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Ricky Bell: Ireland’s climbing sensation

WE TALK to Irishman Ricky Bell about his climbing career to date and his ambitions in the sport for the year ahead.

Ricky Bell

Ricky Bell, now the biggest name on the Irish climbing scene, started out in the sport at the age of ten. Photo Pat Nolan


RICKY BELL is without doubt the biggest name on the Irish climbing circuit. He was brought up by parents who saw the value of outdoor activity and was climbing on a regular basis from the age of ten. He was so taken by the sport that his father built a wooden climbing wall in the family’s garden.

Today Ricky is best know as a trad climber and is renowned for opening some of the most exciting routes in Ireland. He has travelled the world to pursue his passion for the sport and has climbed in countries including France and Spain. Last year he spent five months climbing in Tennessee, the USA.


In this exclusive interview Ricky talks about his love for his profession and what he sees as his biggest successes in the sport. Read on to find out more about his climbing technique and some of his plans for the year ahead.


To follow Ricky’s blog visit


When did you start climbing and who were your biggest supporters and influences at the beginning?


I started climbing when I was about ten. My Mum and Dad climbed and were pretty active outdoor type of people. They took me and my sisters climbing in the Mourne Mountains. We went outside at the weekends and one night a week we’d go to the climbing wall in Belfast which had just open around this time.


Summer holidays where spent in a trailer tent at some of the best climbing areas around Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Yeah I was totally into it from the start – climbing classics on the rocks and jumping around at the indoor wall. My folks let us be pretty independent in the mountains and crags. I climbed a lot with my younger sister.


My Dad built a really cool board in the back garden which was a bit of a game changer as a young climber. As I got older I was taken under the wing by some of my Dad’s friends. Like Phil Holmes. Phil took me climbing on more difficult routes in the mountains and introduced me to bigger crags like Fair Head on the north coast of Ireland. Routes put up by local climbers Calvin Torrans, Clare Sheridan, Eddie Cooper and Ali Moles inspired me when I was young.


There where few young climbers when I was growing up. Si Moore was one of them. He was similar to me but a year or two older. We were both young and silly and learning through epics. We where pretty much obsessed with trying to climb the local test pieces and getting better and stronger. When I was in my late teens I started climbing with Ron Browner, a climber from Dublin. Ron really helped me push on with my climbing. I onsighted my first E5 and E6 with Ron and later went ground up on a few E7’s. 


Ricky Bell

Ricky Bell on the face of Tiger Gorm e7 6c, on Owey Island, Donegal. photo Pat Nolan


What have been your biggest achievements in the sport and where have been some of the places in the world that climbing has taken you to?


I like to think that I’m still growing as a climber and there’ll always be bigger or better things to move towards. But I suppose there are some routes or experiences I’m proud of. The moments I get most pleasure out of reliving in my head, are those times when you had to dig deep and try really hard when everything was falling apart. Maybe you hadn’t believed you could do something and then you let go of everything and it happens. I think this is one of the best feelings in climbing.


I’m probably most psyched about developing and exploring climbing in Ireland and some of the routes I’ve opened you could say were my ‘big achievements’. Mainly because you get to spend plenty of time and effort going about this process. I love this process of finding and cleaning things and going about climbing them.


I’ve  been lucky to have travelled about a bit. From Islands of the coast of Ireland to forests in France, granite valleys in California, beaches in Mallorca, mountains in The Alps, Deserts in Utah to villages in Spain. Climbing has taken me so many places I would never of imagined I’d visit. Places full of beauty, adventures, mini epics, amazing people, and new friendships. I spent about five months in Tennessee last year. I hadn’t imagined it could be so good. There’s so many places I’d love to go, and I dream I’ll get to go to them all but life is so random and at the moment I’m happy just letting them pop up and go along with them. 


Ricky Bell

Ricky has made his reputation as a trad climber but is also passionate about other kinds of climbing. Photo Pat Nolan


What kind of climbing do you mostly do and how has your technique developed and changed over the years?


I think I’m a trad climber. I think..! I’m not sure. I love sport climbing, we just don’t have much of it in Ireland at the minute. We’ve got the potential but we’ve also got such a strong heritage in trad climbing in Ireland.  We’ve got lots of good rock, all types on such a wee island. My approach is to generally climb all year round. When I’m here I just go with the seasons or maybe in circle you could say. Bouldering in the winter and trad climbing in the spring. 


As far as how I climb? Or my climbing style or technique? I think we tend to become much more rounded as climbers as we get older. And we only get better! Maybe a bit more clever or more relaxed. I suppose you get good at what you do the most or what environment you started climbing in. For example, I love slab climbing and just off vertical stuff. The really technical, balance type movements. That’s what floats my boat the most.


The granite slabs in the Mourne Mountains where probably my foundation for this. I do a lot of work in the climbing walls now –  route setting and coaching and you can see how that type of environment produces climbers who love jumping about and powering around on steep plastic. It’s simple stuff really – you’ve got to climb on lots of different styles of rock and movements if you want to be a better all round climber. 


Ricky Bell

You can find Ricky’s blog at Photo Pat Nolan


Tell us about your blog and how important it is to you to connect with likeminded people across the internet?


Haha – my blog needs to be updated… Forgive me, I’ve been rock climbing.  I’m a bit of a sparatic blogger these days. I’ve actually just moved into a house again after a three-year stint of being a van hobo so maybe that will change. I do enjoy sharing info and experiences. It just keeps psych high really. I get motivated reading and seeing what other climbers are up too and I hope other people get the same from me.


There’s a cool scene here in Ireland with a small bunch of really psyched climbers adventuring about exploring and having fun and sharing it.


If anyone wants to have a nosey in on what I’m up to, I’ve a blog here, Instagram here,  and I love making wee films. You can check out some of them here  and here



A photo taken at Ricky’s new home showing a climbing wall in the garden. Photo Bell Collection


How much more do you want to achieve in climbing and what exciting plans or challenges do you have set for the rest of the year and beyond?


I think I’ll always be pottering along – There’s so much to do! I’ve some sport climbing ambitions I’d like to have a bash at in the coming year, and I’d like to climb some longer routes in the Alps or maybe climb on El Cap again next Autumn. The bouldering at Fair Head will probably be my focus this winter. On the Irish route climbing front – there’s plenty for me to do, let’s hope we get another nice spring. And if all that fails, I’ve just moved into a house again and we’ve got a nice board in the back garden so maybe I’ll just climb on that!


Thanks for the interview. I’d like to give a quick thanks to my supporters DMM Climbing, Marmot and Scarpa

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