Dingle Peninsula), their rocky peaks and ridges contrast with the surrounding sea-level landscape (unlike Kerry, there are no mountain-passes in Connemara), and give the range an imposing feel.

The range is bounded by the Inagh Valley and the R344 road to the east, while the N59 road (or, the "Clifden Road"), circles and bounds the core massif (and most of the outliers), from the southerly, westerly and northerly directions. The Garraun Complex lies to the north of the N59 road at Kylemore Lough.

Core massif

The 22 peaks in the core massif of the Twelve Bens range naturally split into three sections:

  1. Southern Bens, 12 southern Bens form a horseshoe around the Glencoaghan Valley, and include the 7 major Bens of: Derryclare, Bencorr, Bencollaghduff, Benbreen, Bengower, Benlettery, and Benglenisky; and 5 subsidiary Bens of: Bencorr North Top, Benbreen Central Top, Benbreen North Top, Binn an tSaighdiúra, and Bencorrbeg; and
  2. Central Bens, 7 central Bens that sit along a large east-west ridge with Benbaun at its centre, and include the 4 major Bens of Benbaun, Benfree, Muckanaght, and Bencullagh; and the 3 subsidiary Bens of Knockpasheemore, Maumonght, and Maumonght SW Top; and
  3. Northern Bens, 3 northern Bens that lies on the small massif of the major Ben of Benbrack, and include the 2 subsidiary Bens of Knockbrack and another smaller peak called, Benbaun; just beside the Northern Bens lies the outlier Ben of Diamond Hill.

The core massif is also known for its deep glaciated U-shaped valleys, around which groups of Bens lie in a "horseshoe formation":

  1. Glencoaghan: most southerly valley from which the Glencoaghan river flows; the Glencoaghan Horseshoe is a major hill-walking route in Ireland;
  2. Owenglin: western valley from which the Owenglin river flows; the Owenglin Horseshoe is also a noted hill-walking route;
  3. Gleninagh: eastern valley from which the Gleninagh river flows; contains Carrot Ridge, an important area for rock-climbing;
  4. Polladirk: north-westerly valley from which the Polladirk river flows; a popular scenic view from Diamond Hill is into this valley;
  5. Glencorbet: north-easterly valley from which the Kylemore river flows; the Glencorbet Horseshoe is a popular route in the Bens.

Geology

Twelve pins
Quartzite peaks and rocky ridges of Bencorr and its subsidiary peaks and spurs

The core massif of the Twelve Bens range are largely composed of metamorphic marine rocks, being predominantly resistant quartzite but with deposits of schists in the valleys (known as Connemara Dalradian rocks).

These rocks derive from sediments that were deposited in a warm shelf sea some 700 to 550 million years ago (e.g. Precambrian-Cambrian). Movements in the earth's crust, and the closure of the Iapetus Ocean, transformed these sediments into crystalline schists that lie underneath the base of the mountain range, which local erosion and uplift then brought to the surface. The summits of the core massif (and some outliers) are made of weather-resistant quartzite, while the sides of the peaks are composed of schists and grey marbles.

In contrast, the mountains to the north of the core Twelve Bens massif, the Garraun Complex, have a different type of geology, that is composed of gneiss and different forms of sandstones and mudstones.

Scattered throughout the range are parts of gabbro (Doughruagh and Currywongaun), mica schist (Muckanaght), and outcrops of marble (south of Kylemore Lough).

The final Ice Age, circa 10,000 years ago, also sculpted the landscape leaving behind deposits of sand and gravel; there are widespread boulder-clay and erratic boulders across the range.

Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

Turbary cutting (for removing peat) - geograph.org.uk - 65980
The range includes extensive bog habitats

The entire Twelve Bens range (including the Garraun Complex) is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) (Site Code:002031), as selected for a range of habitats and species listed under the Annex I / II of the E.U. Habitats Directive. The items of note on the SAC habitats list includes: Oligotrophic Waters, Alpine Heaths, Active Blanket Bogs, remnants of Oak Woodland, Rhynchosporion Vegetation, and Siliceous Scree and Rocky Slopes; while the species list includes: Freshwater Pearl Mussel, Atlantic Salmon, Otter, and Slender Naiad. In addition, the 16,163-hectare site includes a some of the rarer Red Data Book species of plant. The SAC directive on the range describes it as "One of the largest and most varied sites of conservation interest in Ireland".

Climbing

The range is popular with hill walkers, fell runners, and rock climbers,

Hill walking

Connemara12Bens
View of Polladirk Valley from Diamond Hill.

The Irish Times outdoors correspondent, John G. Dwyer, said of the Twelve Bens, "These are true kickass mountains, with criminally stunning views [..]".

The 16–kilometre 8–9 hour Glencoaghan Horseshoe (Irish: Gleann Chóchan) is noted as providing some of the "most exhilarating mountaineering in Ireland", and is called "a true classic" by guidebook authors. Other similar distanced "horseshoe" loop walks are the 19–kilometre 10–12 hour Owenglin Horseshoe, the 15–kilometre 8–9 hour Gleninagh Horseshoe, and the 14–kilometre 6–7 hour Glencorbet Horseshoe.

However, an even more serious undertaking is the 28–kilometre Twelve Bens Challenge, climbing all 12 Bens in a single 24-hour day.

Rock climbing

Carrot Ridge, Twelve Pins
Carrot Ridge in the Gleninagh Valley

The Twelve Bens have a number of rock climbing locations, the most notable of which is in the Gleann Eighneach valley at the eastern spur of Benncorr (from Binn an tSaighdiúra to Bencorrbeg; also called "Carrot Ridge" Irish: Meacan Buí). The climbs vary from Diff (D) to Very Severe (VS) and range from 150 metres to 320 metres in length, with notable routes being Carrot Ridge (275m D), and Seventh Heaven (330m HS).

In addition, the large easterly corrie between the summits of Derryclare and the summit of Bencorr, known as Irish: Log an Choire Mhóir (meaning "wood of the big corrie"), also contains several large 200 metre multi-pitch graded rock climbs at grades of Diff (D) to Very Diff (VD), the most notable of which is The Knave (VD, 225 m); and the smaller corrie between the summit of Bencorr and the summit of Bencorr North Top, known as Irish: Log an Choire Bhig (meaning "wood of the small corrie"), has a number of shorter but harder climbs including Corner Climb (VS 4c, 30 m).

List of peaks

The following is a download from the MountainViews Online Database, who list 38 identifiable peaks in the wider Twelve Bens range (i.e. core massif, Garraun complex, and various outliers to the west), with an elevation, or height, above 100 metres (328 ft)

The list below highlights the 12 Bens most associated with being the Twelve Bens from Ó Flaithbheartaigh's original record. Of the standalone "Bens" (e.g. not listed as a "Top" of a parent Ben) that are over 500 metres (1,640 ft) in height but are not listed in this 12, Binn an tSaighdiúra has a prominence of only 8 metres and would not qualify as an independent mountain on any recognised scale (the lowest prominence is 15 metres for the Vandeleur-Lynam classification); Maumonght does have a prominence exceeding 50 metres, and even has a subsidiary peak (Maumonght SW Top), however, Maumonght rarely appears on historic maps of the range and is not considered a "Ben"; Bencorrbeag also has a non-trivial prominence of 42 metres, however, it is considered unlikely given its positioning that it could have been distinguished by mariners from the sea (Ó Flaithbheartaigh's original premise).

     One of the original Twelve Bens; equated to all non-subsidiary peaks in the core massif with height above 500 metres (1,640 ft)      Marilyn: Any height, and prominence over 150 metres (492 ft).

Peaks of the Twelve Bens Mountain range (MountainViews Online Database, July 2019)
Height
Rank
Prom.
Rank
Name Irish Name (if different) Translation Area Height
(m)
Prom.
(m)
Height
(ft)
Prom.
(ft)
Topo
Map
OSI Grid
Reference
1 1 Benbaun Binn Bhán White Peak 12 Bens - Core 729 684 2,392 2,244 37 L786539
2 4 Bencorr Binn Chorr Pointed Peak 12 Bens - Core 711 306 2,333 1,004 37 L812522
3 10 Bencollaghduff Binn Dubh Black Peak/Peak of Black Hags 12 Bens - Core 696 191 2,283 627 37 L798530
4 11 Benbreen Binn Braoin Braon's Peak 12 Bens - Core 691 186 2,267 610 37 L783515
5 38 Bencorr North Top 12 Bens - Core 690 5 2,264 16 37 L809524
6 31 Benbreen Central Top 12 Bens - Core 680 25 2,231 82 37 L781520
7 16 Derryclare Binn Doire Chláir Peak of Derryclare 12 Bens - Core 677 129 2,221 423 37 L815510
8 35 Benbreen North Top 12 Bens - Core 674 16 2,211 52 37 L784522
9 9 Bengower Binn Gabhar Goats' Peak 12 Bens - Core 664 196 2,178 643 37 L783507
10 12 Muckanaght Muiceanach Hill like a Pig 12 Bens - Core 654 179 2,146 587 37 L767541
11 37 Binn an tSaighdiúra Peak of the Soldier 12 Bens - Core 653 8 2,142 26 37 L811528
12 24 Benfree Binn Fraoigh Peak of the Heather 12 Bens - Core 638 48 2,093 157 37 L778544
13 14 Bencullagh An Chailleach [Peak of] The Hag/Witch 12 Bens - Core 632 154 2,073 505 37 L756537
14 23 Maumonght Mám Uchta Pass of the Breast/Ridge 12 Bens - Core 602 54 1,975 177 37 L749539
15 2 Garraun Maolchnoc Bald Hill Garraun Complex 598 553 1,962 1,814 37 L767610
16 36 Benchoona East Top Garraun Complex 585 15 1,919 49 37 L766616
17 7 Benbrack Binn Bhreac Speckled Peak 12 Bens - Core 582 264 1,909 866 37 L766558
18 28 Benchoona Binn Chuanna Peak of Cuanna Garraun Complex 581 36 1,906 118 37 L763617
19 21 Benlettery Binn Leitrí Peak of the Wet Hillsides 12 Bens - Core 577 62 1,893 203 44 L775495
20 26 Bencorrbeg Binn an Choire Bhig Peak of the Little Corrie 12 Bens - Core 577 42 1,893 138 37 L816533
21 29 Garraun South Top Garraun Complex 556 31 1,824 102 37 L763606
22 32 Garraun South-West Top Garraun Complex 549 21 1,801 69 37 L755607
23 8 Doughruagh Dúchruach Black Stack Garraun Complex 526 211 1,726 692 37 L751594
24 33 Doughruagh South Top Garraun Complex 525 17 1,722 56 37 L751592
25 25 Benglenisky Binn Ghleann Uisce Peak of the Glen of Water 12 Bens - Core 516 48 1,693 157 37 L766501
26 27 Benbaun (477 m) Binn Bhán/Maolán White Peak 12 Bens - Core 477 42 1,565 138 37 L765568
27 30 Maumonght SW Top Binn Bhreac Speckled Peak 12 Bens - Core 454 29 1,490 95 37 L744534
28 5 Diamond Hill Binn Ghuaire Guaire's Peak 12 Bens - Outlier 442 277 1,450 909 37 L732571
29 22 Knockbrack Cnoc Breac Speckled Hill 12 Bens - Core 442 55 1,450 180 37 L749565
30 34 Knockpasheemore Binn Charrach Rocky Peak 12 Bens - Core 412 17 1,352 56 37 L807557
31 3 Tully Mountain 12 Bens - Outlier 356 331 1,168 1,086 37 L673611
32 6 Letterettrin Binn Mhór Big Peak Garraun Complex 333 268 1,093 879 37 L796620
33 15 Cregg 12 Bens - Outlier 297 142 974 466 37 L715524
34 20 Currywongaun Corr Uí Mhongáin Uí Mhongáin's Hill Garraun Complex 273 109 896 358 37 L731596
35 18 Townaloughra East Top 12 Bens - Outlier 216 112 709 367 37 L688541
36 19 Gortrumnagh (unknown) (unknown) 12 Bens - Outlier 174 110 571 361 37 L628516
37 13 Maumfin Mám Fionn White Pass 12 Bens - Outlier 172 157 564 515 37 L647588
38 17 Knockaunbaun An Cnocán Bán White Hillock 12 Bens - Outlier 146 128 479 420 37 L605596
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