The King of the Forest, a giant oak tree, standing proudly near my home at Bothar an Iarla, Glanageenty, Ballymacelligott in Kerry is my perfect tree. As a child growing up in this magical place it gave me all the emotions of youth and joy when I climbed it and tears when I fell from it. This tree is an important historic landmark. Beneath its lofty structure stands the Earl of Desmond monument marking the spot where history tells us that Gerald, the last Earl of Desmond, died and his body cast beneath an old oak tree.
By 1999 he [John Lenihan] had probably reached his peak, and returned home from that October’s World Mountain Running Championships in Borneo feeling a little down on himself. So, two days later, he went running up Carrauntoohil, as only John Lenihan would do. Only he didn’t tell anyone. Wearing just a T-shirt and shorts, he reached the summit of Caher, where he passed a couple of hikers on their way down. “It’s harsh up there,” they said, yet he ran on, into the suddenly blinding snow and freezing wind. His left leg slipped into a rocky hole and didn’t come out in one piece. He was alone on Carrauntoohil, about 15 minutes from the summit, with a broken leg and no way of getting down. He could either die or crawl, so he crawled, only this time the descent that once took him 25 minutes lasted four hours, before he was rescued.
From the tooth-like highest peak of Carrauntoohil – 1,038 metres, or 3,406 feet in old money – the view is at its busiest, into what locals call the Heart of the Kingdom. No man has passed that peak at greater pace and frequency, nor indeed blessed and cursed it more times, than John Lenihan. Carrauntoohil is the mountain that helped make him, and also once threatened to take him. These and other tales are now told in Tough as Leather, the book that finally sings many of his heroics.
‘Tough As Leather’, The Story of Sporting Legend John Lenihan, by Con Dennehy, is available in all good bookshops in Ireland.