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Croagh Patrick is the most prominent mountain overlooking Clew Bay on the Atlantic coast of County Mayo. Approaching it from the landward side to the east, it looks as if it has to be a holy mountain – and it is. Indeed, it is Ireland’s holiest, and one which has been attracting people to climb to its summit since the misty days of prehistory. In Ireland’s pagan period, it was probably a place where country folk for miles around foregathered to celebrate the festival of Lug, the good god of the pagan Celts, at the beginning of harvest at the turn when July turns to August. With the coming of Christianity, the Church diplomatically transformed the heathen festival into an annual Christian pilgrimage which still continues today. Called Cruachan Aigle in the earliest historical sources, ‘The Reek’ as it is known locally has borne the name of Ireland’s patron saint for some twelve hundred years, and is the place where popular tradition has St Patrick climbing the mountain to spend forty days fasting on the peak, in emulation of the biblical patriarch Moses. While there, he is said to have been beset by demon birds, and even by the devil’s mother, both of whom he finally dispatched. The annual pilgrimage in his honour now takes place on the last Sunday in July, though it can equally be made on any other day of the year. Until recent decades, it started by candlelight at midnight, and the 2510-foot ascent was undertaken barefoot. But most pilgrims now retain their shoes, and assemble in daylight near the northern foot of the mountain, close to the Late Medieval Franciscan friary at Murrisk. They walk around a modern white statue of Saint Patrick and then proceed, stick in hand, towards the summit. There, in the century-old chapel, confessions are heard, Masses are said, and rosary beads are thumbed by pious pilgrims kneeling in prayer, hoping to gain a favour, or doing it simply because they have been keeping up the practice for years. The rigour of the walk to the top is tough but invigorating, achievable normally in under three hours, and rewarded in good weather with one of the finest maritime panoramas in the West of Ireland. It is one of Europe’s truly ancient pilgrimages, wafting the participant back in spirit to the hardship of the Middle Ages. Yet, for all its spirituality, the pilgrimage can be fun for young and old, exuding a sense of camaraderie among all who happily mix good humour and prayer as they puff up and down the stony paths, keeping alive an age-old tradition of community togetherness that is well worth experiencing.
Everything was wonderful! I do not have one thing to complain about. The vouchers were extremely easy to use and we never had a problem getting into any of the B & B's. All of the B & B's were wonderful...very clean, great people and excellent food. We were very happy with the entire experience and will definitely use the service again!!! Thank you for all of your help.
Robin Weidinger, Detroit, MI