Croagh Patrick is a mountain situated close to to the town of Westport in County Mayo, and is best known for its association with Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It is also known as the “Reek’ and nicknamed “Ireland’s Holy Mountain”, being an important site of pilgrimage in County Mayo, since pre-Christian times. It stands at 764 metres (2,570ft) and is the third highest peak in Mayo, dominating the landscape for miles. There is no shortage of scenic beauty as you climb this holy mountain, but be prepared for a real workout.
There are two entirely different type of people who climb Croagh Patrick, firstly there are the believers who date back to St.Patrick’s time who arrive here in their troves each year on the last Sunday in July, “Reek Sunday”. They are the faithful who believe that walking to the top, preferably barefoot, is a way to lessen purgatorial sentences. At the peak are different stations that are required to be completed, traditionally people walk and pray around holy spots or stations like the chapel and the spot alleged to be St Patrick’s bed where he spent forty days and nights in prayer back in 441AD. It is said that if you climb Croagh Patrick three times you are guaranteed a place in heaven.
The other climbers are those purely out for the exercise, who feel that a an energetic and vigorous hike is good for the spirit, mind and maybe body! What you are assured are splendid views of County Mayo and nearby Connemara particularly if it is a clear day. Although not a long climb, it is only about 3.5 kilometres, but it is uphill all the way, so not for the faint-hearted or unfit, take plenty of breaks and just go at your own pace.
There are several routes up the mountain but, the traditional Pilgrim route is the preferred way by most climbers. It starts in the car park. Signs clearly indicate the starting point, and the carved out path by thousands of generations of feet leads the way. After you have passed by a white statue of Saint Patrick, you enter the open mountainside through a creaking gate and you are on your way. Sturdy shoes are essential and perhaps a walking stick, they can be hired here.
The climb involves two stages, the first part taking you up a rocky foothill that is encased in heather and moss with a narrow stream that flows along the well-trodden path. This is definitely the gentle starter and takes about forty five minutes.
Next is the more meatier part, continuing upwards, the pretty moss disappears and the incline becomes more alarmingly steep, and scree covered, it is this path that you continue to follow to the top whilst navigating the loose stones and climbers ascending and descending the mountain. This element of the climb takes around two hours. There are large boulders to rest on and contemplate whether to continue or turn back.
However, on reaching the summit’s chapel the difficulty of the climb all melts away, for the views from here are simply spectacular, the vistas stretch for miles around, and then their is the peacefulness. On a windy day it can be fierce, and there is almost always a bracing breeze so be sure to layer up, as the temperature at the top is a lot cooler than below and the air is also thinner too.
The climb down is still pretty arduous with the loose rocks and takes about an hour.
At the foot of Croagh Patrick is the Visitor Centre, it provides historical and archaeological information on the peak as well as guided tours to the statue complete with packed lunches. There is also a coffee shop/self-service restaurant where you can get some well deserved refreshments in this cosy establishment. Other facilities here are hot showers, secure lockers and parking.