As we drove into Westport, I saw a pointed peaked mountain dominating the skyline and I burst out to my car-mates, "Cool! let's hike that tomorrow!". The next morning, off we went up Croagh Patrick, one of the most holy places in Ireland and site of many a barefoot pilgrimage to the summit.
On a fair day, the views from Croagh Patrick are astonishing. I wouldn't recommend it if the weather isn't good. The trail rail is over-worn and is covered in loose rock all the way, and particularly loose as you ascend the cone-shaped peak. I do a fair bit of hiking and this might be the most crumbly trail I've ever been on, with exception of the talus slopes of Canon Cliff. That's why I say to only go up if the weather is gorgeous because the views are worth it. There is a small chapel on the summit where services are carried out at specific times of the year.
Coming down was much fun, as my friend and I are pretty sure-footed, and opted to run along the crumpling scree, covering a lot of ground with our rock-slide strides.
There is ample parking and you can rent a walking stick for the hike. Dress properly and wear boots with good ankle support.
Croagh Patrick is a mountain close to the town of Westport and it is the most polpular pilgrim-place for irish catholics. There are almost no trees on that mountain and the roads / paths uphill are full of really heavy stones and the only way to get there is hiking for several hours on that exhausting path. Every year at the last sunday of July thousands of pilgrims are hiking uphill, some of them on their knees or without shoes.
St. Patrick, the national saint of Ireland , had spent 40 days on the summit of Crough Patrick praying.
For pilgrims of today there is a large car-park, BUT unfortunately it is restricted to cars not higher than 2 meters, so higher motorhomes have to stay outside on the road !
Close to the base of Crough Patrick :
At Murrisk, Co. Mayo, a few miles from Westport on the Clifden road stands the National Famine Memorial commissioned by Irish Government. It is named 'coffin ship' and was built by John Belan.
They were called coffin ships as many who left on them to escape the grinding poverty and famine of 1840's Ireland never made it the New Continent. Many died of disease, some a hunger and some when the whole rotten boat failed to make it across the Atlantic.
Many thousands left from Westport Harbour and along Clew bay relatives would light large bonfires to seem them off, and wish them good luck. It make you wonder - who exactly were the lucky ones ?
Just 10kms from Westport (and you can clearly see it from the town) lies the mass of Croagh Patrick. the mountain where St Patrick reputedly spent all of one Lent on praying before driving out the snakes and converting all of Ireland into a 'Catholic Home win'.
Climbing his mountain takes a couple of hours, and is quite arduous towards the top as you have to scamble over a giant cone of rocks before arriving at the small church on the summit.
The climb is always worth it for the spectaular views - but you could join thousands of others (some barefoot) on 'reek sunday', the Last in July and on St Patricks holy day (17th march).
When you begin the climb, look out for the small well from where St Patrick baptised his first converts.
NB Things have moved on in Ireland : These days you get baptised with several pints of the Black stuff, whilst listening to U2 on your i-pod and watching a re-run of 'Father Ted' (allegedly)
It's rare that one gets a chance to climb a mountain and spend less time in purgatoty to celebrate, but that's exactly what can be done in climbing Crough Patrick. It's not a climb for those who like isolated wilderness -- after 1000 years of pilgrimmage, it defines the words "beaten path" -- but if one appreciates history, religion, exercise and beautiful scenary, this is the perfect mountain.
Climb Ireland's holy mountain, a strange experience.
The path up to this 800 meter mountain is really steep and scary at some places. It only consists of rocks and when it get steep it looks really dangerous. Bring a stick, it's a good thing to have - especially one on the way down to avoid sliding down!!
Pilgrims climb it barefoot. They must be completely crazy!
There's a big travelogue on my Co. Mayo page about "The Reek" and its stones and pilgrims.
The Craogh Patrick, Ireland's Holy Mountain
The Croagh PAtrick is near the coast, and from the top (don't underestimate the walk, it's gaining 750m in height) you'll have an amazing look over Clew Bay. It's said to have 365 islands -one for every day in the year, but i didn't count them...
locals get often up the hill on St. Patrick's day, sometimes bare-footed (crazy!) and near the top there is a cairn they surround seven(?) times for religious purposes.
It is on this mountain that St. Patrick is said to have prayed for Ireland and went on a 40-day fast. Pietous pilgrims still climb the mountain, sometimes barefoot, to pray at the chapel on the summit.