IF you’re ever on the west coast of Ireland, take some time out, strap on your walking shoes and take a spiritual adventure to Croagh Patrick.
Croagh Patrick, which overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo, is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland.
It is renowned 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.
It’s not a pilgrimage for the fainthearted. It’s not easy. The walk is arduous and the weather can change quickly. The first attempt to climb had to be cancelled as a perfect morning turned into a cold, stormy afternoon.
Each year, The Reek, as it is colloquially known, attracts about 1 million pilgrims.
Long before St Patrick’s arrival, the mountain was known by its ancient name of Cruchán Aigli, deriving from Cruach as a variant of rick or reek, a reference to its distinctive conical shape.
It was not until the 10th century that it became known for its link to St Patrick, taking the name Cruach Phádraig, and subsequently the anglicised version, Croagh Patrick.
On Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, more than 25,000 pilgrims visit, many walking barefoot up the mountain in the spirit of penance.
At the top, there is a chapel where Mass is celebrated and confessions are heard. To build the chapel, local men brought all materials up the side of the mountain using donkeys.
Croagh Patrick is about 8km from the Westport and its conical shape soars majestically above the surrounding countryside.
Magnificent views of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside are spectacular from all stages of the ascent of the mountain. It is one of the highest peaks in the West of Ireland.
The route is 7km long, round-trip. You will need sturdy boots, rain-gear and layers, as the temperature can be much lower at the top, and the wind can be strong.
Each year, the Reek attracts about 1 million pilgrims.
It’s a peaceful experience and the view is something to behold.