Climbing Croagh Patrick
Climbing Croagh Patrick has always been on my ‘to do’ list, so when a friend arrived back home from Ireland having successfully completed the climb, I was anxious to hear all about it.
Mt Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s ‘holy mountain,’ is located in County Mayo and is Ireland’s most sacred (and popular) pilgrimage site. The mountain is also known as the ‘Reek’ and peaks at over 750 metres. The legend is that St Patrick climbed the mountain some time during the 5th century when he fasted for forty days and nights and banished forever all the snakes in Ireland.
Summer is a popular time to set out on the Croagh Patrick trek and on the last Sunday in July, known as Reek Sunday, in a tradition dating back centuries, thousands of pilgrims descend on the tiny village of Murrisk situated at the foot of the mountain to commence the walk. While Murrisk might be small, pilgrims are well catered for as there is a fully equipped visitors and information centre in the village. Hot showers are available and other facilities include a restaurant/coffee shop, storage lockers and a shop selling among other things raingear, maps and walking sticks. A carpark and toilets are nearby.
It is important to walk up the mountain at your own pace and the general consensus seems to be to allow 2-3 hours each way plus rest time at the top. There are various tracks up the mountain, however, there is no escaping the steep incline and from halfway up stones, rocks and loose shale litter much of the face. Three pilgrim ‘stations’ are located on the mountain and at each of these a suggested prayer ritual can be undertaken. At the approximate half way point there is a most scenically located flushing loo and another at the summit. Look forward to a spectacular view from the top of the mountain where a modern looking, whitewashed chapel named after St Patrick has been erected and where on Reek Sunday, Mass is celebrated every half hour between 0800 and 1400. Weather permitting, the church is open every day during July and August.
A popular charity walk, the Croagh Patrick 7 Day Challenge, is held every year to increase the awareness of Autism in County Mayo and raises funds to help build and support a specialised school for autistic children - the Mayo Centre of Excellence. These days the walk has become a highly regarded event and everyone is invited to participate. The 7th annual challenge will be held in July, 2013. More information can be found at www.croaghpatrickchallenge.com
However, regardless of whether you choose to make the climb alone or with a group, some things never change. It is imperative to check the weather forecast before setting out and to ensure that you have sufficient warm clothes and rainwear. Bear in mind that weather conditions can change very quickly in this part of Ireland. Sensible footwear is compulsory (though as an act of penance, some pilgrims choose to walk in barefoot). Sunglasses, a hat, band-aids (for blisters) and a mobile phone are also options worth thinking about. Carry snacks and sufficient water. Use one or two trekking poles or a pilgrim staff. Walking sticks can be hired in Murrisk.
Photos used in this article were taken by Jennifer Rooks, an Australian woman who climbed Croagh Patrick in 2012.
Three and four star hotels are located Westport, a large town 8 kms from Murrisk. Homely B & Bs can also be found inWestport and in the villages surrounding Croagh Patrick. Info: westporttourism.com
The ruins of the old Murrisk Abbey, a once thriving 15th century Augustinian community of monks who regularly climbed Croagh Patrick for spiritual reasons.
The Murrisk Pattern is usually held on the last or second last Sunday in August every year. The celebrations commence with a Mass celebrated at Murrisk Abbey followed by a fun day of games and events including music, dancing, sheep dog trails, children’s entertainment and art and craft activities. Food and drink are available.
Ballintubber Abbey is situated 25 kms south east of Murrisk and is another of Ireland’s sacred sites having been founded in 1216. Church services are still held here and an ancient pilgrimage route to Croagh Patrick, the Tochar Phádraig commences in Ballintubber. However, Ballintubber Abbeys’ most recent claim to fame was when Irish actor Pierce Brosnan married Keely Shaye Smith in August 2001.
A little further afield, (50 kms east of Murrisk) the popular Foxford Woollen Mill welcomes visitors. The mill is a treasure house of handknitted Irish sweaters, tweed caps, blankets, rugs, capes, scarves, jewellery and local souvenirs.
For more information about what to see and do in County Mayo, please go to www.mayo-ireland.ie
Trish Clark is the author of the Good Night and God Bless series of guidebooks to convent and monastery accommodation in Europe. Her latest book, Guide to the Camino, St Jean to Santiago de Compostela is out now. She is the Travel with a Spiritual Twist Editor for Wandering Educators. You can find her at www.goodnightandgodbless.com and at http://guidetothecamino.com/