The Reek, as it’s also known, has a cone-shaped peak that dominates the surrounding skyline. You can see it in the distance here on the road to Westport town, our home base for the day.
A road sign I snapped as we swung through a junction near Murrisk, the village at the foot of the mountain (I wasn’t driving):
Saint Patrick, wielding staff and shamrock, greets climbers at the bottom of Croagh Patrick. The mountain has been the site of sacred pilgrimage for several thousand years, and the scarf of mist that cloaked the summit gave it a suitably mystical atmosphere.
Though not a tall mountain (2500ft. approx.), the ascent is steep from the start, and treacherous further up when the route turns from rough rock and dirt to scree that makes it hard to find reliable purchase.
Here’s the view after a few minutes’ climbing. In the background is Clew Bay, which opens Mayo up into the Atlantic; beyond it, the county’s Nephin Beg mountain range.
The early-evening weather was perfect: warm in the sun, mild out of it, dry and breezy.
“Aideen I’m sorry”:
As we climbed we left behind a stream and its neighbouring greens, heather purples and wildflower yellows and whites and everything turned grey and brown for a while. Towards the summit we entered the mist we’d seen from sea level and all was muted.
The cloud hindered the views, but irregularly – the breeze kept swirling it around – and it wasn’t thick enough to feel wet (we were already drenched with sweat) or infringe on local visibility. This shot shows the uninviting scree underfoot, and a Brocken spectre further down:
Over a mini-picnic at the top we let our breathing normalise and our legs stop aching. A man sat outside the mountaintop chapel and played the didgeridoo, figure and building both fading in and out of the sunlit mist. My companions are just about visible to the right:
St. Patrick is said to have spent 40 days fasting here, and there are stations of the cross scattered along the route. This is his bed, with a concave stone in front of it worn smooth by centuries of praying knees:
The chapel was built in 1905. The builders, I believe, did not commute, but rather tended to stay put once they got up:
Looking west we could see Clare Island silhouetted against the shimmering surface of the bay.
And on the other side, fields and forest stretch off amid lakes and hills in a hazy green expanse.
There’s enough greenery below the scree to keep sheep in good health on the mountain.
We descend. It was tough on the thighs going up and on the calves going down. Anecdotally, tumbles and slides are common, but our party survived with nothing worse than tired muscles, creaky joints, and one bloodied toe.
Heather and ferns near the base:
A view of the mountain across the water from Westport the next day: