As thousands of pilgrims make their way to Croagh Patrick for Reek Sunday, on the last weekend in July, Don Baldwin charts the history of one of Ireland’s most popular places of worship

Dramatically piercing the western skyline, its pyramidal summit thrust boldly up towards the heavens, Croagh Patrick has long offered up the prayers of the faithful. As if, the mountain’s conical symmetry was deigned by divine design, to serve as a spiritual conduit to the Gods, a natural high altar from which to offer up the prayers of man: Just as the mountain had done in ancient times, when shamanic Druids had cast different chants up into the laps of their pagan Gods, from this most revered height.

Despite its vaunted reputation however, Croagh Patrick at a commendable 764 metres, cannot claim to be both Mayo’s and Connaught’s highest mountain, that singular honour must go to its rugged brother, Mweelrae, at 814m; but the ‘Reek’ (‘Rick’-Hayrick), is still the real royalty in this province.

Croagh Patrick’s ravaged trails are obvious testimony to its popularity and the fact that in summer, it is the most climbed mountain in Ireland.

Until the return of winter restores its prayer blasted slopes to serene silence, an inviting haven once more, for the solitary pilgrim.

Westport is both an ideal and an idyllic place to base yourself for your Croagh Patrick odyssey, a neat and attractive town; it has long catered for the needs of the weary pilgrim.

From here, a ten-minute coastal journey eight kilometres west on the R335, soon brings you to the little village of Murrisk (‘Muiresc’-Sea Swamp), where a modern well proportioned car park in the shadow of Croagh Patrick is a clear indication of the enduring legacy of this historic place.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own