Centuries of pilgrimages have carved a path up to a chapel at the top of Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo. Judy Enright photos
by Judy Enright
It’s that time of year again when Ireland and the Irish hop into the world’s limelight to celebrate St. Patrick and his special day.
In March, everyone is Irish, as you know, regardless of surname or heritage. Each of us shares equally in the good times, the festivities, and the wondrous fact that mid-month is almost April and that spring is nearly here! (The spring equinox, in case you wonder, occurs this year on March 20 at 12:15 p.m.)
THE GOOD SAINT
In looking for some interesting facts about St. Patrick, I found, in a 2008 edition of Christianity Today, an article that made me laugh. Ted Olsen writes, “Tis the season for parades, green beer, shamrocks, and articles talking about why St. Patrick’s day isn’t all about parades, green beer, and shamrocks.” Ted is correct in a way, and incorrect in another.
The parades and celebrations are great fun, but I find Patrick’s history a lot more interesting. Was there really just one St. Patrick or were there several? If there was only one, he was very well traveled in an age without cars or other modern modes of transport.
Many of us already know quite a lot about Ireland’s patron saint – real or mythical – from reading about him, especially if we’ve visited the St. Patrick Centre in Northern Ireland, which boasts that it is the only place in the world solely dedicated to him. For details, visit saintpatrickcentre.com
Briefly, the Centre’s Patrick narrative begins in 405 A.D., when, as a 16-year-old native of what is now Scotland, he was captured in a raid and taken to pagan Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped, went home, then returned in his 40s to deal with those Irish heathens.
There are many other aspects of Patrick’s tale, but I especially like his connection with Ireland’s Holy Mountain, Croagh (pronounced “crow”) Patrick, the 2,500-foot tall cone-shaped mountain in Murrisk, Co. Mayo, near Westport. Legend has it that it was on Croagh Patrick, or The Reek as it’s known locally, that Patrick completed a 40-day Lenten ritual of fasting and penance in 441 A.D. And, it was there, legend adds, that he drove snakes out of Ireland. For his part, Olsen writes in Christianity Today that “Patrick couldn’t have driven the snakes out of Ireland because there were never any snakes there to begin with.” It’s hard to say if that’s true or not, but why ruin a great and enduring legend with facts, right?
Croagh Patrick today is an immensely popular tourist site that draws visitors from all over the world, many of whom come to attempt the hefty climb to the top. I’ve actually never tried to make it to the peak, which is about a two-hour hike from the car park. I only climbed as far as the large statue of St. Patrick that was erected in 1928 by Rev. Father Patterson with funds collected in America to rebuild Saint Mary’s Church in Westport.
The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain dates back more than 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present without interruption, and its religious significance to the pagans, when people gathered there to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season. Over the centuries, untold thousands of visitors and pilgrims have carved a trail into the side of the mountain up to a small chapel at the summit.
If you’re in the area, Croagh Patrick is well worth a visit, especially on a beautiful day when you can enjoy the gorgeous vista across Clew Bay. The Croagh Patrick Visitor Center has a restaurant, coffee shop, and a great gift shop offering many cards and locally made gifts. Climbing sticks are also available there.
And, if you’re in Mayo at the end of July, you might want to join other pilgrims for Reek Sunday, an annual hike up the mountain on the last Sunday of that month. Thousands participate in the climb and many do the last part barefoot and on their knees as penance.
There are lots of other fun things to do in the Greater Westport area, too.
Dublin pulls out all the stops annually when it comes to celebrating the country’s patron saint.
From March 15-19 this year, the five-day St. Patrick’s Festival will brighten and enliven the streets of the city. The Festival annually attracts more than 100,000 foreign visitors who come to see thousands of performers. This year, more than 30 events are scheduled over five days and nights, including music, dancing, storytelling, and more.
“HOME, the exploration of my home, your home, our home” is the theme for this year’s festival and it has inspired an artistic program that includes a film commission project, street-theatre, talks, walks, spoken word, literature, music, Irish language, visual art, and more. It all sounds like great fun.
Of course there are St. Patrick’s Day festivities, parades and assorted celebrations in many other cities and towns across the isle, including Galway City (parade on the 17th and charity cycle on the 18th), Cork City parade and events (March 16-18), Limerick City (parade March 17 and marching band championship March 18 with musicians from Ireland, Europe and America) and Donegal, with Ardara’s renowned Walking Festival on March 17 and 18. This is just a sampling. For more, check out Ireland.com and plug in the area you’ll be visiting.
We read recently that the Mayo County Council has purchased historic Moorehall near the village of Carnacon, and will develop the property, house, courtyard, walled garden, and 80 acres of the woodland estate overlooking Lough Carra, in collaboration with The National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Moorehall is the ancestral home of John Moore, the first president of the Republic of Connaught. The history of the family and house is linked with Irish history and includes the 1798 French invasion, the Irish literary renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the Civil War.
The county council plans to develop the estate as a nature preserve and tourist attraction. A master plan, to be written with input from the local community, will include development of a recreational park, conservation measures, and restoration of the walled garden.
Moorehall is near Ballintubber Abbey and the historic market town of Ballinrobe. It’s so nice to see historic Irish places saved, restored, and opened to the public.
Knock Airport (also known as Ireland West Airport) is booming, having recorded its highest figures ever last year as 750,000 passengers checked in at its gates. The previous highest number was in 2016, when 734,000 passengers were recorded.
This airport is a real boon to the west of Ireland and is currently served by three major international airlines, Aer Lingus, Flybe, and Ryanair.
Last year, the airport invested 15 million euro in a project that will result in new passenger facilities, terminal upgrades, and infrastructural works across the airport and runway. Knock has flights to nine UK airports as well as to continental and mainland Europe. Maybe someday they’ll offer flights to and from Logan!
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever and wherever you go. This is a lovely time of year to visit.