Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s pilgrimage mountain
Croagh Patrick, nicknamed the Reek, is a 764-metre (2,507ft) mountain and an important site of pilgrimage in County Mayo in Ireland.
It is situated five miles from the beautiful town of Westport and the mountain’s conical shape soars majestically above the surrounding countryside above the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey.
It is the third highest mountain in County Mayo after Mweelrea and Nephin.
Croagh Patrick, which overlooks Clew Bay with its 365 islands, is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. It is well known for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honour of St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down from generation to generatio ever since through the Advent of Lent.
Each year on the last Sunday in July, thousands of devotees from all around the world visit the mountain for what is known as “Reek Sunday”, a day of worship in honour of Saint Patrick. Some people even climb the mountain barefoot as an act of penance. Outdoor Masses are also held throughout the day.
However, the sheer volume of visitors during the year and the consequential erosion has caused safety concerns to both the Catholic church and local farmers who undertake safety measures. The pilgrimage was actually cancelled in July 2015 due to bad weather on safety grounds.
The Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage – Reek Sunday and Garland Friday
Each year, the Reek attracts about 1 million pilgrims and hillwalkers. On Reek Sunday (or more properly Garland Sunday), the last Sunday in July, around 25,000 pilgrims climb the holy mountain, many in their bare feet.
Traditionally, people from Westport make the pilgrimage two days before, on Garland Friday.
At the top, there is a chapel that was built in 1905 by local men who brought all materials up the side of the mountain using donkeys. Mass is celebrated on Reek Sunday.
Safety & Equipment
The west of Ireland offers some of the best mountain walks in Europe. A Mountain day in Mayo is unlike any other because of the unique blend of majestic old hills, splendid isolation, panoramic views of the ocean, lakes, rivers and sky all coming together to form a unique unspoiled environment. There are almost no tracks here so those who would venture forth need to follow some simple rules. If you do then you are certain to have an unforgettable mountain day.
Do not undertake a walk which is beyond your level of competence. If you are fit enough but lack map reading and navigational experience then the safest and most enjoyable thing to do is to use the services of a local experienced guide.
There are a number of routes up the mountain, but by far the most popular is the traditional pilgrim route, which starts at the car park.
Signs point walkers and pilgrims to the start of the trail and the huge path, chiselled out by the feet of generations who have climbed Croagh Patrick’s slopes, guide the way from there. After passing by a white statue of Saint Patrick, visitors enter the open mountainside through a creaking gate and the climb begins in earnest.
The climb of Croagh Patrick can be broken roughly into three sections. Section one leads from the car park to the shoulder of the mountain. This section starts off gradually, but gets very steep in places
Section 2, the shortest and easiest of the climb, provides some pleasant walking along the shoulder of the mountain. At this point, views open up to the South across to the Sheefry Mountains and the rugged Mweelrea uprising. The track passes a stone cairn, which forms a ‘station’ where prayers are said by pilgrims. As walkers move along the shoulder, the final part of the climb comes into view with the massive pyramid of grey rock looking impossibly, yet impressively steep. It is hard to know if the loose scree or the bare dust-covered ground provides the best foothold, but whatever the path, the going is tough on this final section and the gable-end of the Church marking the summit of the mountain forms a welcome sight as weary walkers approach the top.
Stay safe on the Mountain
Mountain weather in the West of Ireland can change from bright sunshine to mist and rain in the course of a day, so be prepared, experienced and competent enough to finish the walk in poor visibility and perhaps darkness. This applies particularly to those doing a long high-level walk.
Please leave details of the intended route and expected time of return with someone and do let them know a time of return. Plan the route giving careful consideration to distance, height gain, day light hours available, nature of terrain, fitness of walkers, escape routes and weather forecast.
It is wise to pack for all four seasons when venturing onto the Western mountains. Atlantic weather can change frequently in the course of a day. Temperatures can vary by as much as 7 degrees between sea level and summit. It is also wise to assume that an emergency, either yours or someone else’s, may necessitate you spending a night out, so be prepared.
Whether you are walking with or without the services of a guide, your equipment should include;
- Walking boots
- Waterproof jacket and leggings
- A few layers, which you can put on or take off as required, wool nylon and fleece are recommended, not cotton
- Hats and gloves (spare gloves are a good idea)
- Survival bag
- Food and fluid, plus some to spare
- Torch and spare battery
- Mobile phone, but remember there may not be coverage so don’t depend on it
- First aid kit
- Specialised gear for winter conditions
Walkers should also be aware of an environmental policy on the mountain “What you bring up, you must bring down!”
If things do go wrong which hopefully they won’t, please follow this advice; Stay Put, Stay Calm, Take Time, Make a Plan, Stay Warm. If you need help and you have phone coverage, then phone 999 or 112 and request Mountain Rescue.
Finally, don’t be put off by this information. Accidents are a rare event in these mountains. With common sense and a little planning, you will have a great day on Croagh Patrick.
Reek Sunday 2010 – The Mayo News
Croagh Patrick on the map