If you are thinking about visiting County Mayo, then why not take a trip out to see Croagh Patrick. It's an iconic mountain, featuring heavily in ancient Irish culture and religion and a great place to climb and get one of the best views in Ireland! So if you fancy visiting this famous mountain this complete guide to Croagh Patrick will give you the full lowdown on what to do, where to go, what to see and where to stay, as well as plenty of historical and archeological information on this famous mountain.
Croagh Patrick Facts
Croagh Patrick is Ireland's holiest mountain
Croagh Patrick translates to 'Patrick's Mountain'
It's is also knows as 'The Reek', a translation from 'rick' or 'stack'
It is a holy mountain in Westport, County Mayo in the west of Ireland
Croagh Patrick is 764 metres / 2507 feet high
It is the third highest mountain in County Mayo
The mountain was created in the last Ice Age by a glacier
Croagh Patrick attracts over 1 million visitors a year
Up to 30,000 pilgrims from all over the world climb it on 'Reek Sunday'
What and where is Croagh Patrick?
Located on the southern edge of Clew Bay, County Mayo, 8km outside Westport on the Louisburg Road, Croagh Patrick is one of Ireland's most famous mountains and was formed by a glacier flowing into Clew Bay in the last Ice age.
Today, it's a hugely popular tourist destination due to it's historical and religious importance, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year who come a climb to the summit of the mountain and visit the church resting at it's peak.
The history of Croagh Patrick
Croagh Patrick has been a place of great importance since the pre Christian ages, with the discovery of both a Celtic Hill Fort which circles the peak of the mountain, as well as the remains of a dry stone oratory which has been carbon dated to some time between 430 and 890AD.
The mountain gets it's name from St Patrick himself, who in 441 AD, spent the 40 days and nights of Lent praying and fasting on the mountain as part of his efforts to convert Ireland to Christianity. It is here also that the legend of St Patrick casting snakes and demons from the Emerald Isle took place, where they were driven into 'Demons Hollow' or 'Log na nDeamhan', which is the lake at the northern base of the mountain.
The Croagh Patrick pilgrimage
According to archaeological finds on the mountain it is believed that for over 5,000 years there has been an unbroken tradition and ritual of climbing to the peak of Croagh Patrick at the end of the summer.
This tradition was originally part of pagan festivals for the harvest and as this was already a place favoured within pagan beliefs, Saint Patrick used it's popularity to convert visitors to Christianity as part of the overall efforts to bring Christianity to Ireland.
In this way, the Christian Church was able to make a smoother transition from the long held pagan faiths to those of their own religion.
Pilgrims flock to Irelands Holy Mountain 1949
Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage 1964
The Croagh Patrick pilgrimage is now thought to be one of the most ancient practices in the whole of Ireland, with over 100,000 people climbing the mountain every year, although many of those that climb are simply hikers and tourists making the ascent without any religious association.
For some of those who do take their journey with religious intent, many climb barefoot or some even make their way to the summit on their knees, as part of their penance. Many other take part on 'rounding rituals', where they walk repeatedly in a clockwise direction around specific points on the route. This is sometimes done whilst carrying a stone, also as an act of penance.
The Stations of Croagh Patrick
There are three pilgrimage stations along the climb to the peak of Croagh Patrick.
First Station (Leacht Benáin): Base of the Mountain
Walk 7 times around the mound of stones while saying Seven Our Fathers, Seven Hail Marys and One Creed.
Second Station: The Summit
Kneel and say Seven Our Fathers, Seven Hail Marys and One Creed
Pray near to the chapel for the Pope's intentions.
Walk Fifteen times around the chapel of St Patrick while saying Fifteen Our Fathers and Fifteen Hail Marys
Walk Seven times around Leaba Phádraig (Patrick's Bed) saying Seven Our Fathers, Seven Hail Marys and One Creed.
Third Station: Roilig Mhuire
Walk Seven times around each mound of stones saying Seven Our Fathers, Seven Hail Marys and One Creed.
Walk Seven times around the whole enclosure of Roilig Mhuire praying.
The Stations of Croagh Patrick
What is Reek Sunday
Although thousands of visitors take their own pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick throughout the year, the last Sunday in July holds a special place for pilgrims to the holy mountain. Known as 'Reek Sunday', this day sees upwards of 20 to 30 thousand visitors climb up to the chapel and attend one of the hourly masses.
The Chapel of Saint Patrick
The peak of Croag Patrick is also the very unlikely location for a church, which was opened in 1905. 'Temple Phádraig' or 'St Patricks Chapel' was built by only 12 men
However, this isn't the first church to have existed at the summer of the mountain, as archaeological digs in 1994 revealed the remain of the foundations of a chapel believed to have been there since the 5th century.
In addition to the mountain climb, pilgrims can also arrive at the foot of Croagh Patrick via Patricks Causeway, which is a 30km cross country route from Ballintubber Abbey. Although the road is now named after the famous Saint, it actually predates Christianity,
There's gold in them thar hills!
There really is gold in Croagh Patrick - and quite a lot of it too! A seam of the precious metal was found in the 1980's, and after further surveys, it was estimated that there was around 300,000 oz's of gold with a value of €360 million hidden within the mountain. The wheels were set into motion to mine the mountain, but after resistance to the proposed destruction to parts of Croagh Patrick were presented by the local Mayo environmental group, plans to extract the gold were abandoned and the mountain remains as is, a wonderful, unspoilt place for pilgrims, hikers and tourists alike.
The weather at Croagh Patrick
Like any part of Ireland, the weather on Croagh Patrick can change at relatively short notice. Always check the forecast before attempting to climb the mountain and bring layered clothing. For further information check out www.met.ie
Tips for climbing Croagh Patrick
If you fancy this famous journey, please remember that it can be a challenging climb, particularly in the latter stages of the final ascent. It is advised that you wear sturdy walking boots along with appropriate layered clothing, with a view to the rapidly changing weather that Ireland can bring!
The climb itself begins with a tarmac path past the Croagh Patrick Information Centre, leading to wooden steps up to the statue of Saint Patrick. From there, the ground is broken and uneven rock, with streams running through dependent on weather and time of year. The ground becomes looser rock underfoot on the steep approach to 'The Saddle', which is the halfway point in the climb.
Once here, it's a fairly even pathway round the back of the mountain until you reach the loose shale final ascent. This can be quite a tricky climb here, and care needs to be taken. Upon reading the peak, the mountain flattens out, with the chapel situated at the centre.
On a clear day, the views from the top of the mountain are spectacular, with the azure waters and myriad of islands that make up Clew Bay far below you. It's a magical place, and well worth the effort!
How long does it take to climb Croagh Patrick
For a person with an average level of fitness the ascent should take around 2 hours and the descent should take around 1 and 1/2 hours. Assuming you spend around half an hour at the summit your round trip will be in the region of 4 hours.
Of course, there are people who have down this a lot quicker, and as part of the annual Irish Mountain Running Association Race, the fastest recorded time for the ascent and descent is an amazing 42 minutes and 43 seconds!
The Croagh Patrick Information Centre
The centre was opened in 2000 by Gerry and Gabrielle Walsh. Gerry was the director of Acheological Excavations at the summit of Croagh Patrick and realised the need for an information centre to service the needs of the tens of thousands of pilgrims and visitors every year.
The National Famine Monument
Located opposite the car park at the base of Croagh Patrick sits a stark reminder of Irelands bleak history. The National Famine monument is a dramatic bronze sculpture by renowned artist John Behan, representing the 'Coffin Ships' that left irish shores full of people attempting to flee the famine and head to America for a better life. Due to the overcrowding and terribly unhealthy conditions, many of the immigrants dint reach their destination, hence the term used for the ships.
Over one million people died during the Great Famine of 1845 to 1849, and in 1996 the Irish Government invited nominations for an appropriate site to house a monument in memorial to those who died, and the spot where it now sits was deemed the most appropriate site. The memorial was unveiled in July 1997 by President Mary Robinson.
The sculpture depicts a ship filled with skeletal bodies filling the rigging depicting the dead souls of the many, many travellers who perished on the seas.
One of the oldest pubs in Ireland, Campbells is situated right at the foot of Croagh Patrick. It's a quaint Irish pub that has been sreving the visitors to the mountain for generations. Serving a great pint of the world famous Guinness along with hearty food, it's the perfect place to rest your weary legs after your climb.
Where to stay to visit Croagh Patrick
Westport House Caravan and Camping Park is situated on the fertile grounds of Westport House Estate just a five minute drive and a 15 minute stroll from Westport town, and a 25 minute drive from Croagh Patrick.
Set against the backdrop of 18th century cut stone stables (one of the most extensive heritage farm yard buildings in Europe) and the lush canopies of lofty oaks and birch, our caravan and camping park offers guests access to a choice of spotless facilities and a safe, picturesque environment for relaxation, exploration and play.
This natural environment surrounded by ancient trees with Croagh Patrick and Clew Bay in the background is the camper’s dream! Within a 5 minute drive and a 15 minute walk of popular Westport town, you'll find top rated facilities and a wealth of onsite activities and attractions for all ages on this family-run site.
Families, couples and hikers alike will revel in the park’s rich historical surrounds, enchanting forest walks and action-packed adventure activities and attractions.
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Hire a Camper in County Mayo and explore Croagh Patrick
A perfect way to visit the Croagh Patrick is in a motorhome. Why not hire a motorhome from Great Escape Camper Hire and see Ireland's holiest mountain for yourself? You can check availability and rates here.
It's a wonderful way to tour around County Mayo (and the rest of Ireland!) and take in the sights at your own pace - and remember, be it with friends, family or as a couple, there's no holiday like a holiday in a cosy camper!
Great Escape Camper Hire Ireland