By Sarah Mac Donald - 31 July, 2019
Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe diocese has welcomed plans to restore the pilgrim pathway on Croagh Patrick to protect it against further erosion and ensure climbers are safe as they approach the summit.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net on Reek Sunday, Bishop Monahan explained that when he was serving in the archdiocese of Tuam a few years ago he was part of the initial committee set up to bring about this conservation project.
The committee brought together stakeholders such as landowners, the church, the local authority and various sporting organisations.
“It is good to see these efforts to protect the mountain. The path is getting wider every year because of the footfall. It would be about 10,000 today (Reek Sunday) and maybe 5,000 yesterday – so it is bound to have a huge effect. And the different sporting events do have a big effect on it as well. There is constant traffic whereas years ago only a small number of people would climb the mountain on Reek Sunday but today people are climbing every day of the year.
“We have to have respect for this holy mountain and ensure that it is passed on intact to the next generation.
“With so many people climbing you see a huge amount of movement in the stones every year and the paths are getting wider and closer to the edge in places. It is quite dangerous in some places, so safety is a huge concern.”
Bishop Monahan told CatholicIreland.net that when he was based in the archdiocese of Tuam, he himself regularly climbed Croagh Patrick.
“I still do it regularly. I was up here recently with a group from Rice College in Ennis and we had a lovely youth pilgrimage and Mass on the top. I was up one time since as well. It is always a lovely experience and a great faith experience.”
He said the experience of the pilgrimage left pilgrims with a sense of thanksgiving that their health allowed them to climb the mountain and thanksgiving for the possibility of enjoying the sheer beauty of Croagh Patrick.
“The faith heritage is there and pilgrims carry in their heart whatever petition they might have and believe that in some way God listens to a person on this pilgrimage of transformation.”
The Bishop of Killaloe said that climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday was a journey of change in which pilgrims visited a sacred place that people have gone to repeatedly down the years and over many generations as a wellspring. “There is something very special about it,” he stated.
The Bishop also highlighted the penitence dimension of the pilgrimage. “You are in some way seeking reparation and forgiveness for your sins. There are so many different strands to it and certainly you are transformed and different when you come down from it.”
Among the thousands who undertook the mountain climb on Sunday was Selene Fee from Co. Fermanagh who left her home at 11 p.m. on Saturday evening along with four other family members.
“We wanted to see the sun rise from the summit but there was no sun! We had cloud and rain – everything but no sun.” The family group started their climb at 3.30 a.m. and reached the mountain top at 4.45 a.m., aided by headlights to help them see their way. “It was so dark, and the ground was wet, we definitely needed the headlights.”
She explained that 20 years ago she had climbed Croagh Patrick but hadn’t done it since. “It was so tough I said I would never do it again. But 20 years later I decided to give it another go, and I made friends with the mountain today! It is a fabulous experience. It is real eye opener to see some people walking up there in their bare feet – we counted about eight people in their bare feet.”
She said the reason she had undertaken the pilgrimage was because “I have lost brothers and family this year. I needed to remember them. We brought prayer stones from Fermanagh to the summit along with our prayers and thoughts for those we lost.” She added, “I will be back next year.”
Other pilgrims who spoke to CatholicIreland.net included a married couple from Claremorris. Keith and Yvonne were undertaking the pilgrimage with their four children aged 15, 13, 10 and 7 as well as Yvonne’s sister, her niece and a Spanish exchange student.
Yvonne explained that climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday is “a family tradition” and that they did the climb once a year for religious and social reasons.
“I love the craic and the fun. Plus, you have the support of Mayo Mountain Rescue if anything happened. We also get to meet loads of people from our own community.”
She explained that the Spanish student knew nothing about Reek Sunday but had googled it ahead of the climb and expressed the view that Croagh Patrick was “a small mountain compared to the Pyrenees where he had skied in the winter …”
Rose grew up in Africa and moved to Ireland some years ago and is settled in Longford with her Irish husband. Sunday was her seventh time climbing the mountain.
Accompanied by her son JJ, she explained, “I’m doing it for spiritual/religious motives and for exercise. I first heard about climbing Croagh Patrick from my husband who did it years ago. The feeling you get when you have made it all the way to the top and you look down on the [Clew] bay. There are some amazing views from the top. It just makes you wonder at what God has made – you appreciate nature.”