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Call for ‘extreme caution’ ahead of Reek Sunday pilgrimage


ROCKY ROAD Colin Hastings (9), Westport, makes his way up Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday two years ago.

Rescue calls on holy mountain rise

Áine Ryan

WITH rescue callouts up by almost 30 percent on last year, Mayo Mountain Rescue (MMR) has urged Reek Sunday pilgrims to exercise ‘extreme caution’ during this weekend’s annual ascent. It is now four years since Mountaineering Ireland commissioned a report concluding Croagh Patrick needed a €1.5 million conservation plan due to significant erosion on the 764-metre high pathway.
Mayo County Council’s Head of Environment, Martin Keating confirmed yesterday (Monday) that a consultant for the works would be appointed in September. He also told The Mayo News that precise information on the numbers climbing the holy mountain would be gleaned from the recently installed counters at the end of this month. It was revealed at a municipal area meeting yesterday (Monday), that preliminary figures for the June Bank Holiday period last month show almost 6,000 people made the ascent of Croagh Patrick that weekend.
Earlier this month a stakeholders’ group launched the first phase of measures to make the holy mountain safer. A dedicated map marking the pilgrimage route on the 764-metre high mountain, new signage and information boards, as well as the ‘counters’.
For months MMR has been coordinating plans with Westport Order of Malta to manage the event which attracts some 25,000 people over the last weekend of July.    
“Both the Mayo Mountain Rescue Team and Westport Order of Malta are stressing the importance of climbers being suitably equipped for all weather, regardless of ground conditions. It is imperative that suitable footwear be worn, along with warm clothes and rain gear, as well as sun protection. All climbers should also bring a plentiful supply of water and snacks, while extra care must be taken with children on the mountain,” they urged in a statement.  

Following the cancellation due to adverse weather conditions of last year’s Reek Sunday pilgrimage, they have urged ‘all climbers to take note of and heed all advice given by volunteers at the base and on the mountain’. Some 5,000 people persisted in climbing the mountain despite the official cancellation.  
“On average we have 100 mountain rescue personnel from the 12 Irish mountain rescue teams to assist with the operation. While this is usually the busiest weekend for the Mayo team so far this year we have had over 25 callouts, the majority of which were on Croagh Patrick. This is an increase of about 30 percent over the same time period from 2015,” Ruth Cunniffe of MMR said.
With thousands of pilgrims descending on the tiny seaside village of Murrisk, the Reek Sunday operation involves a massive logistical operation involving the local community, various volunteer bodies and agencies. They include: all local divisions of the Order of Malta, 12 teams from Mountain Rescue Ireland, Mayo County Council personnel. Irish Air Corp helicopters, Civil Defence. Westport church authorities,  Murrisk Development Association, local land owners and volunteers.

Worldwide live broadcast
Westport Community Radio will broadcast a special programme live from Croagh Patrick on the traditional local pilgrimage day, Garland Friday, July 29.
The programme, commencing at 4pm, will be broadcast on 98.2fm throughout the Clew Bay region and throughout the world on the Internet at www.westportradio.ie.  It will include interviews with locals and pilgrims, interlaced with music, culminating with the live broadcast of Mass being celebrated at 7.30pm in Murrisk Community Centre in the car park at the base of Croagh Patrick.
Readers are urged to inform relatives and friends abroad of the special broadcast, which will enable them enjoy a link with home.