I drove past this magnificent mountain while I was on my way to my new hosts in Castlebar, I was just taking a drive around the town of Westport and admiring the fantastic scenery and beaches, mountains and harbours, it is a really beautiful part of Ireland. As I drove past I knew that one day I was going to climb it, just had to be done, it was shaped exactly like a pile of sand or a pile of sugar just poured out of the bag, I could see with the binoculars that there was something on the top but I couldn’t tell quite what it was.
On the back out from Westport I picked up a hitchhiker who was just going to the town but he told me a bit of the history about the mountain, apparently St Patrick fasted up there for forty days and forty night, it is Irelands most holy mountain and on the top is a church so I definitely knew I wanted to climb it then.
I got to my hosts in Castlebar and was talking about it and they told me a little about the history too and encouraged me to go ahead so on the next fine day I went, there is a big carpark at the bottom, which was pretty full by the time I got there, but I managed to find a spot, the day was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, as I approached the mountain I could see the path snaking its way around the smaller mountain in the foreground then making its way up the steep side of Croagh Patrick.
I started my climb, the terrain was pretty much like most mountains, a bit boggy at the bottom with plenty of rocky streams trickling down the mountain, but there soon appeared a very definite path, so I knew I wasn’t going to get lost on this one like I did on Cadair Idris, apart from that there were loads of people on this mountain, loads going up and loads coming down. I suppose it was about 1pm as I made my way up.
It was a very tough climb but then none of them are ever easy but you know it will be worth it when you get to the top; I was starting to worry as I could see some clouds making their way toward the mountain, luckily it was just a shower and the sky cleared again. I took lots of breaks on the way up and at one point stopped to chat to someone who gave me one of her snack bars as I had dropped mine, as we chatted we bumped into a guy who had been playing the bagpipes up there for a charity event where a young guy with cerebral palsy was being carried up in his wheelchair and was raising lots of money for charity, fab story, I was hoping he would still be there when I got to the top but unfortunately he had gone.
Once I got to the top I saw the church and it’s not this tiny thing you might expect it’s quite big, apparently every July there is a huge pilgrimage and everyone climbs the mountain to have a service in the church.
But the views, they are possibly the best I have ever seen from a mountain, because of all the little islands which make up the West Coast of Ireland with houses dotted on some of them and with some stretching out into the sea in a long stick shape, it just made it more interesting, you can also see the Nephin range of mountains across Clew bay and Clare Island, which are also all beautiful.
I stayed up there for about an hour taking lots of pictures, as you do, then began the descent, I won’t talk too much about that, suffice to say it was super shite, I hate going down much more than I hate climbing, it is so painful and I am so slow, anyway, I got down and about 20 minutes from the end the heavens opened and I got absolutely drenched right through, I was feeling really fed up at his point and in a lot of pain so I decided I needed and deserved a nice glass of red wine so I went straight in the pub at the bottom of the mountain called Campbells, well everyone else had the same idea, it was packed , very difficult to get to the bar climbing over peoples’ wet backpacks and the like, I finally made it and managed to get a stool by the bar, red wine has never tasted so good.
While I was sitting there minding my own business looking around at all the memorabilia tacked to the ceiling beams mainly foreign money and business cards, loads and loads of business cards, a man came to chat to me and asked if I was with their group the ones who had taken John Tobin up the mountain, I said no, but he carried on chatting to me while he ordered drinks, wanting to take me back to Galway with him, he was lovely too! And then in came John Tobin the guy with cerebral palsy and the story was just being shown on the tv on the news in the pub so we all watched and I got the chance to have a quick chat with John and a photo with him, he was so chuffed to have been up there, he has wanted to do it for such a long time, the whole bar was cheering for him, it was great to be part of it, if only for a short while.
By the time all the excitement had died down everyone was leaving the pub, the people with John had all come down from Galway on buses, there was about 100 of them so my new Irish friend called Paddy planted a smacker on my lips and said goodbye. I drove back home the scenic way past Bertra strand to watch the sunset then home to a lovely hot bath and early night.