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The Art O’Neill Challenge – All you need to know

The Art O’Neill challenge is an ultra-running race and hiking event that happens annually in Dublin, Ireland. The event commemorates the historic escape of 3 Irish men from Dublin castle in 1592. Nowadays the challenge is known by many as being “one of the countries gnarliest Ultra Marathons” according to the successful Irish Ultra Runner Eoin Keith, who won the race in 2013. 

History of the Art O’Neill Challenge 

For many years hikers have retraced the steps originally taken by Art O’Neill, Henry O’Neill, and Red Hugh O’Donnell when they escaped from Dublin Castle on 6 January 1592. But a few years ago the walk became a fundraising event for Stuart Mangan, the paralyzed rugby player who sadly died three years later. Since then the event has developed into a commercially organized 55km hike and ultra-race. There is an “in-between” challenge also, this category is the “hybrid”. The hybrids run the road section (30km approx.) and then the mountain section in a guided group. The ultra-runners usually navigate themselves, which is half of the challenge given the second half of the race brings them on an open mountain in the pitch-dark winter. The latest iteration of the event adds an additional 5km to the original route, now ending at Glenmalure Lodge. 


The story of Art O’Neill 

The history behind the event is what attracts many people to it. On the night of the 6th of January 1592. Art O’Neill along with, Henry O’Neill (his brother) and Red Hugh O’Donnell escaped from Dublin Castle. From there they headed south-west via what are now the modern suburbs of Harold’s Cross and Tallaght and the country roads of Boharnabreena and Kilbride, before tackling the wild west Wicklow mountain territory of Black Hill, Billy Byrne’s Gap, south past Mullaghcleevaun, and all the way to Table Track, and to the ultimate safety of Glenmalure. Roughly the route of the challenge nowadays. Art, unfortunately, died en route and the others made it to the pick-up spot in Glenmalure.


It is important to mention that in 1592 the trio did not have a mandatory kit list. They would have been in poor footwear and prison rags

Training for the Art O’Neill Challenge

The Art O’Neill Challenge is a unique training goal as there are many things to consider.

The Road Section

The Art starts with a 30km drag on the road, the first half of which is quite flat prior to ramping up from bohernabreena onwards to checkpoint The unique challenge of this part of the race is not to get carried away as it could fatigue your legs, resulting in some difficult off road kilometers.

The Mountain Section 

The “changeover” from moving quicker on the road to much slower on the mountains (whether running or hiking) is one of the most unique aspects of this event. We would advise training for this changeover if possible. You don’t need to set up a “checkpoint 1”, although that isn’t a bad plan, runs/hikes of varied terrain and of varied inclines/paces will train you for this changeover.

Navigational Preparation 

By far the best way to practice the navigation for the Art is to get out in the hills. We appreciate that this may not be possible for all competitors but you cannot get a feel for the terrain without doing a few recces. You can look at previous competitor’s Strava routes, talk to previous competitors online or in person, or even ask us! However, we would highlight that there is no guarantee that anyone you ask knows the best route.

The Kit You Need for The Art O’Neill

All of your gear will be checked at Dublin Castle. Without these items, participants will not be able to take part in the challenge:

  • Basic first aid kit (Minimum: 1 x Dressing Pad for heavy bleeding (field dressing, bandage, and plasters)
  • Head Torch with battery power for 12 hours (we would advise having 2 separate ones, one for the mountain and one for the road)
  • Energy food and drink (the checkpoints do have food at them but we would advise having a plan for nutrition independent of these)
  • High Viz Vest
  • Technical base layer (top and bottom merino wool recommended)
  • Water-proof top (preferably with Taped seams)
  • Mobile Phone fully charged and functional (a waterproof case or bag is advised)


These items are also compulsory but may be packed into a drop bag for collection at checkpoint 1

Other Recommended Kit

  • Down Jacket or similar insulation.
  • Extra socks and footwear (for after the race too!)
  • Gaiters (Highly recommended)

If you would like to watch Great Outdoors staff member Matthew’s first experience at the Art O’Neill Challenege, he made a video in 202 documenting his experience!


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