FALL IN LOVE WITH MAYO: #4 – CROAGH PATRICK

Why don’t we leave earlier in the morning – says she – get to Westport by lunchtime and do the climb in the afternoon

Well – says he –we could do a bit of it I suppose

No! No! No! – says she – that’s not the attitude – its all or nothing. We’re going to the top – sure everyone does it

He says nothing – he knows her well!!

Have you ever had one of those days – of course you have – when you’ve been planning and looking forward to something for ages but as soon as it begins you just KNOW its not going to happen. Well that was me and Croagh Patrick – full disclosure here! I’m just getting it out there before you read ahead, thinking that I made it to the top!

We were heading to Mayo and intended ‘doing’ the climb at some stage but weather, as always in these here parts, was going to dictate the ‘when’. So on the night before we left Dublin, the forecast suggested that the following day might be the best in the immediate future – not best with sun splitting the rocks but rather least likely to rain…

Croagh Patrick – known locally as The Reek – is Ireland’s holiest mountain. (Croagh means hill or mountain). It’s thought to have been a pilgrimage route as far back as 3000BC when pagans gathered to celebrate the start of the harvest season at the festival of Lughnasa – traditionally held around August 1. (Lúnasa is the Irish for August). It was believed to be the dwelling place of the old Celtic fertility deity Crom Dubh. and even though Crom Dubh was considered to possess evil powers, women often slept on the summit during the festival to encourage fertility.

Roll on to 441AD when St. Patrick supposedly fasted on top of the mountain for 40 days.

At the end of his fast, Patrick threw a bell down the mountainside and banished all the snakes from Ireland. (The fact that snakes were never native to Ireland cannot be allowed stand in the way of a good story!!)

The site became an important place of Christian pilgrimage – a dry stone oratory, dating to between 430 and 890AD, was discovered on the summit.

Nowadays, The Reek attracts about 1 million visitors annually, some 25,000 of those making the climb on the last Sunday in July – Reek Sunday. This was a night pilgrimage up until 1973, and many still opt to do the climb barefooted.

I say ‘visitor’ rather than pilgrim – many of those who do the climb – especially on Reek Sunday – are indeed the faithful who believe that the journey to the top is an act of penance. But for most, the climb has no religious meaning and just offers an opportunity to enjoy a good workout with breathtaking views.

What you need to know…..

Height: 764m.

Duration: 3-4 hours return.

Where exactly is Croagh Patrick.

The village of Murrisk is 8km from Westport. Most people arrive by car but there are bus and train services to Westport from Dublin and Galway and Bus 450 will bring you out from the town.

Parking

There’s a car park (with a charge) at the base but its not huge and certainly couldn’t cater for massive crowds. Early risers sometimes park on the roadside (and avoid the charge) if there’s room. On Reek Sunday, local fields are opened for extra parking.

Facilities

Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre (aka Teach na Miasa) offers information, coffee shop, lockers, tours, toilets etc. Might be worth investing in a climbing stick or two!

Weather

It would be lovely to be able to plan for a nice clear day… but good luck with that! The weather here is typically very changeable so come prepared. If you are spending a few days in the region then keep your schedule loose enough to avail of the best conditions.

What to Bring

Wear layers and bring something for rain and wind. Its a very uneven climb – but you’ll still see people in flipflops!! Bring drinks and snacks and a fully charged phone. Sunscreen on a sunny day. Camera and binoculars.

The Route

The most common route takes you from Murrisk up the side of the mountain (there are other less frequented options). It would be considered a moderate to strenuous hike. The straightforward path makes for a great walk for those who don’t like straying off the beaten track or are uncomfortable with navigation etc. It’s mostly just a long slog but the top is tricky with loose scree ( and is particularly challenging on the way down).

The Stations

There are three pilgrimage stations on the way to the summit, each of which has a sign with instructions for the proper rituals and prayers:

First Station (Leacht Benáin): Base of the Mountain

Second Station: The Summit

Third Station: Roilig Mhuir

Off we go……

There she is. Doesn’t look that bad….

I wonder if it’s all like this!!!

The first landmark is the statue of St Patrick, erected in 1928. This is not one of the official Stations but it has become a place of prayer, especially for those unable for the climb. Young children were often taken as far as the statue and told that they had in fact, climbed the mountain!

I spoke too soon…….

You call that a path!

The going is rough to say the least – I certainly wouldn’t fancy it in my bare feet! On the other hand, some rocks are very well-weathered and their smoothness makes them slippery – especially when wet….

There are three general stages on the ascent. The first takes you up to the shoulder or shelf of the mountain. The initial slope is ok but gets steep in places and the surface is grassy and rocky in parts.

For first timers especially, its impossible not too keep looking back at the gorgeous views of Clew Bay opening up behind you.

The bay has 365 islands – one for every day of the year! Of those, 117 are part of a drowned DRUMLIN field…. a Drumlin (Droimnín = littlest field) is a small half egg shaped hill formed by the movement of glacial ice.

WOW…. is that sunshine I see!!! Never going to last!!

I never found my stride that day – I ran out of steam after about an hour… just had enough. I was happy to turn back but himself decided to persevere and made it to the top in about 2 hours…….

The second stage goes along the shoulder of the mountain to the base of the upper slope. Clouds often settle here, obscuring both the peak and the bay below.

The final section is the cone-shaped mountain top, covered in very loose scree and very steep. This is by far the toughest part and involves a bit of scrambling over rocks that slip underfoot. Most accidents on the mountain occur here.

Well done Tommo!!!!

The top of the mountain is big enough to walk around and to sit and enjoy a snack. It’s the incredible panoramic views of south Mayo and north Galway that make this hike worthwhile. You’ll see the hundreds of drumlin islands that make up Clew Bay as well as Clare and Achill Islands in the distance. The Sheefry and Mweelrea Mountains are to the south and the Nephin Beg mountain range to the north.

An archaeological excavation in 1995 unearthed the foundation of a stone oratory dating back to between 430 and 890 AD. Other findings on the summit and around the mountain include an ancient ring fort, Neolithic cooking sites, megalithic tombs, standing stones and dwellings. Amber, blue and black beads have been dated back to the 3rd century.

Following the Great Famine of the 1840’s, the number of pilgrims dwindled. At the turn of the century, efforts were made to revitalize the traditions and this white chapel was built in the early 1900s. 12 local men used local stone and brought cement up the mountain by donkey. In 1905, it’s said that around 10,000 people attended the opening ceremony of the new church.

The first part of the descent, back down through the scree, is tougher than the climb up and involves a lot of slipping and slithering.

One last story……

The Black Bell of St Patrick – Clog Dubh – was once a highly revered relic on Croagh Patrick (the story goes that it was originally of white metal, but became black due to being constantly pelted at the demons who came to molest Patrick on the Reek!!) Dating from 600 to 900 AD, it belonged to the Geraghty family. It was used for swearing on legal matters, no one daring to perjure themselves on it. Every year, on Reek Sunday, the family brought the bell to the top of the mountain, where pilgrims were allowed to kiss it for a penny- if affected by rheumatism pains, one could pass it three times around one’s body for two pennies!

The bell was acquired around 1840 by the Royal Irish Academy – Hugh Geraghty, the then steward of the bell, used the money to pay his passage to America in 1840. The bell is now in the National Museum.

26 thoughts on “FALL IN LOVE WITH MAYO: #4 – CROAGH PATRICK

  1. Congratulations on climbing Croagh Patrick, it’s an experience, unlike any other, Marie. The views from the top are certainly worth it, even if it is a little bit overcast. By now, I’ve stood on the top of the mountain five times and were intended to bring Ericeira with us this summer so she can finally climb it, too. When we arrived in Westport, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, but Croagh Patrick was wrapped in a dense fog. The fog was, in fact, so thick, we couldn’t even see the mountain itself. We eventually decided to leave it and took a ferry to the beautiful Clare Island 🙂 Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

    1. Five times!!!! Wow Aiva that’s an achievement! I’d like to think I’d make it some time. I don’t think Tom would be persuaded to do it again but maybe if I’m visiting Westport with pals I might tackle it…. But more than likely Ericeira will reach the summit before I do!!!

  2. Glad you were able to climb Croagh Patrick in fairly decent weather, Marie. We were there in 2017, but only had time to hike part way up. We did manage a bit of a walk around in Westport and really enjoyed this area. Next time. Thanks for taking us to the top. The views are phenomenal. Allan

    1. Westport is lovely isn’t it – and a great touring base… I’d love the views from the top – maybe I’ll eventually get there!! XXXM

  3. I wanted to laugh and cry in equal measures as I read your Post Marie. I have never had any desire to ‘do’ Croagh Patrick, perhaps because it was held up as a punishment to me as a child – We’ll do Croagh Patrick in the summer holidays if you don’t behave yourself – and the pious types who did the climb didn’t impress me a lot! I remember once i Thailand climbing 141 steps to a Buddhist monastery and I jokingly told my Thai companion that if this were Ireland we’d be doing it on our knees. He was silent for a while and then said that Buddha would not be at all impressed with this because it was so immoderate! Furthermore, how could you meditate at the top if you were tired and weary, with cut and blistered feet? I had to admit, he had a point!
    Meantime, back at Croagh Patrick. Your pictures are amazing, including those taken by your other half (loved the tee shirts btw), and I know I wouldn’t have managed a quarter, nay a tenth of what you did. I’m a natural born coward when it comes to scree, small stones and slippery surfaces.

    1. Ha – times have changed Mari … it’s now a ‘must do’ – very fashionable indeed…. Not many facing it in bare feet though!! It must be stunning up there on a good day – if there’s such a thing!

  4. Strangely I’ve just read Eric Newby’s 1986 account of (inter alia) climbing Croagh Patrick – seems it’s got no easier in the meantime. The views of Clew Bay are magnificent.

    1. The only thing that might have improved since then and helped ease the effort is the range of leisure and hiking wear now available – I can imagine the scene in the 40’s and 50’s when people climbed in their Sunday Best – fancy facing that in a suit and tie!!!

    1. No stick – I was ok and didn’t feel the need for the bit I did. It must be helpful at the top though – although Tom managed without. Its quite steep at the top so I reckon I’d have tried to come down on my bottom anyway – despite the jagged edges…

    1. Lots of people only do a bit of it – I certainly wasn’t the only one who turned back that day… And even the bit I did was gorgeous….Its worth even going up a bit and perching on a rock and watching everyone go past! Those on the way down are only delighted to talk about it…

  5. Haha, I love the T-shirts! Do they have one for ‘I didn’t even bother trying to climb Croagh Patrick’?! That would be me – I know my limitations 😆 But the views are wonderful and I can absolutely see why those fit enough want to do it, whether for religious reasons or otherwise.

    1. I saw the T-shirts a few years ago in Westport and decided then I’d have to get one – wasn’t sure which I’d end up with though!

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