Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#16 - Climbing Croagh Patrick (Murrisk, County Mayo, Ireland)

In a world of pilgrimages, this may not be among the greatest tests at 2533 ft., but it certainly packs a spiritual wallop.

This mountain in Murrisk, Mayo County, Ireland 5 miles from the town of Westport is reputed to have been a place of worship for 5,000 years.  Now, whether that is true or not pales in comparison to the legendary connection to Ireland's patron saint, and one of my heros:  Saint Patrick.

Patrick of course, was not Irish, but rather was a missionary who felt called to the foreign land from his native Britain (today's Wales.)  So, some of my friends celebrate Saint Patrick's Day as a Welsh holidayHere's my song to commemorate Saint Patrick.

This is the most important Catholic pilgrimage in Ireland.  Nearly a million visitors scramble up the scree scattered slopes each year.  Some even do so barefooted, though the Catholic Church does not recommend it.

Tradition and a bit of rural myth tell us that in 441 AD Patrick fasted for 40 days upon this mountain, and banished the demons and the snakes from Ireland.

The walk up the mountain includes a statue of Patrick erected by a Westport pastor in 1928, and 7 stations of prayer on the way to the summit.

I am not Catholic, but my interest lies in remembering one of history's greatest missionaries, and prolific church planters, as well as following in the footsteps of one of the most influential Welshmen in history.

If you make this trip you will need a car.  Croagh Patrick lies 228 km west of Dublin.  You can get some of your best deals at this Dublin Airport Car Hire.  Then you'll be off to walk the steps of Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland.

It makes my list of things to do before I die.  Does it make yours?


  1. Hi Phil,
    I climbed Croagh Patrick about 6 years ago. It was early December, cold and rainy (pouring rainy!). A most spiritual experience!

    PS. St.Patrick banished the snakes, but let the faeries stay.

  2. Of course it was a rainy day! It is Ireland. I want to know if the faeries had umbrellas.

  3. Damn Phil, if you ever do this one I'm coming if I have to hide in your baggage. We had an amazing talk here 2 years back by an Irish archaeologist who has studied Croagh Patrick and the 14 other pre-Christian sites that mirror it across Ireland. 7 of them are Saint's mounts, and retain crazy pilgrimage traditions, the ruins of churches and are arguably the most stable religious institution of Ireland (neither viking or english conquests, or more recent secularization has slowed people's commitments to them).

    People not only went of barefoot, for with specific vows to heal their family members, not unlike many indigenous traditions around the world. One woman apparently pledged to go up 7 times barefoot, and died doing so in a storm back in the 1800's. There have been attempts to crack down on the rituals at various points because of that, but many people still do their thing.

    During the 19th century, it was also an excuse for lots of drinking and occassional fights--- but thousands of people would turn out on major feast days, incredible.

    Saw a hint of that in Ecuador too this past week, where nearly the entire capital fills the street to go to these 12 great churches on holy Thursday.

    I'll see if they ever recorded that speaker here at HDS, you'd love it.

  4. Kieran,

    When I go on this one, I will want you there, and we may have to do more than one mount - maybe 14! If not this summer - next?