Passport to the World over 64 years. Pages from my Travel Diary
I climb Croagh Patrick in Ireland on Wednesday the 23rd of June 1993
Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain of Ireland is close to the town of Westport in County Mayo, Ireland. Go to the village of Murrisk, about 8 kilometres from Westport, if in a car, be careful you do not drive straight past the small car park nestling at the entrance to the track up to the climbing area. Look for the Croagh Patrick Pub.
Croagh Patrick rises some 2,510 feet above sea level, the guide books say, allow 2.5 hours to climb the loose rocks to the top, and about 1.5 hours to scramble down again.
It was at this site that Saint Patrick fasted for 40 days in AD 441, and legend has it, on this mountain he cast out all snakes from Ireland.
Clew Bay with its many islands from the top of Croagh Patrick
It is on this day which falls on the last Sunday of each July, that Pilgrims flock here from across the world, and as many as 25,000 people will make the climb to the summit.
The area is bare and may be windswept, rain is often the norm, and fog can develop very quickly, but if one is lucky, the sun shines at the top, and the views in every direction can be something to behold. Particularly Clew Bay stretching away below in the distance can be so very brilliant, dotted with some 365 Islands, one for each day of the year.
At the base is Tobair Padraig, or Patrick's Well, so named for the nearby natural spring, where Patrick is reported to have baptized his first Irish converts. St Patrick's Statue, a stark white figure on a stone plinth stands here, he holds a green clover in his right hand. The statue was erected in 1928, by Reverend Father Patterson, a local Priest, using money donated in America for the rebuilding of St Mary's church in Westport. The faithful stop by this statue to pray for strength to climb to the top of Ireland's Sacred Mountain, Croagh Patrick.
I start my upwards journey.
The mountain consists of loose, sharp stones piled in great heaps, some covered in moss to render them slippery. The wind is fierce and cold, as I edge slowly up the slope, a fog started to develop, it is very eerie, do I give up, or go on? I cannot afford to get lost, but I believe the fog is local, and press on. A right decision, as it suddenly becomes clear
I was wearing leather soled shoes, no support around my ankles, and very slippery, totally inadequate for the task, they did not grip, and my progress was painfully slow. Every now and then the loose shale and limestone comes away, falling from your foothold, I have to grab at the rock face to avoid falling backwards. I found it quite exhausting, and I needed to stop often, I was just literally inching my way to the top. There is no one defined path upwards, you look up, decide which way to tackle the heap of stones staring back at you, and zig zag so
slowly up and still up.
I could now make out the summit, and the top of a small stone church, but it was still a long way to climb. Two Swedes passed me on their way down, the Mountain is virtually deserted today, I asked them " How much longer to the summit?" They understood my question, and responded with " About 45 minutes." I wonder if I can continue, rest a while, and then gritting my teeth, press on.
The last drive to the summit is extremely steep, it looks like a one to one incline to me, but perhaps I exaggerate some what, anyway its bloody hard work. I literally needed to grab a hand hold, as I slowly inched my way up, but at last success, as I scrambled to a solid area of rock at the peak.
Here sits a small stone church, every stone for its construction carried up on the back of a mule, 100 years ago, and the church only opens for Mass on sacred days such as Easter and Christmas, at all other times it remains securely locked, against the ravages of vandals. Imagine going through the agony of climbing here to the summit, just to vandalise a tiny stone church?
Views from the top.
The views are spectacular, to the South, the green hills roll off to the Connemara, the Atlantic Ocean a blue that has silvery tones, small Islands filling the seascape, Clew Bay just gorgeous. A sign at the top exhorts visitors: "This is holy ground. Do not litter." but I am afraid many who visit pay no heed. I was suprised at the high level of rubbish just laying about.
One other visitor at the summit.
There was but one other visitor, a man from Denmark, who had some English, I pulled my car keys from my pocket, and went through the motions of handing them over to him with: "Would you mind driving my car up here to collect me please?" My Aussie humour fell on quite stoney ground.
Looking over the edge at the top.
As you gaze over the rim of the summit, you can pick out the paths people have trodden on their way both up and down. The stones take on a a paler hue, as paths just snake their way across the mass of stones.
Peering over the edge at the summit of Croagh Patrick,
it is so green it almost hurts ones eyes.
The silver blue of the Atlantic Ocean sparkles in the distance.
The scene one of delight, and worth the agony
of the three hours it took me to reach the top.
I started on my downwards trek, the light getting darker, with the threat of the oncoming night, I do not need to tarry. I found the descent more difficult than the climb up, I slipped, I slithered, more on my bum than on my feet. It took me two hours, in all, my journey on this sacred mount, over five hours, whereas I earlier reported the average time is close to 3.5 hours, but then I did not have appropriate shoes, As I reached the carpark it was quite dark, I had only just got off Croagh Patrick in time. I had enjoyed the challenge, but felt quite exhausted.
The Croagh Patrick Pub beckoned, and I grabbed a steaming mug of coffee, to be quizzed about where I hailed from, and why did I want to climb the beast? An enjoyable conversation followed, and I finally bade farewell, retrieved my hire car, and drove into Westport, to spend the night there before continuing my exploring Ireland's west coast.
The welcome haven of the Croagh Patrick Pub close to the car park where I had left my hire car.
I staggered in, cold, weary, but well pleased I had made the pilgrimage.
Some steaming coffee helped revive me, and I was asked where I came from,
an interesting concerastion rounded off my visit to Ireland's Sacred Mountain.
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