Tag Archives: Clew Bay

Irish Pilgrims and the Celtic Fire Festival of Lughnasa

Today,on the last Sunday of July thousands are on the slopes of  Croagh Patrick, braving heat, thundery downpours and winds, to make a personal pilgrimage to the top of this iconic mountain.  Here is a post I made  on this day in 2011 about the 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

400px-Croagh-patrick-path2

The Pilgrim Path . Image Wikimedia 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.

Clew_Bay_-_geograph.org.uk_-_186666

Spectacular Clew Bay far below the summit of Croagh Patrick. Image Wikimedia Commons

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  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  a terrific sequence of ‘rolling sun’ images, click here.

Croagh Patrick is a spectacular and special 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 in this book

Sacred Destinations

The Sacred Island

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Social History Ireland

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 

16 Comments

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