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Spirituality and safety a priority for priests


Reek Sunday pilgrimage will attract some 30,000 climbers this weekend

Áine Ryan

AS thousands of pilgrims prepare to climb Croagh Patrick for this weekend’s Reek Sunday pilgrimage, Ballintubber Abbey priest, Fr Frank Fahey has said it is ‘not an appropriate place to hold running competitions’ while safety aspects on the badly eroded peak have been highlighted by Westport’s Administrator, Fr Charlie McDonnell.
Both issues have been the subject of debate since retired priest, Fr Tony King was greeted with applause after he delivered a homily calling for the closure of the mountain pathway recently to extreme sports athletes.     
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday, Fr Fahey said: “Running is a wonderful pursuit but there are plenty of places to engage in competitions but they are not on holy mountains.”
He has championed the integral connection between historic Ballintubber Abbey with the pyramidal mountain through the development of the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim path, originally a pre-Christian chariot route. Like his diocesan colleague, Fr King, he has previously criticised the contemporary use of the mountain as a sports arena and its significant degradation because of the increased traffic.  
“The whole significance of climbing a holy mountain is not to glorify ourselves about getting there first in a certain time but to glorify God and creation. People who climb the mountain, even as pilgrims, may not have the right attitude today. This holy mountain has symbolised worship and sacrifice since long before Saint Patrick came and tussled over 40 days and 40 nights with the caorrthanach (a serpent or black birds and symbol of pride in Celtic mythology),” Fr Fahey said.
He observed that ‘when you take God out of society, man has to exalt himself’ which, he believes, may be increasingly happening on Croagh Patrick.

FOR the Administrator of Westport parish, Fr Charlie McDonnell the safety of pilgrims this weekend is a priority. He also said that he is ‘eagerly awaiting new legislation’, due in October, which will insure hillwalkers on such dedicated pathways and therefore indemnify those stakeholders who may be liable if there was an accident after repair work is carried out.
“Pilgrims climbing the mountain need to realise this is a serious ascent and they must be properly dressed, have proper footwear, bring refreshments and walking sticks. We greatly appreciate the volunteerism of Mayo Mountain Rescue and the other support services but people must also be responsible for themselves and not put these services under undue pressure.”
Regarding the urgent need for the implementation of a repair and conservation plan, Fr McDonnell said: “I understand that over the past 26 years or so the traditional path, at the bad bend on the cone, has been extended out onto the bog, which along with its proximity to a cliff, is causing the danger.”
Fr McDonnell confirmed that Westport Parish Council extended an invitation during May last to various interested parties to attend a meeting in September about the future of the mountain.

Worst damaged pathway
DESPITE an expert report published three years ago and more warnings since of the dangers on Croagh Patrick, no progress has been made to make its treacherous pathway safer.
Scottish mountaineering expert Bob Aitken’s description of Croagh Patrick as ‘the worst-damaged pathway in the UK and Ireland’ was cited at a seminar in Murrisk at the end of 2013. This view was supported by Mayo Mountain Rescue, ahead of last year’s Reek Sunday weekend when a spokesman stressed the urgency of remedial works, particularly along the steep conical area which is covered by loose shale.
The expert report, commissioned by Mountaineering Ireland some years ago and carried out by Elfyn Jones of the British Mountaineering Council, concluded that the mountain, increasingly used by extreme-sports enthusiasts, needed a ‘large-scale intervention’ estimated to cost €1 million.
It is estimated that well in excess of  100,000 people now climb the mountain each year, with some 30,000 climbing this weekend.
Mayo County Council’s Martin Keating said the future of the mountain would be discussed at next Monday’s West Mayo Municipal District meeting. Responding to Mayo News questions yesterday, he said: “While I cannot speak for the group, I expect that the starting point will be the short term action items that came from the workshop in Murrisk. It is too early to speculate on funding requirements as these are dependent on the work programme to be undertaken. Similarly, it is premature to comment on the necessity to close the pathways as there are many issues to be resolved before work could be undertaken.”

MAYO Mountain Rescue’s (MMR), Ruth Cunniffe, said: “There have been 20 call-outs to Croagh Patrick so far this year with many of them non-life-threatening ankle or head injuries, mainly incurred on the cone while descending.”
This statistic is much the same as the number of injuries, over the same time period, in recent years, she said.  
Along with MMR’s team of about 30 volunteers, some eight other mountain rescue teams around the country will despatch about ten volunteers each, and Calder Valley will send a group from Wales. They will be supported by a number of Order of Malta and Civil Defense personnel and the Air Corp will have a helicopter on standby at Knock Airport. An Garda Síochána and members of the Murrisk community also play a pivotal role in the management of the event.  
Ms Cunniffe said that MMR ‘would support any conservation plan agreed upon by the stakeholders’ as the bottom line for the is ‘to ensure safety on the mountain’.

Service times
Garland Friday, July 24
Mass at the summit: 10am
Mass in the carpark: 7.30pm

Saturday, July 25
Archbishop’s  homily
Mass in St Mary’s Westport, 6.30pm

Reek Sunday
Confessions at summit: 7.30am to 2pm
Masses from 8am to 2pm each half-hour
Aifreann as gaeilge: 10am
Archbishop’s Mass: 10.30am