Malone, John James Bernard (‘J. B.’) (1913–89), walker and pioneer of guided walking routes in Ireland, was born 13 December 1913 in Leeds, one of two sons born to James Bernard Malone and Agnes Malone (née Kenny) from Dublin. The family moved around a lot, including coming back to Ireland in 1916, but Malone spent most of his childhood in England and was primarily educated at the Marist Brothers College, Grove Ferry, Kent, where he completed his senior certificate examination in 1929. It was on his return to Ireland in 1931 that he began hill-walking seriously, while working initially with the builders’ providers firm, C. P. Glorney, and later with Irish Mutual Insurance. In 1940 Malone joined the Irish army; he served in Dublin, Athlone, Letterkenny, and GHQ in Parkgate St., Dublin, working as a mapmaker in the intelligence section. He spent much of his leave during the Emergency (1939–45) roaming the Dublin and Wicklow hills. In the period 1932–45 he kept meticulous journals of his walking trips in hard-back notebooks, where he noted weather conditions, routes, times, and his own observations on the countryside around him. These would prove invaluable resources for the planning of the Wicklow Way in later years. In 1938 Malone was commissioned to write a regular walking column called ‘The open road’ for the Evening Herald, which continued until 1975; it played a major part in popularising walking as a leisure activity in Ireland. He also published a series of books, beginning with The open road (1950), based on his newspaper column, and continuing with Walking in Wicklow (1964) and his much republished guidebook, The complete Wicklow Way (1988). Another book, Know your Dublin (1969), with artist Liam C. Martin (1934–98), was based on their column in the Evening Herald during 1967–8 and provided interesting and often novel information about some of Dublin's best- and least-known landmarks. In the early 1960s he made a television series for RTE called ‘Mountain and meadow’ with author and friend James Plunkett (qv) as producer/director. A one-hour programme on the Wicklow Way, in which he appeared, was made and shown in 1980.
Malone's most lasting contribution to Irish hill-walking was the development of the Wicklow Way, the first long-distance guided walking route in Ireland. It is a network of paths and trails that brings walkers in a south-south-west direction from Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, to Clonegal, Co. Carlow, a distance of 132 km. The walker crosses a variety of terrain, including the Dublin and Wicklow hills, passing many of the most famous beauty spots on the way, including Powerscourt waterfall, Lough Tay, the Luggala valley, and Glendalough. Central to the appeal of the walk was the fact that it was accessible to walkers of moderate fitness but yet also brought them into some of the most remote and seemingly inaccessible areas of Leinster. Malone had first proposed such a guided walk in 1966, although he had talked about such a scheme as early as 1942, initially intending it to terminate at Moyne, Co. Wicklow. After leaving the army he worked briefly with ironmongers Maguire & Gatchell in Dawson St., before joining the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1947. A draughtsman, he had become a skilled cartographer through his army experience, and this helped him to design and illustrate his proposed route. In 1979, after his retirement, he was appointed field officer for what are now the Waymarked Ways of Ireland, with responsibility for developing long-distance walking routes. The first section of the Wicklow Way opened in 1980, ending at Luggala, and the route to Clonegal was completed in 1982. The Kerry Way, from Killarney to Glencar, and the Táin Way in Louth opened in 1985, and two years later the Dingle Way and the Slieve Bloom Way were added to the burgeoning network of trails. By 1998 there were twenty-five walkways extending over 1,500 km in the country.
Amiable, knowledgeable, and generous with his information, Malone had an extensive knowledge not just of the terrain of Wicklow and Ireland but of the history, flora, fauna, and lore as well, all of which helped to make his columns and guide-books extremely popular. He was proud of Ireland's physical heritage, describing the Wicklow mountains as ‘about sixteen times as old as the upstart Alps or the aspiring Himalayas’ (The complete Wicklow Way, 14). Although he believed that walking was the only way to get to know the countryside, he was no dogmatist, maintaining that his chief maxim was ‘never walk when you can ride, drive, or be carried’ (The open road, 8). Walking was his chief pleasure, however, and in the introduction to The complete Wicklow Way he wrote: ‘Walking has been my way of life. It was through walking I met my wife and by my walking articles I reared my family’. Above all, he was curious about places and passionate about exploration. His legacy is in having foreseen the possibilities of recreational walking in Ireland on a large scale, as had been done in Britain; having the vision to conceive of national walking routes; and being the main mover in establishing the first of these routes. He was made an honorary life member of An Óige in 1980 for his contribution to hill-walking in Ireland. He was an active hill-walker right up to his death on 17 October 1989, and he is buried in Bohernabreena cemetery.
He married (1947) Margaret (‘Peg’) Garry (d. 2002) from Kildare; they lived, appropriately, in Walkinstown, Co. Dublin, and had two sons and a daughter. There is a memorial plaque to Malone on the Wicklow Way overlooking Lough Tay, and each May An Óige organises a J. B. Malone memorial walk. His papers are in the NLI.