Ned's story: Divis and the Black Mountain

Ned Clarke volunteer Divis Mountain

A resident of West Belfast, Ned Clarke has been volunteering on Divis and the Black Mountain for thirteen years. Here he reveals the reason the mountain means so much to him and why he’s encouraging others to discover ‘Ned’s Mountain’…

Ned’s relationship with Divis and the Black Mountain began when he was a child growing up in West Belfast. ‘Before I left school this was our playground. One of the entrances to the mountain was about a mile and a half from my house and we use to head up there as kids and enjoy the space and freedom.’

Ned rediscovered the mountain under very different circumstances in 1990 after being involved in a serious accident: ‘After the accident my life completely changed, I could no longer do my job and I had to relocate my wife and young family from London to Belfast. I was at a bit of a loss when my older brother suggested I start going up Divis and the Black Mountain to build up my strength.

‘At that time there was only cattle, the army and a few delinquents on the mountain and the pathway would have been lined with burnt out cars. But that didn’t put me off.  I would walk to the top, lie down and look at the sky and the grass around me. I could have been anywhere in the world at that moment and that’s what I loved about it.  

" I think it’s this place that has kept me alive so long. Living in Belfast during the Troubles hasn’t been easy but coming up here provides real relief, and I think that’s because I’m surrounded by the peace of nature."
- Ned Clarke

A moment of peace amidst the chaos

Ned recalls how during the Troubles he could see the violence unfolding in the streets of Belfast below: ‘I can still picture the smoke rising from burning buildings.  But that’s the thing, when things are upside down in your mind with family or health troubles, you can go into the heart of Divis and feel a load lifted from your mind. Yes, you’ll have to go back down and get back into the flow of life, but for those two or three hours that you spend on the mountain, you get to see life from a fresh point of view.

Connecting to nature

‘There is a special feeling up there,’ Ned continues. ‘I think it’s this place that has kept me alive so long. Living in Belfast during the Troubles hasn’t been easy but coming up here provides real relief, and I think that’s because I’m surrounded by the peace of nature.

Divis and the Black Mountain came into the care of the National Trust in 2004 and we have invested a considerable in amount cleaning up the mountain, laying new paths and adding facilities. Slowly, people started to rediscover this special place. Our ranger Dermot McCann became a familiar face to the locals and Ned welcomed the company.

Ned pictured with National Trust ranger Dermott McCann
Ned pictured with National Trust ranger Dermott McCann

Ned's volunteering journey

Appreciative of Ned’s knowledge of the mountain Dermot invited him to become a volunteer and Ned accepted, making regular visits to the mountain with his beloved Labrador, picking up litter along the trails as he walked; ‘I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people on the mountain since the Trust took over,’ he adds. ‘It’s amazing to see so many people enjoying this special place. We had just under 200,000 visitors last year which is incredible

Back in May 2017 Ned was diagnosed with Osteoporosis in the lower back and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), a form for paralysis, but this hasn’t stopped his love affair with Divis and the Black Mountain.

‘I still try to get up 2-3 times a week,’ he explains. ‘I just take my time now and avoid the steep paths. I joke that I’ll be in my box before I stop coming up the mountain! Even if I only get up for a short stroll, to clear a bit of litter around the carpark, it’s helping Dermott and it helps keep my spirits up.’

Ned’s Ode to Divis & the Black Mountain, 1990

High upon the mountain on the 12 July

I saw the smoke of a dozen fires die

Dawn was just breaking, the air was so sweet

As the sun cast its rays on the hills at my feet

The sky was so clear as I wandered back down

From the peace and tranquillity, to the turmoil of town