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Friday, 1 August 2014

Croagh Patrick

Last Sunday, 30,000 people converged on Croagh Patrick in County Mayo to perform the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage. Although the tradition is to climb barefoot, people were advised to at least bring a pair of shoes with them - just in case. Robert Hunt from Mayo Mountain Rescue asked the Irish Times to inform people that they “should not assume that a rescue team or a helicopter is available to carry you off” if they get tired half-way up.

Pilgrims ascending the mountain, 29 July 1962

The Croagh Patrick climb has become very popular over the years among groups as diverse as extreme-sports enthusiasts, spiritualists and tourists. While this is a great boost for the local area, the ever-increasing footfall on the mountain has severely damaged the path to the summit. The footing has disintegrated into gravel, which makes the steep incline at the summit quite treacherous. Slips and falls are common, and many people resort to sliding down the mountain on their bottom rather than risk injury.

Pilgrims take the stoney path back down, 29 July 1962

The mountain is of course associated with St. Patrick, mainly due to the legend that he performed a Lenten fast on the summit. However, the discovery of a Celtic ring fort on the summit proves that the site has been a place of worship, and perhaps pilgrimage for millennia.

Deep in prayer on the summit, 29 July 1962

On Reek Sunday, The Archbishop of Tuam leads mass in St Patrick’s Oratory on the summit. This church was originally built in 1905 by locals, but it has been extended since. The Irish Photo Archive were there in 1962 when the extension work began.  Local farmer, Michael McNeill, used his donkeys to cart the cement and building material up the mountain, and was helped out by his sons and family.

Michael McNeill (2nd from right) and his crew in the oratory after their climb, 15-17 May 1962

On their way up the mountain, a hailstorm descended, drenching the whole expedition but leaving an eerie quality in these photos. The images from this event always feature in the Irish Photo Archive’s most popular, and the image below is my own personal favourite from the entire archive.

Donkeys reach the summit in a hailstorm, 15-17 May 1962

If you would like to see more from this event, please click here.

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