Priest calls for conservation plan for Reek
Serious concerns about the overuse of Croagh Patrick have been expressed by the administrator of the Westport Parish, Father Charlie McDonnell. In the build up to Reek Sunday this weekend, when up to 30,000 pilgrims can be expected to scale Ireland’s Holy Mountain, Fr McDonnell has expressed concern about the use of Croagh Patrick by all sorts of groups, stating that there ‘is now a huge problem with it’.
“We are custodians of Croagh Patrick for future generations and I must say there is an element of recklessness in its present use,” he said. “But this is not about apportioning blame, the various partners need to sit down – and that has already started – and make a plan for its future conservation and sustainability.”
Father McDonell said the group must up-the-ante and, for example, prioritise signage and safety regulations, as well as compel climbers to be responsible for their own rubbish.
“I think everyone who uses the mountain needs to respect its Christian and pre-Christian heritage. If you look at old photographs from the 1950s, there is one clear path going up the mountain, from the Taobh na Cruaiche side, now it looks like a hodge-podge of many different paths,” Father McDonnell said.
He noted that more erosion has occurred in the last 50 years – ‘and some would even say in the last six or seven years’ – than over all the previous centuries.
There had been speculation in recent weeks of a helicopter landing pad being constructed on Croagh Patrick, and it is understood that these discussions have involved An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
However, the plans are at an early stage as other stakeholders, who are involved in devising a sustainability plan for the mountain, were not aware of the moves when The Mayo News spoke to them earlier yesterday.
As Mayo Mountain Rescue and the local Catholic Church prepares for its busiest weekend of the year on the Murrisk mountain, they spoke about the various issues that urgently must be addressed. However, both Shane McGuire and Father Charlie McDonnell said they were not aware of any definite plans for a helipad, but expressed serious concerns about safety and sustainability issues on the mountain.
Enda Kenny’s spokesman, Cllr Ger Deere, confirmed to The Mayo News yesterday that representations were made to him, during his recent ascent of Croagh Patrick with Republic of Ireland football team manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, about the need for a helipad on the mountain.
“I understand that John Cummins (the Guardian of Croagh Patrick) spoke to the Taoiseach and the County Manager, Peter Hynes, about the need for a helipad,” Cllr Deere said.
When contacted, County Secretary, John Condon said: “The feasibility of providing a helicopter landing pad on Croagh Patrick is being researched by the council. We are in discussions with the Air Corps about the possibilities and various options are being examined about where on the mountain would be suitable.”
MAYO Mountain Rescue’s spokesman, Shane McGuire, said the last two weeks have been very busy on the mountain. He revealed the group had a call-out on Saturday, when a woman, aged in her twenties, broke her ankle.
Speaking about the mountain’s special place in the Irish cultural psyche, Mr McGuire said: “From a Mayo Mountain Rescue point of view, it is great that people are using Croagh Patrick as a resource and an amenity. Of course, it is a special mountain because of its cultural and spiritual heritage. People tend to be very protective of the mountain and because of its special significance we must be sensitive to the public’s emotional attachment to it. It is not just a mountain, it is part of our heritage – both religious and archaeological. The reality is that if this was a monument, a group like the Office of Public Works (OPW) would be in charge of its upkeep.”
The pathway up Croagh Patrick traverses commonage lands owned by a number of local farmers while the Catholic Church owns the oratory at the summit.
Mr McGuire stressed the practicalities: “We have to be conscious of its future sustainability. The safer the path is, the safer the climb for both pilgrims and others will be, and this means it will be less likely that we will have to go out and rescue people.”
He said he understands that on mainland Europe mountain climbers must have insurance, in case of an accident; otherwise, if they have to be rescued they must pay the costs, whereas in Ireland and the UK, the rescue operation is a voluntary effort.
Shane McGuire confirmed that a consultant from Wales – recently commissioned to do a study on the safety of Croagh Patrick – said remedial works were needed to make the walkway sustainable and safe.
“Eighty per cent of our call-outs are from climbers returning from the summit who fall or slip on a bend before the first station on the descent. What usually happens is that they either slip or fall and the momentum of the moving shale propels them forward,” he continued.
He revealed that all 12 mountain rescue teams throughout the country will be represented on the Reek next Sunday.
“They will work in tandem with teams of Order of Malta, Civil defence, Garda Síochána, HSE personnel, the Air Corps and the local community,” he added.
Mr McGuire also revealed that there could have been a fatality at last year’s annual pilgrimage but for the level of rescue and safety services on-hand.
Interestingly, he observed that: “The peak is not a panacea for a helipad from logistical reasons in our experience. Many of our casualties are winched off the mountain, which means the helicopter is in a hovering position for the rescue operation.”
WESTPORT’S Garda Chief, Superintendent Aiden Foley, said traffic and parking restrictions would be in-place for the pilgrimage. He urged pilgrims to adhere to the instructions of gardaí and stewards, warning that any illegally parked vehicles would be towed away.
THE traditional local pilgrimage on Garland Friday (July 27) starts off the busy weekend. Mass will be celebrated in St Patrick’s Oratory, on the summit, at 10am on Friday morning and in Murrisk car park at 8pm.
Reek Sunday (July 29) Masses will be celebrated in the oratory every half-hour from 8am to 2pm. Confessions will be heard on the summit continuously from 7.30am until 2.30pm.
This year’s pilgrimage will be led by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown and the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary. Archbishop Brown will celebrate Mass in Westport on Saturday evening at 6.30pm, while Archbishop Neary will deliver the homily. The Papal Nuncio will also celebrate the 9.30am Mass on the summit on Sunday morning, Father Jim Walsh will celebrate the 10am Mass trí ghaeilge and Archbishop Neary will celebrate the 10.30am Mass, with the two newly ordained priests - Fr Shane Sullivan and and Fr Eugene O’Boyle - who have recently taken up duties in the Tuam Diocese.
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