Scaling new heights together

With a shared sense of adventure and love for the outdoors, Clonakilty native Clodagh Helen, 29, and Anthony Quigley, 34, from Bunninadden in County Sligo, found each other on the dating app Tinder in the summer of 2020, at the height of Covid restrictions. Love blossomed quickly in the outdoors between these kindred spirits and the couple now live together in Sligo.

Clodagh and Anthony at the summit of Rysy in the Tatra Mountains, the highest mountain in Poland (2501m).

Zoologist Clodagh has always been an outdoorsy person, with a big passion for nature and animals of all sorts; particularly birds in recent years. She works as a Project Officer with the Hen Harrier Programme, a project targeted specifically at farmers with land designated for the protection of breeding Hen Harrier.

While a horse riding accident and resulting severe spinal injury in 2018 should have prevented Clodagh from walking anywhere for a long time, a mere six months later, after working hard and with the support of her family, the determined hiker made an amazing recovery and set herself the challenge of climbing to the highest point in every county of Ireland within one year of breaking her back – a feat she inspiringly completed.

“The County Tops Challenge was the best type of rehabilitation I could have done,” she says. “Starting with the smaller hills involving very short walks, and building up to the highest, longer days out allowed my body to strengthen slowly but consistently and progressively I think.”

Anthony spent 10 years working in Australia before moving home to Sligo in 2017, where he retrained in healthcare. Not long before finding love with Clodagh, in 2019 Anthony found his passion for life in the hills, traversing from flat walks, to singular mountain hikes, to multi peaks, to mountain challenges to only last year completing the Tour du Mont Blanc. He now has the GR20 in his sight line.

Needless to say the couple’s first date did of course involve hiking boots and thereafter lots of long walks together in beautiful areas, setting the trend for the future of this relationship.

Although she describes herself as more of a ‘scenic hiker’ than Anthony; with his help, Clodagh is really enjoying taking on more challenging hikes. 

“It is often on these longer, tougher days out in more remote wilderness areas that we have had the most spectacular experiences in nature; white-tailed eagles in Kerry, dotterel in Leitrim, incredible sunsets from mountain summits and so on,” she shares.

As a result, Anthony is now also getting very good at identifying bird species, often pointing them out to the expert!

This shared passion makes its way into all of Clodagh and Anthony’s weekends away and holidays together, which always include at least a hike or two!

The couple have walked Carrigfadda Hill in the pitch dark together; sitting at the top and watching the sun rise over West Cork on a beautiful New Year’s Day morning.

While a weekend organised by Anthony, which included hiking the Glencoaghan Horseshoe in Connemara, a flight to the Aran Islands (which had been on Clodagh’s bucket list) and a fabulous stay at Ballynahinch Castle, rates highly for a Clodagh when it comes to romantic gestures; simple things like Anthony carrying her bag on a long tiring hike, also means a lot.

For Anthony, the rock of support that Clodagh provides in whatever challenge he sets himself is an important part of their love story.

“I have come up with some crazy mountain challenges, one to mind is where I wanted to climb the four highest provincial peaks in under 24 hours. Rather than brushing the idea off, Clodagh supported me and aided me to dream it was possible. Coming to the time of the event, she supported me with having meals cooked, driving and more to achieve this challenge, which I find is very romantic!”

When they’re not scaling hills or mountains together, Clodagh enjoys spending time in her garden or taking photographs and Anthony turns his hand to farming.

This couple’s deep respect and admiration for each other has created a strong and healthy partnership.

And while Anthony’s year-long hoarding of Easter eggs and Clodagh’s habit of shouting out the name of a bird species mid conversation could be regarded as annoying habits; they each accept the other for who they are, warts and all!

“Our relationship began during the pandemic, which I think was a great thing; we had plenty of time just the two of us without distractions to build a really strong foundation. By the time things were returning to ‘normal’ and we got really busy in our own lives, we had great security in each other,” shares Clodagh.

“I think there is no rule book that anyone can follow, as we are all unique, but as long as you have respect everything else will fall into place,” says Anthony.

For now the future is very much a blank canvas, as Clodagh and Anthony both firmly believe in living in the moment, but they do mention looking forward to a trekking trip to the Italian Dolomites later this year and no doubt Anthony may have his sights set on reaching higher altitude in the future with the support of his partner in hiking and love.

Mary O'Brien

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