The first article I wrote for the website was in June 2000 and was on a trip to Ireland to climb all the mountains over 3,000 feet (known as Munros in Scotland). On Lugnaquillia in Wicklow we met some Irish hill walkers who recommended the hills of Connemara as the best hills to walk in Ireland so this year six of us travelled to Connemara and had an enjoyable week walking the hills and socialising in the pubs. Pubs are very important in Irish culture and there was lots of music and singing in them. As we did so much in the week this is the first of a series of articles and I am going to write on the Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick.
Connemara is an area in Western Ireland and includes the Counties of Galway, Mayo and Clare. Croagh Patrick means Patrick's steep sided mountain and is at Murrisk near Westport. It was our first day of walking and was raining lightly so we had a look at the Sculpture to the Irish Potato Famine in bronze depicting a ship with skeletons. The climb up Croagh Patrick is described as a stony slog up a pilgrim path to reach a summit chapel and this mountain is unusual as it is the only one in Ireland where you are likely to meet other walkers. There is an annual pilgrimage on the last Sunday in July and in 2003 thirty five thousand people participated, many in bare feet. Croagh Patrick has been a place of Christian Pilgrimage for over 1,500 years.
At the start of the walk there is a notice board at the statue of Saint Patrick listing the ‘rules’ to be observed to gain any spiritual benefit from the climb and mostly relate to the reciting of specific prayers. However, we gained our own spiritual benefit from just walking up the mountain and on the way met Carmel and Orla from County Clare who had never before climbed a mountain and were not equipped for it, hence Orla wearing car jump leads around her waist to conserve heat inside her coat. Fortunately, there were no lightening strikes that day or she might have been in trouble! The girls were great fun and we encouraged them to the top of the mountain. They were delighted to reach the summit.
At the half way mark on the well trodden path there are flushing toilets and this is the first time I have come across such a phenomenon on a mountain. The mountain is 2.510 feet (764m) and was an easy walk with stunning views across Clew Bay over the islands, one for every day of the year, to Westport. When we reached the top, Bobby unrolled the Irish and Scottish flags for a photo opportunity but it was rather misty. Surprisingly, this was the only rain and mist we were to have in the entire week when we visited the Maamturks, Mweelrea, Achill Head, Belmullet Peninsula, Inishmore Island, Cong and Galway.
After descending the mountain, it was back to Westport to sample the nightlife with fifty six pubs to choose from and many with live music. We particularly liked the Clew Bay Hotel. The locals appear to prefer more modern live music and the highlight for me was the pub where they played the techno version of the Fields of Athenry. It was another late night downing pints of Smithwicks and singing along.
Coming attractions; more Ireland and whatever else I do in the next few months.
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Thanks to Frances Rickus for the photos