Holy Mountain by the Wild Atlantic
Five miles outside the town of Westport in Co. Mayo stands Ireland’s holy mountain Croagh Patrick at 762 meters above sea level. It is said that Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick, fasted here for 40 days and nights. Today St. Patrick is a symbol for the coming of Christianity to Ireland.
Rising to a height of 762 meters above sea level, Croagh Patrick overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo and is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. Welcome to a place of ancient history, Patrick’s sacred mountain, and a rich vein of archaeological heritage. Croagh Patrick is situated five miles from the picturesque town of Westport where the mountain’s conical shape soars majestically above the surrounding countryside.
St. Patrick was once a slave in Ireland, and from the age of sixteen he worked as a shepherd for six years in the north of Ireland. We know about the life of St. Patrick from his book, The Confession. Today St. Patrick is a symbol for the coming of Christianity to Ireland. He became one of the early bishops who taught people about Christ. It is said that on Croagh Patrick, the saint banished snakes from Ireland forever.
The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption. An archaeological excavation of Croagh Patrick in 1994 revealed evidence that Croagh Patrick was a place of tremendous importance in the pre-Christian era too, as indicated by the discovery of a Celtic hill fort encircling the summit of the mountain. The mountain’s religious significance dates back to pre-Christian Ireland when people are thought to have gathered here to celebrate the beginning of harvest season. The exciting discovery of a dry-stone oratory akin to the Gallarus Oratory in County Kerry has been radiocarbon dated to between 430 and 890 AD.
Today, Croagh Patrick is renowned for its Pilgrimage in honour of Saint 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 of climbing has been faithfully handed down from generation to generation. The Black Bell of St. Patrick was a highly-venerated relic on Croagh Patrick for many years. The first stop on the pilgrimage is Saint Patrick’s statue erected in 1928 by Reverend Father Patterson with money he collected in America towards the rebuilding of Saint Mary’s Church in Westport.
Each year, The Reek, as it is colloquially known, attracts about 1 million pilgrims. On ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, over 25,000 pilgrims visit the Reek. At the top, there is a modern chapel where mass is celebrated and confessions are heard. Individuals and groups come from all over the world and include pilgrims, hill climbers, historians, archaeologists and nature lovers. The other traditional Pilgrimage days are the last Friday of July which is known locally as ‘Garland Friday, and August 15th which is the Christian Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven.
Magnificent views of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside can be enjoyed at all stages of the ascent of the mountain. Follow the steps of Patrick and meet people from all over the globe as you ascend towards the summit. Normally, it takes about two hours for the average person to reach the summit, and one and a half hours to descend. It is advisable to take sturdy footwear, rainwear and some drinking water. Climbing sticks are for sale at the Centre. Generally, it is best to climb in summer (April-September). Occasional showers blow in over the bay so raingear is advisable. Find out more about the weather forecasts at www.met.ie.
Teach na Miasa, The Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre, is situated in Murrisk on the Pilgrim’s path at the base of Croagh Patrick mountain and opposite the National Famine Monument. The centre provides a restaurant, information services, guided tours of the mountain, packed lunches, secure lockers, craft shop, and shower facilities. The road on which the visitor’s centre is built is known as ‘Bóthar na Miasa’ (‘’The road of the dishes ‘) and it is said that monks of nearby Murrisk Abbey once washed their utensils in the stream which runs alongside.
St. Patrick’s day is celebrated on the day of the saint’s death, 17th March as a Christian feast day.