A faithful path still worn

By Padraig Burns

Exactly one hundred years ago the church on the summit of Croagh Patrick was dedicated by the then Archbishop of Tuam, Dr John Healy. The national pilgrimage, which evolved from pagan times, goes back for some hundreds of years prior to the construction of the church allowed climbers have a focal point for their pilgrimage.

Right up as far as the seventies the national pilgrimage was held during the night but that changed when it was moved back to the day light hours. The numbers climbing the Reek peaked back in the sixties and seventies when local people estimate that upwards of 50,000 climbed during the night.
Nowadays, some people still do climb during the night but the figure for Reek Sunday is closer to 20,000. However, the big difference today is that climbing the Reek is a year round practice, not confined anymore to one day in July. Fr Dennis Carney, the Administrator od St Mary’s in Westport, also has responsibility for the church on the Reek and he estimates that upwards of 100,000 people climb the Holy Mountain each year.

“The number of groups that look for the key of the church continues to grow each year. They come from all over the world, all different ages and all different backgrounds. Just last week a group from America called for the key to the church. They had the climb down as part of their itinerary,” he said.
Not everyone who climbs Croagh Patrick does it for religious reasons. Some people use if to keep fit, others use it as a means of raising funds for charitable organisations and just two weeks ago a group completed a number of climbs in one day for charity. That doesn’t bother Fr Carney who feels that everyone the climbs the mountain gets something from it, no matter what the aim.

“There are various reasons why people climb the Reek. It’s amazing the intentions that people have when they’re climbing and really you can meet people who are at their strongest and weakest there. Some people climb to give thanks for something and others will climb because they’re looking for something. It really it that varied.”

Tom Navin is a native of Westport and he has been climbing the Reek for as many years now as he can remember Tom enjoys climbing on Garland Friday, known as the local pilgrimage. Why does he do it? Good question, I suppose because we’re all looking for something really and it’s part of our faith and that’s what makes us do it. It’s not easy so if you wouldn’t make the effort. I think everyone looking for it you wouldn’t make the effort. I think everyone is looking for some type of fulfilment and I get a lot from climbing the Reek.

“Garland Friday is great because it’s something we’ve been doing since we were kids. I remember we used to get the bus out from the Mall every year. You meet the same people each year and it’s real family day. I think a point worth making too is that more and more young people are doing it every year. And maybe they’re looking for something too in their lives and just because they don’t go to Mass as regularly as we did when we were young it doesn’t mean they have empty lives,” he said.

Fr Carney would go along with that. “Every year it seems more and more young people are climbing so it must mean something to them. You’d be surprised too at the number of people that get Confession on the Reek. For some it’s the annual Confession and people have told me how much at peace they felt afterwards. I met a man once on the way down and he told me how he had been carrying a sense of guilt all year but it had gone after he had been to Confession and how he felt so at ease with himself for the first time in a long time. Anything that can help people feel more at ease with themselves and I suppose more at ease with God has to be a good thing,” he said.

Next Sunday there will be thirteen Masses celebrated in the church, starting at 8am with one every half hour until the last Mass at 2pm. Archbishop Michael Neary will say the 10.30 Mass and afterwards a special plaque to mark the centenary of the construction of the church will be unveiled. Twenty five priests will be on duty on the mountain, some from as far away as Poland and America to help con-celebrate the Masses.

Climbing the Reek donen’t always have to be a solemn affair and according to Fr Carney it can bring out the best in people. “You see people helping others out, giving them support and encouragement on the way up. There’s great craic too on the Reek and some of the stories that are told of what’s happened up there are lengardary. There’s a sense of camaraderie that’s hard to explain to people who have never climbed the Reek. When you have thousands of people all heading in the one direction with just one goal then it’s bound to have some kind of a bonding effect on them,” he said.

Courtesy of The Mayo News
July 27th 2005