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.
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.
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
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.
You will need to take with you:
• Warm clothes (wear multi-layers rather than one or two thick & heavy items)
• Lightweight windproof & waterproof jacket (Gortex or equivalent)
• Broken-in walking boots/shoes (leather is preferred over fabric), and boots are preferred over trainers as walking boots provide more ankle support
• Walking sticks (available for hire on arrival at the Croagh Patrick car park)
• Waterproofs: even on a seemingly dry, clear day, you can still get wet!
• Small rucksack with a waterproof inner compartment/pocket
• Walking map
• Sun cream (you will be affected by sun burn and wind burn on clear, bright days)
• Sun glasses
• Insect repellent
• Hats & gloves for cold days (especially in the winter)
• Packed lunch: available to order the night before from reception
• Plenty of water (you will get dehydrated)
• Mobile telephone: leave a contact telephone number and an estimated time of arrival back
• Camera: the scenery is stunning!
Please note that denim jeans, capes/ponchos & umbrellas are not recommended for climbing Croagh Patrick.
It is advisable that you have your own adequate travel insurance when climbing Croagh Patrick, as you are not covered on the hotel insurance if anything were to happen.
CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE YOU SET-OFF! It is not recommended to be out on the mountain tops in bad weather unless you are an experienced hill walker with proper equipment and supplies.Above all things, remember to relax and enjoy yourself: you are on holiday! If you get fatigued it's okay to stop, turn around and to come back down to the start of your walk.