Croagh Patrick – I go on the Reek

That’s quite a good headline. Croagh Patrick is St Patrick’s holy mountain, all 2,507 feet of it. It is the fourth highest mountain in Mayo and has been a pilgrimage site, virtually since the time of St Patrick (385 – 461) himself. The legend is that Patrick climbed the mountain and fasted for 40 days there.

These days pilgrims, mainly but not exclusively from Ireland, climb the mountain on the last Sunday in July. This is known as Reek Sunday.

These pictures were taken by me when I last visited Ireland for Reek Sunday. Sadly this year the celebration has been cancelled – in line with lots of other events.

Reek Sunday was memorable for lots of reasons. I was amazed to find that some pilgrims still undertake the venture barefoot – presumably as an act of penance. Some walk around two of the statues as they climb the mountain, reciting their rosary of course. Some actually make circuits of the summit on their knees and virtually all pilgrims attend Mass at the small chapel which is perched at the very top.

There are so many pilgrims that they cannot get everyone in the chapel so Mass is said, more or less non-stop by the priest in a prominent observation point overlooking the summit.

The year I went the weather was what the forecasters call “changeable.” Bright sunshine on the road from Westport and during the early part of the climb. Then around 11.30am the top of the mountain disappeared in a haze of mist/damp rain (you know the stuff). In fact existence at the top for everyone was damp and pretty miserable.

The last part of the climb is very steep. Pilgrims help each other along but the potential for accidents seemed quite high.

Normally, I am told the view from the top is stunning. The year I went it was virtually hand in front of your face stuff,

However, on the way down the sun came out again and by the time I reached the road it could only be described as a warm summer evening.

An interesting experience and clearly a jolly affair for the serious participants. The Irish have a wonderful knack of turning even the most arduous undertaking into a celebratory day out, especially when there is a well-positioned pub at the end of the route.