Soaring above Clew Bay and 5km from Westport, Croagh Patrick, is a cone-shaped peak to which the Irish have come for spiritual solace, guidance and reassurance before the harvest for more than 3,000 years.
Our Neolithic ancestors first recognised its potency as a sacred site and, later, people came to worship the Celtic sun god, Lugh. In 441AD St Patrick cannily co-opted the site by reputedly fasting there for 40 days and nights before banishing the snakes from Ireland.
Croagh Patrick, nicknamed The Reek, is the perfect spot to experience a sense of the inclusive, exultant form of early Irish Christianity when it was still infused with the innate love of nature – the Pagan biophilia – of the Irish people.
Around 20,000 to 25,000 pilgrims still climb the 764-metre mountain each year on the last Sunday in July, the nearest Sunday to the original Pagan festival of Lughnasa.
While the walk starts relatively gently, it gets harder and the rocky, scree-littered ground means appropriate footwear is important. Make sure you bring rain gear too as even the best day can quickly turn wet and windy on the Atlantic coasts. Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre, Teach na Miasa, sells or rents walking sticks which are almost essential on the descent.
This walk is rewarded by the glorious views from the summit: the Nephin Beg Mountains and the grey waters of Clew Bay with its 365 emerald islands. On top of the mountain you can feel connected to the sanctity our ancestors perceived in all things, in every raindrop and honey-suckle petal – the illuminating life-force that animates all things.
It is hard not be moved by the courage St Patrick showed by coming here to battle what he regarded as Pagan darkness to bring the Irish into the light of Christianity.
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