Croagh Patrick,Ireland’s Pilgrim Mountain

On the last Sunday of July each year,tens of thousands of people, many barefoot, climb the steep slopes of Croagh (pronounced Croke) Patrick, on a penitential pilgrimage.  They are following in the footsteps of generations of pilgrims who have ascended the conical mountain, in the West of Ireland, in County Mayo. The mountain is known locally as ‘The Reek’ and today is ‘Reek Sunday

Pilgrim's Path on Croagh Patrick. Image from Wikipedia Commons

Croagh Patrick dominates the landscape for miles; from the N17  road that runs north to Sligo from Clare, its almost perfect cone can be seen from some 20 miles distant,and on a clear day it can be seen from some 40 miles away. Anyone reaching the summit, whether tourist or pilgrim,is stunned by the magnificent views, most especially of Clew Bay with its more than 300 islands, lying some  2,500 feet below.

Looking down on Clew Bay from Croagh Patrick. Image Wikipedia Commons. Paul McIlroy

It is believed that St Patrick used the mountain as a place of penance and that he fasted for 40 days and nights on the summit in the year 441 A.D. The pilgrimage  as we know it today is a religious one, with Masses and Rosaries punctuating the entire day.

Long before St  Patrick’s arrival however, the mountain had been a sacred place. In the Celtic tradition, the Festival of Lughnasa (pronounced Loo -nasa) was celebrated on August 1st ( Lughnasa is also the Irish word for August). This was an annual festival honouring of the god Lugh (pronounced Loo) at harvest time. Across the country festivities took place, often on mountains such as Croagh Patrick.  Lughnasa was the most important Fire Festival of the Celts and in common with many other pagan festivals and traditions it was Christianized and adopted by the church in a different guise.

Croagh Patrick and the surrounding landscape has much archaeological evidence of the sacredness of this place, going back millenia. A rock, known locally as St Patrick’s Chair, has engravings that date as far back as the neolithic, thousands  of years before Christ. Also in the area, remains of a hillfort  have been discovered that dates from before 800 B.C.

The local archaeological society recently discovered that, each year on April 18th and August 24th, the sun sets on the summit of Croagh Patrick, and then –  rather than slipping behind the mountain –  it seems to ‘roll’ down the steep slope.  To see some ‘rolling sun’ images, click here.

Croagh Patrick is a spectacular place whose appeal to ordinary humans has lasted thousands of years, and without doubt, will continue to do so for thousands of years to come.

References

Croagh Patrick. A Place of Pilgrimage . A Place of Beauty.  Harry Hughes. O’Brien Press, 2010

There are some beautiful images from this book available here

Sacred Destinations 

Sacred Island 

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16 Comments

Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Oral History

16 responses to “Croagh Patrick,Ireland’s Pilgrim Mountain

  1. Reblogged this on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND and commented:

    Today on the last Sunday in July,2014, 30,000 Pilgrims scaled Croagh Patrick mountain,in the West of Ireland, following a tradition going back hundreds of years.
    Here is my earlier post on this annual event,an event like no other that draws people of all ages from all over Ireland.

  2. What a timely post, SV. I climbed Croagh Patrick a few years ago and would love to do so again. Yes, the views are terrific, even from a little way up. And it’s lovely to feel that you’re literally following in the footsteps of the generations that have gone before us.

    • Lucky you! Would love to do it,(especially on a nice day!) Maybe in 2015! I too love the continuity of it all down the generations, long before RC church ‘Christianized’ it! I am glad that you are not thinking of running up, which has become something of a trend in recent times!

  3. Ah another ancient sacred site that was taken over by the new religion. Its still held as sacred by a few that practice the old beliefs and traditions. there is an interesting article I found over on Facebook about it. https://www.facebook.com/IrelandsDruidschool/posts/613378462021478

    • Indeed! But you know, maybe it’s not all bad – at least it keeps the tradition going,(if under a different guise) and allows independent thinkers to look back further to the origins of the thing.Thanks for the link – interesting reading! And thank you for dropping by! 🙂

  4. I’ve seen Croagh Patrick in the distance but have never stopped to consider climbing it–is it a very difficult climb? Those photos of the rolling sun are truly stupendous–what an amazing effect! Thanks for the info!

    • I know a number of people who have done this climb- I even have a friend who runs up, so it it is very do-able. Many people do it barefoot, which to my mind is not advisable! My friend reported yesterday that she met some 80+ year-olds on the slopes. So if you are reasonably fit, have good walking boots, and perhaps a walking pole, you will manage it with relative ease. Towards the top there is loose shingle that moves as you walk on it, but with that knowledge, it is very do-able. Hope you can make it sometime!
      Thank you for dropping by!

  5. Hi SV. I will reblog this with your kind permission and will acknowledge the source. Regards. MB

  6. Pingback: The Reek | HX Report

  7. Them there islands in Clew Bay are called ‘drumlins’ I believe SV, beloved of old geography teachers! Formed by glacial action. I think if I was to climb that hill (fully shod) it would be when I’d be sure to miss the crowds to get a real sense of the place.

    • Oh yes – the photos of Clew Bay from the slopes are magnificent. I have never been up. There are people on it most days I believe and you definitely need stout footwear and a walking pole for the descent!

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