‘THE great cathedral of God in the west of Ireland’ is how Archbishop Michael Neary has described Croagh Patrick as thousands of pilgrims prepare to replicate an ancient tradition, which reaches into the depths of Irish spirituality and culture. From dawn until dusk next Sunday, July 31, people from all over Ireland and the world, will climb the pyramidal holy mountain, honouring Reek Sunday while many locals will undergo the arduous climb on the traditional day of Garland Friday (July 29).
In recent years, the holy mountain has become a major tourism destination and the venue for a wide variety of activities, such as the Croagh Patrick 365 Day challenge, completed recently by Matt Loughrey. Its steep slopes were also the location for a world-record attempt achieved by 15 fit runners , who each climbed the Reek 12 times within 24 hours on July 1 last. Moreover, earlier this year Mayo County Council introduced controversial parking charges, dubbed ‘Pay to Pray’ charges by Westport Town Councillor, Keith Martin. According to a council official the charges, from January to the end of June, have already returned receipts of €26,000, some of which goes towards car park maintenance and to the Murrisk Development Association for community development projects..
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday about the increased use of the mountain for secular activities, diocesan spokesman, Father Fintan Monahan said: “We try to promote the spiritual value of the mountain and it is, of course, a huge religious, social and cultural part of our heritage. However, the church only owns the little oratory on the top while the mountain slopes are commonage lands owned by local farmers. ”
“The religious dimension of climbing this mountain is where its roots are and we try to encourage people to remember this. But, for example, today is the Feast of St James, who is associated with the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Only a very small percentage of the people who walk this do it for religious reasons,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Father Frank Fahey of Ballintubber Abbey stressed the significance of the nearby Tóchar Phádraig, the ancient chariot route, which, according to lore, St Patrick traversed on his way to the mountain in 441AD.
“This is a unique pilgrim journey which crosses an ancient landscape filled with artefacts that, like Croagh Patrick, tell a cross millennial story reaching back to Neolithic times. In a colourful and creative way here at Ballintubber Abbey and at our family-friendly visitor centre, The Celtic Furrow, we explain this rich narrative that is integral to our spiritual history,” Father Fahey said yesterday.
He confirmed that the Reek Sunday walk along the Tóchar Phádraig and up the mountain starts at Ballintubber Abbey at 8.30am. A back-up car accompanies walkers., he said. Further information: 094-90-30934.
IN its annual appeal, Mayo Mountain Rescue has urged pilgrims to take their time and stay safe.
Mr Colm Byrne, Team Leader confirmed to The Mayo News that ‘ a continuous on-site rescue service’ would be provided for pilgrims on the day.
Mr Byrne praised the inter agency co–operation between Mayo County Council, Order of Malta, Mayo Civil Defence, the Air Corps, the Gardaí, the HSE, the church and local communities, which ensured that ‘help for climbers in difficulty’ would be immediately available and they ‘would be evacuated in a prompt and safe manner from the mountain to a safe location to receive ongoing medical attention if necessary’.
Overall, 11 mountain rescue teams with almost 120 personnel from all over the country will be on duty on Reek Sunday.
Eamonn Berry, Officer-in-Charge of Westport Order of Malta Unit, said: “It is remarkable and heartening that in this day and age, so many people are prepared to give of their time and expertise in a voluntary capacity to assist those in need on the mountain.”
Mr Berry is responsible for coordinating the work of over 100 Order of Malta volunteers from ten units on the day.
Speaking also, Ms Rose Doherty of Mayo Civil Defence said her organsiation would also play a pivotal role in transportation and welfare logistics.