Croagh Patrick (from the Irish Cruach Phádraig, meaning ‘Patrick’s Stack’), is one of the most iconic and holy sites in Ireland. Situated in County Mayo, it attracts more than 100,000 hikers and about 25,000 pilgrims every year.
Some of them climb the mountainside barefoot, as an act of penance. Every year, on Reek Sunday (the last Sunday of July), a big pilgrimage is held on the holy mountain to honour Saint Patrick who, according to tradition, spent 40 days fasting on the mountain in the year 441.
During our hike, not only adults, but also children and some elderly folk, climbed the holy mountain barefoot. It struck me to see such a strong faith and devotion to traditions.
Croagh Patrick is situated on the southern edge of Clew Bay, a small bay formed by 117 small islands stretching away towards the Atlantic Ocean.
For my second hike, I gathered a couple of friends and on the August bank holiday we left Dublin and drove all the way across the country to the West coast. We chose to stay in the cute and small town of Westport, which is 8km from Croagh Patrick mountain, on the south side of Clew Bay.
While walking along the Westport quay we came across a small park through the centre of which runs the Carrowbeg River before forming a small lake whose waters enter Clew Bay.
On the bank of the river there were a couple of abandoned buildings that had been used to store boats. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enter them (for safety reasons) but we still managed to take a sneak peak of the inside from the broken windows. Stagnant water covered the floor and the light penetrating through the broken ceiling and cracked windows created fascinating reflections all around.
The path toward Croagh Patrick starts at the Tourist Information car park and it follows a concrete road until a white statue of Saint Patrick welcomes you at the beginning of the mountain trail giving a last blessing before the journey starts.
The path is wide and well marked all the way to the summit, chiseled by generations of hikers and pilgrims that have climbed this mountain for more than 1,500 years.
It took my friends and I about two hours to reach the summit and I almost gave up halfway through!
From Saint Patrick’s statue, the path starts gradually ascending toward the mountain shoulder, getting very steep at some points. Luckily, it was sunny when we started our journey and the views of Clew Bay and its small islands were breathtaking. I had to admit that I stopped quite a few times to catch my breath but had the excuse that I was taking pictures of the beautiful panorama!
The path then reaches a plateau from where the real climb to the summit starts. At this stage I was pretty exhausted and when I saw the massive pyramid-shaped mountain top, I thought that I would not be able to complete the climb.
Here, we sat down for few minutes and had a quick snack. A bit absent-minded, I started looking at the people who were hiking on the mountain that day.
It was then that I noticed that quite a number of hikers that were approaching the final climb walked barefeet and that children and elderly people were among them! This startled me so much that I forgot about the fatigue and said to myself that if they could do it, I could surely do it too… Moreover, I was wearing proper hiking shoes!
The last couple of hundred metres were pretty challenging. At times, it was not easy to keep one’s balance as the path we were walking on was formed by layers of loose rocks that were wobbling under our feet. Despite this, many other barefoot hikers were going faster than me and this kept me motivated to get to the end.
Unfortunately, the more we ascended, the more clouds started forming around us, making it almost impossible to enjoy the panorama of Clew Bay on the summit – but honestly we didn’t really mind!
We made it until the end together, supporting each other with laughter and jokes and after coming back to Westport, we enjoyed a fresh locally-crafted beer and a big plate of bay mussels.
This hike too was as enjoyable as it was challenging and I hope I have given you another good idea for a long weekend or holiday in Ireland.
Emanuela (Administrator, Central School of English)
Simon is the Director of Studies at the Central School of English in Dublin