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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
north of disko

Irish adventurers return from Arctic with stunning photos, mild sea-sickness

The eleven person team – ranging in age from their early 20s to early 60s – are back on dry land after an epic voyage to Greenland and a turbulent return sea journey that “put manners on everybody”…

A GROUP OF Irish sailors, climbers and kayakers say they are ‘still recovering’ after staging an epic, ten-week voyage to the Arctic Circle.

Organised by Jamie Young of Killary Adventure Centre as a novel way of celebrating his 60th birthday, the group of eleven set out to complete a 250km open sea kayak trip, complete a number of first ascent climbs, and – most importantly – arrive home safely to Galway by August.

Young told “I had  wanted to go to Greenland for a long, long time but the problem with going was I always work during the summer”.

“I’d been to the Antarctic before several times, but of course you do that in the winter. Once I turned 60 I felt I had to go.”


The ‘Killary Flyer’ photographed through an iceberg arch (Daragh Muldowney)

The journey took some time to organise (Young is now 61), but eventually the crew — complete with photographer Daragh Muldowney and documentarian Claire Riordan — were ready, and sailed from Galway on 14 June aboard former Admiral’s Cup racing yacht the ‘Killary Flyer’.

The 49 foot craft was buffeted by some “wild weather” on a rough Atlantic crossing, before the adventurers eventually reached their destination at Upernavik – well inside the Arctic Circle – and began exploring Greenland’s spectacular coastline, ice fjords and glaciers.

“The climbing was spectacular – such a fantastically wild, fantastically challenging environment,” Young said.

In some cases, those challenges overwhelmed the experienced team of climbers on the trip; Young says they were unable to complete a number of their planned ascents, “The Impossible Wall was one… It turned out to be impossible after all”.


Climber (software developer by trade) Stephen McGowan near Uumannaq, north-west Greenland

For photographer Daragh Muldowney, the aim was to capture the expedition and to work on more abstract pieces for an upcoming exhibition. “I’ve always been interested in ice,” he said.

“I’ve been fascinated with ice ever since I stood on the Fox Glacier in New Zealand – so I jumped at the chance to come on this trip when Jamie asked me.

“The plan was up in the air for a while, but I was lucky to get sponsored by Canon and Sandisk for the voyage. The last collection I did was analog images – this is the first time I’ll have used a digital set of equipment.

“There’s obviously a huge step up in terms of resolution. Of course the unbelieveably jaw-dropping scenery helped as well.”


‘Daragh’s Dilemma’ (photo by Colin Dillon)

Some of the finished photos took more work than others. The stunning picture of the Killary Flyer [above] sailing behind an arch in an iceberg took “a couple of fly-pasts” to get right; Muldowney captured the image from a dingy while the crew manoeuvred the ship into place.

Elsewhere, an image taken by team member Colin Dillon entitled ‘Daragh’s Dilemma’ [also above], captures the photographer training his lens on ice patterns in a glacial chasm.

“It was a water-filled crevice, with beautiful patterns. It was a little precarious in that the ice there is so smooth so there’s no grip. If I’d fallen in with all that gear it would have been cold and I would have just sunk, so no – that wouldn’t be good.”

For Young, meeting and learning about Greenland’s native Inuit people was by far the most fascinating aspect of the voyage.

“Yes, you certainly meet a lot of interesting people in these settlements. They’ve been there for thousands of years and they have a very different set of values to the western world, and they’re keen not to lose that.

“There’s also a split between the older and younger generations – a lot of the older generation would remember hunting and surviving on very little; the modern generation, they have the internet and they are going to college in Denmark, so the generations are very different.


The team from Killary go native in seal skin attire

The crew got to experience the native culture first hand when they attended an Inuit confirmation ceremony in one of the settlements. The menu comprised of polar bear, beluga whale and seal-meat, which Young said it “would of course” have been wrong to refuse.

“A lot of people here would of course think it odd to eat bear, but they regard polar bear as their cattle, seals as their chicken. Fish, of course, as their fish.

“There’s a real problem with pollution in the area, drifting up from America and falling in the sea – and there’s huge toxicity in the food system. So whenever someone says to them ‘well, you shouldn’t be eating polar bear’, they say ‘well, sort the pollution out’.”

As they set course for Ireland on the return journey, the Killary Flyer sailed right into a “terrific storm” which “put manners on everybody”.

According to Young “It was the strongest bit of weather I’d been in, so it did get to a stage where yes… we were concerned enough”.

The ship’s anemometer (which measures wind speed) only went up to 60 knots, he said, and was stuck at that mark for the duration of the 18 hour ordeal.


View of the Greenland coast, from the Killary Flyer

The crew arrived back into Killary Harbour on 15 August and are currently “readjusting to life ashore”.

Muldowney’s photography exhibition will be staged in Dublin in March of next year, it’s planned, with a documentary on the voyage expected at around the same time.

Irish adventurers return from Arctic with stunning photos, mild sea-sickness
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  • Seal Skin Team

  • Kilary Flying

  • Tent & Glacier

  • Glacier Photography Trip

  • Killary Arctic Journey

  • Misty Berg 2

  • Glacier Photography Trip

  • Team Shot

  • Kayaks & Sparkles

  • Kilary Flyer & Iceberg 4

  • Uumannaq climbing

  • Daragh's Dillemma

All photos: Daragh Muldowney & Colin Dillon. You’ll find more details on the voyage at

Pictures: Stunning photos capture wreck of Tall Ship Astrid at dawn >

Hidden Ireland: How a shipwreck turned into an abbey >

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