Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Pilgrimage Mountain
8km (5 miles) west of Westport on the Louisburgh Road (R335), Croagh Patrick (pronounced Croke Patrick) stands at 764m (2,507ft) and is the third highest peak in Mayo, after Mweelrea and Nephin. Best known for its association with Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, who is said to have fasted for 40 days at the summit in 441AD, Croagh Patrick has been a pilgrimage destination since pre-Christian times. Long before Saint Patrick’s arrival, the mountain was known by its ancient name of Cruchán Aigli, deriving from Cruach as a variant of ‘rick’ or ‘reek’, a reference to its distinctive conical shape. Hence, the mountain common local name, The Reek, spans the millennia. It was not until the 10th century that it became known for its link to Saint Patrick, taking the name Cruach Phádraig, and subsequently the anglicised version, Croagh Patrick. The most popular route to the summit begins at the west end of Murrisk on the Louisburgh Road (R335) at the signposted carpark. The route is 7km (4.3 miles) long, round-trip; bring sturdy boots, rain-gear and layers, as the temperature can be much lower at the top, and the wind can be quite strong. The Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre includes a coffee shop/self-service restaurant, as well as a craft shop. Hot showers, secure lockers and pay and display parking are also available. Guided tours to the Statue are available from the Centre during peak season with advance notice.
The Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage – Reek Sunday and Garland Friday
Each year, the Reek attracts about 1 million pilgrims and hillwalkers. On Reek Sunday (or more properly Garland Sunday), the last Sunday in July, around 25,000 pilgrims climb the holy mountain, many in their bare feet. Traditionally, people from Westport make the pilgrimage two days before, on Garland Friday. At the top, there is a chapel that was built in 1905 by local men who brought all materials up the side of the mountain using donkeys. Mass is celebrated on Reek Sunday.