THE recent timely warnings of the depredation of Croagh Patrick as a result of its gross misuse is a reminder that the current vogue for climbing the holy mountain - either for penitential or athletic reasons - is a recent phenomenon. Time was, and not that long ago, when the pilgrimage season consisted of just three well defined traditional days. The idea of climbing on a whim, any old day of the week, would never be contemplated, and the totally inappropriate designation of the mountain as an athletic track unheard of.
As a youngster who spent his long summers on holiday at the foot of the Reek, there were frequent references to the enigmatic ‘Bob of the Reek’, a legendary personage who, we were told, climbed the mountain every single day, spent most of his time in prayer on the summit, and was eventually granted the unique privilege of being buried on Croagh Patrick.
His story was part of the folklore of the area, but a recent random browse through the invaluable National Schools Folklore archives, collated in 1937 from every national school in Ireland, reminded me of just how real and relevant his story was to the people of the local community.
The story as submitted by the pupils of Lecanvey National School is an interesting one. It was collected in 1937 from a Myles Hynes from Carramacloughlin, who had worked on the building of the oratory on the Reek in 1905. He in turn had heard the story in his youth from a John O’Malley, who had been present at the burial of Bob of the Reek on the summit of the mountain in the early 1820s.
According to the story, the Bob in question was a Bob Geraghty who lived in Gloshpatrick, a man of deep piety who climbed the mountain to pray every day of his life. The pupils’ story was that he so loved the mountain that his dying wish was that his neighbours would carry his
remains to the summit for burial, which was duly done. The story appears to have had a factual basis because when, years later, work was being carried out on building the present oratory, human remains were found and were re-interred at a location a short distance away.
An amusing aspect to the childrens’ story was that Myles Hynes recalled for them that, just before he died, Bob Geraghty had paid Thomas O’Malley the price of a barrel of stout to be dispensed to the neighbours once they had carried out the wishes of the deceased. In the story, Thomas O’Malley is referred to as a publican and owner of the Croagh Patrick Hotel, which in turn became Campbells’ Pub, the late Owen Campbell being a grandson of the original Mr O’Malley.
It appears however that there may have been two claimants to the title of ‘Bob of the Reek’. Harry Hughes, in his thoroughly researched 1990 book on Croagh Patrick, says that Bob was actually a Robert Binn, originally a flax comber from Northern Ireland, who lived as a hermit on the mountain and whose existence seems to be authenticated by the marking of his burial place on the Ordnance Survey map of Croagh Patrick of 1838.
Perhaps it was local pride, but the Lecanvey account makes no reference to this latter Bob, which may in turn be connected to the fact that the Geraghty family had traditionally close ties to the mountain. It was, after all, Hugh Geraghty who was the last custodian of the historic Black Bell of St Patrick, before selling it to Sir William Wilde who in turn donated it to its present owners, the Royal Irish Academy.