A love of the Irish language: this is what Elaine Nic Réamoinn attributes the foundations of her Siúl Linn community of hikers, beach yoga-ers and romance seeking singletons to.

“This came from my Gaeltacht days, people coming together from all parts of the country, outdoors, - usually in bad weather because we were in Connemara (Spleodar) - and being creative” she tells Irish Country Living.

This same love saw the Carlow native choose teaching science, including agricultural science, through Irish as her profession. The day job is in the Gael Colaiste Meanscoil Gorman, which is actually based on a farm in Wexford. But that is familiar territory for Elaine who grew up on a tillage farm in Clonegal, at the foot of the Blackstairs.

The walking, like farming, was with her from an early age. Every weekend Elaine’s dad would bring her up the back hills or onto local trails which she remembers as “kind of a remedy, you have a cup of tea or you went for a walk and you felt better.”

First steps

At the start of the pandemic, Elaine found herself at home again and back walking the Blackstairs.

“I had this love for my local hills again and discovering [unseen] parts of the Blackstairs,” she explains. “If you go to Wicklow, it’s busy, [whereas] the Black hills, are rural and remote, going up the back of Shannon’s Lane where you don’t meet a soul any weekend.”

Elaine soon realised that people were always walking the same trails. They didn’t know the Stuaici´n (last peak in the Wicklow Way), so had never walked it. She speculates that perhaps “they didn’t want to, or they were afraid to venture out.”

To make the mountains more accessible, Elaine said she “took a notion to organise a one off local hike and seven women turned up. We realised we were all related, which was an instant connection. Everyone baked and we had a ball. We sat at the top drinking flasks of tea and eating each other’s cake. So I said I’d do it again.”

Bigger strides

From that first walk with seven women, Elaine now has to cap her hikes at 24 people for health and safety reasons, and she always has a waiting list. What she saw on those walks was that – one - people are looking for genuine connections and – two - they open up in the hills.

Her view was that, “The pandemic was really difficult on people in their 30s and 40s who hadn’t met someone and suddenly were completely isolated. The [dating] apps are a disaster, the concept of being disposable.”

In opening up, people were coming to hikes and saying, ‘I’m really trying to put myself out there and I’d actually love to meet people’. This is when it clicked with Elaine: “Why don’t we organise singles events for people living in rural Ireland?”

So in the summer of 2022, Elaine teamed up with Paul Rooney from Muddy Souls (a hiking community in the West) to make the first Siúl Linn singles hiking trip a reality.

“We decided to come together and bring it all back to Graiguenamanagh (Kilkenny). This is actually where Miley and Biddy from Glenroe came to reignite their romance back in the day after Fidelma, O the drama!!” she laughs.

Elaine Nic Réamoinn rallies her group to talk to each after the pandemic which she says was "really difficult on people in their 30s and 40s who hadn’t met someone and suddenly were completely isolated"

Now while forty singles turned up, Elaine admits that there was a huge amount of leg work required to get them there. How did you get them in, I ask?

“Persistence! So [with] women, once an event goes up, they’re in, they’ve paid and they have the hiking boots in the car. They’re raring [to go]. Men are a different story. They’re very last minute, they’re nervous, they’re shy and they don’t like to be told what to do. So it was difficult at the start.”

This persistence, Elaine says, was “constantly sharing it on Instagram, on the radio, KCLR, South East radio, Beat, Kilkenny Live anyone who’d listen to me and it filled up.”

Giant leap

The ratio of men to women was carefully managed. Elaine and Paul teamed up with Charlie and Rachel Horan from Go with the Flow, river adventures in Kilkenny, who ran the kayaking element, but also took the bookings and included a select limit to ensure the ratio. Of the mix, Elaine says there are a lot of hobby farmers, working jobs and fattening cattle on the side [that] genuinely don’t have time to meet women. The age group is late 20s to early 50s with the majority in the 30 to 40 bracket.

The pandemic was really difficult on people in their 30s and 40s who hadn’t met someone and suddenly were completely isolated

So with 40 singles in a Kilkenny village, the next job for Elaine and Paul was to get them to mix.

“Paul came from the west with his whistle. We lined them up on the Barrow track and we did 20 First Dates. So they were on 20 first dates in 40 minutes and they were grand. Only a fraction of them had camped before. They didn’t know how to pitch tents, they didn’t know how to take down tents, but it created fantastic crack. At three in the morning around the campfire, it was just amazing.”

Breaking into a jog

In December a second singles event took place up Lough Ouler in Wicklow - The Heart-shaped Lake. This event sold out a lot faster, which Elaine attributes to “The men are catching on. We had a waiting list for them now.

“When we get to the lake - that is where the fun happens. The dating, the games, the wildness. Myself and Paul have got to the stage where we don’t really care what people think of us. We let loose and encourage people to mingle and interact by the speed dating.”

Elaine quotes her colleague: “Paul will say to them; ‘if you like a girl, you let her know - swap numbers, follow up. None of this wishy washy lukewarm stuff, you tell her you like her.’”

Elaine and Paul play their part for three or four hours, the group then go back to the hotel for drinks and everyone looks after themselves.

Elaine is confident that she will need a dress for all the Siúl Linn weddings. But, winning for her is seeing people happy. She says, “It’s tough out there, but it’s not just about the romance. People come away having made friends they want to meet up and hike together with again. This is about people putting themselves out there and gaining confidence. People come up on their own. You have to be vulnerable but that is when the magic happens.”

Elaine Nic Réamoinn comes from a farm at the foot of the Black Stairs in Carlow

Starting to run

What’s next for Siul Linn? “I’m teaming up with loads of things and training to be a mountain leader with Mountaineering Ireland. I built a community, but now I want to build a business,” Elaine discloses.

Foreign trips are already part of the offering. In 2022 Elaine guided a group in Morocco for Ronan and Cindy Mul­lins, who run Laragh based sustainable travel com­pany; Adventure.ie. She has also organised trips to Scotland to do the Munro’s and Wales for Snowden, with a Lake District trip planned for April.Mental health and wellbeing were a clear thread through our conversation. A partnership Elaine is excited about is with Cara Byrne (hikepsych.ie), the only psychotherapist in Ireland who brings people out on the hills as part of her therapy. “We are teaming up to take women out and create safe spaces. It’s very powerful. You are walking side by side and people have shared so many traumas and tears. Mothers are coming on these trips. It’s low maintenance. When I was growing up, Mom never left us. Some women, mothers had reached a crisis. They had lost their identity.”

Having just finished her personal training (PT) strength conditioning, Elaine is also keen to bring an element of fitness into Siúl Linn for women. She has aspirations for kid’s hikes through Irish, learning about native Flora and Fauna in our native language. A Pride hike saw Elaine team up with Sarah from the Wild Grazer in Kilkenny for cheeseboards and charcuterie to climb Glendalough; “We had 25 on that hike and I’ll definitely do a bigger one of those next year.”

Take a breather

As with the Pride hike, working with local aligned business is an important element of Siúl Linn; whether that is kayaking with Go with the Flow, date night raffle prizes for dinner at Arán or serving platters for participants from the Wild Grazer.

“Lots of women have supported me in my journey. So I brought together a group of women on one of the most beautiful places in Ireland – Hook peninsula. We had a day of yoga, a cacao in journaling (taking time to reflect while writing out your thoughts and feelings), a sauna and then the Wild Grazer lunch and it was just beautiful.”

Last question: The Irish weather – question mark? “The weather is not the issue. It’s the gear and the mind-set. I have been running this group now for two years and I’ve had maybe two really, really, really horrible days among all my events. It’s never fully wet for the whole day and people don’t care. Living in the moment is the ultimate mindfulness.”

More info

Find Elaine on instagram @siul_linn

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