Ireland’s holiest mountain is associated with St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, as well as having been a place of worship dating back to 3,000 B.C.E. The half-mile-high summit is visible for miles and has incredible views over County Mayo and Clew Bay below it, which is dotted with tiny islands. It’s also where St. Patrick was said to have fasted for 40 days and nights and from where he banished all snakes from Ireland. The tradition of climbing the mountain on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, is said to date back thousands of years to pagan times and later became an important religious pilgrimage, with many pilgrims choosing to climb barefoot or on their knees. You can of course climb it any time of year for rewarding views, but the path is rocky and steep in parts, so make sure to wear proper footwear.
By Yvonne Gordon, AFAR Local Expert
Reek Sunday, Pilgrimage on Irelands Holiest Mountain
Every year on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, up to 30,000 Catholic pilgrims climb Ireland's Holiest Mountain, Croagh Patrick. Also known as "The Reek," the mountain was the site of St. Patricks 40 day fast on the summit in 441 A.D. He was said to have banished all snakes from Ireland during this time. Many climbers partake in the pilgrimage as an act of penance, or for the benefit of a sick loved one. Traditionally, some of the pilgrims climb in their bare feet. Mass is celebrated every half hour on the summit by Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam. People of all ages and abilities make the difficult climb, some having done so 40-60 times.
Climbing the Reek
Every year on the last Sunday in July, 20-30,000 Catholic Pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick Mountain (AKA: The Reek). Some pilgrims make the climb in their bare feet. The pilgrimage is made as a penance, or for the benefit of a sick loved one. The climb is steep, with a small narrow trail of mostly scree. I made the climb in two hours, forty-five minutes, welcoming the summit despite the cold, damp weather. Mass was held every half-hour on the summit, along with confessions and holy communion. Vendors offered sandwiches and drinks. My hot cup of coffee was a respite from the biting cold. The descent was actually the hardest part of the climb, as I struggled not to slip in the scree. By the time I reached the base of the mountain, my fatigued leg muscles barely dragged me into the pub for the customary celebratory Guinness.
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