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Commercialisation of Croagh Patrick criticised

Fr Frank Fahey, priest in charge of Ballintubber Abbey who was the main revivalists of the ancient pilgrimage route from Ballintubber to Croagh Patrick, known as the ‘Tochar Padraig’, is pictured at the foot of Croagh Patrick last week.
RESERVATIONS Fr Frank Fahey, priest in charge of Ballintubber Abbey who was the main revivalists of the ancient pilgrimage route from Ballintubber to Croagh Patrick, known as the ‘Tochar Padraig’, is pictured at the foot of Croagh Patrick last week. Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin

Growing commercialisation of Croagh Patrick criticised

Now a centre for a variety of activities and events, some feel the Reek’s spiritual integrity is being compromised

Áine Ryan

SAINT Patrick would surely turn in his grave if he knew about the shenanigans taking place on the holy mountain where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights way back in 441AD.
While from dawn to dusk on Sunday last thousands of pilgrims replicated an annual religious tradition and climbed holy mountain Croagh Patrick to mark Reek Sunday, County Mayo’s pyramidal peak has increasingly become the venue for all sorts of bizarre and colourful events and challenges.
Plans are afoot to turn the 765-metre high mountain into an open-air dating site in September at the inaugural Meet on the Reek weekend while later this month hundreds of extreme sport enthusiasts will race up the mountain as part of the Gaelforce West adventure race. In November 2008, thousands of bras were linked together on the upper slopes of the mountain to raise money for breast cancer and make a world record for the highest bra chain.
Longtime priest in charge of nearby Ballintubber Abbey, Father Frank Fahey strongly disapproves of the secularisation and commercialization of the mountain, which has been a site for pagan and religious rituals for over three millennia.
Father Fahey said he does not agree with such a commercial use of the mountain, but praised some of the charity event organisers for being well-intentioned.
“There are plenty of other higher mountains where many of these challenges and events could be held. Croagh Patrick should not be exploited in this way, the sacred dimension must be prioritised and emphasised.
“Croagh Patrick, like many other mountains and hills such as Mount Fuji, Ayers Rock, the Hill of Tara, Devil’s Canyon, has been a sacred place for thousands of years. Its religious and spiritual significance goes back to the time of the Druids and in Celtic times, these priests were the only people allowed climb the mountain.
“These different sporting and leisure events are part of the whole secularisation of our society; nothing is set aside anymore as special or sacred. The Aboriginal people have tried to stop tourists climbing Ayers Rock which resonates deeply in their cultural and spiritual history.”    
Father Fahey also said: “A sacred place has the power to impose its presence and sense of awe on the world. If, on the other hand, we conquer these mountains, they lose their sense of awe and of transcendent power.”
He said there should be information boards along the pathway explaining the rich pagan and Christain history and legends associated with the mountain.
Chairman of the Croagh Patrick Archaelological Committee, Harry Hughes, also has concern, eventhough his family business, Portwest, benefits from the increased sales of leisure sports wear during these events.
“A number of pilgrims have complained about the dignity and serenity of the mountain being compromised. During these events pilgrims share their sacred place with charity runners. Anybody can organise any event on the mountain without permission or a permit. The big fear is that somebody might organise an event that is totally inappropriate for such an historic and sacred site. ”
Hughes said all the stakeholders need to meet to chart a way forward for Croagh Patrick or it could become a vast outdoor adventure and festival centre.
“In other countries National Trusts, Offices of Public Works and county councils work with local stakeholders to provide infrastructure to improve the overall experience for the pilgrim and the tourist.”
Over the last year, national tourism body, Fáilte Ireland has promoted the north west as a spiritual destination while it has also weighed-in behind the concept of developing Westport and its environs as an adventure destination.
Brian Quinn of Fáilte Ireland West conceded that the tourism group was ‘very conscious’ of the fact that Croagh Patrick is increasingly used for all sorts of challenges and events.
“It is true to say we are partly responsible since we helped establish Gaelforce and we are now concerned about the erosion on the mountain. Recently we set up Clew Bay Destination Group, which is chaired by former County Manager, Des Mahon, to try and devise a strategy for the sustainable development of the mountain as a tourism destination.
“The group is made up of public and private sector interests as well as an expert Fáilte Ireland planner. We realise there is a need for a permanent pathway due to serious erosion but the problem is the lands are in commonage ownership.”
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, said the church only owns the tiny oratory at the top of the mountain.
“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. ”
Father Fintan Monahan confirmed the archbishop had received many complaints about the secular use of the mountain.
For Matt Loughrey, however, there is no conflict. During his recent successful 365-day consecutive climb for charity, he met people who went up the mountain for all sorts of reasons.
“You know this place has a magnetic draw. Some people come here for spiritual and religious reasons, others are just attracted by the spectacular scenery, and then more climb the mountain for the physical challenge. For me all these reasons are good ones.”

Reek Sunday pilgrims speak to rowan gallagher about climbing Ireland’s holy mountain
Nate Crosbey, Clare
I’ve climbed it about 40 times and I’m not sure if I’m going to make it today. I came from Clare today. It’s all to do with Saint Patrick, it’s to do with making a pilgrimage and the journey of life that we all have to do. We all have to go through it, and you know you’re not always going downhill either, on the odd occasion in life you’re going uphill. Every time I pass by the statue of Saint Patrick I turn around and say ‘good luck Saint Patrick, you’ve seen the last of me’.

Seamus McLoughlin, Claremorris

I have climbed it from about 30 to 40 times. The last time I climbed it was on New Year’s Day this year. We gain something by climbing it – well we hope to anyway. I’d do it as a religious thing although sometimes I just enjoy doing it, it can be tough. I definitely recommend it to anyone, just for exercise alone. I’m getting on in years now but, still, I don’t mind climbing it. I won’t be climbing the whole thing today but I will do a bit seeing as it is Reek Sunday.

Patrick DeCarolis, California
I came from Santa Monica California, my wife did the pilgrimage about 10 or 12 years ago so we decided to take our little girls up to the top. I’m doing it as a husband thing rather than a religious thing to be honest. We are on a two week vacation in Ireland and this was part of the plan to be here today to make our pilgrimage. It’s been a terrific trip and we are looking forward to the climb. I have heard that it’s a tough climb but hopefully we will make it to the top with the whole family.

Andrew Pierce, Dublin

We came to Westport two days ago from Dublin and climbing Croagh Patrick has been on the bucket list for quite some time now but we haven’t been able to get a chance to climb it until today. I teach intercultural theology at Trinity and some of my students who have finished their theses came along too – the ones that aren’t at home still typing them up that is. The climb wasn’t too bad to be honest but when you have a dog (Summer, pictured)dragging you every and each way it can be difficult.

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