Priest calls for closure of eroded Croagh Patrick peak

Devastation due to 'neglect’ is impact of sports and climbing, says Fr Tony King

A retired parish priest has called for badly eroded sacred mountain Croagh Patrick to be declared off-limits for many activities until a proper conservation plan is implemented.

Fr Tony King wants the 764m mountain to be off-limits to extreme sports athletes and for the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage, which attracts some 30,000 climbers over the last weekend of July each year, to be suspended for three years.

Fr King, who was preaching at a Mass in Westport at the weekend, was greeted with applause by the 1,000-strong congregation.

In a hard-hitting homily about people’s responsibility for the environment, he referred to the recent “desecration” by tourists of the Malaysian holy mountain, Mount Kinabalu.


In recent years, Croagh Patrick, which is a commonage shared by local farmers, has become a popular venue for many high-profile extreme-sports races and has also been the location for all sorts of colourful, and sometimes bizarre, charity events, including a bra-chain challenge and a dating festival.

‘Sacred place’

Speaking at 12 noon Mass in St Mary’s Church in Westport on Sunday, Fr King observed: “Croagh Patrick is our holy mountain. It is a sacred place. The footprints of pilgrim people on that path carry the faith story of generations.

“The evidence of what is happening on the traditional pilgrim path of this mountain is disturbing.

“The impact can only be described as devastation due to erosion and neglect. A lot of the damage I am told is due to it being used as a sky track for fitness by super-athletes.”

Fr King urged the congregation “not to hand on a tarnished legacy to future generations”.

He likened Croagh Patrick to “nature’s greatest cathedral of the west” and said it was “a national shrine of faith, culture and tradition”.

“I honestly feel that this holy mountain should be declared off-limits from above the statue of St Patrick to the summit for the next three years.

“And, furthermore, that consideration should be given that the national pilgrimage should be suspended for the same period until a proper environmental protection policy with regulations is put in place to protect and conserve this sacred place.

"As Pope Francis says: 'People occasionally forgive us but nature never does'," he continued.

Responding, Brian Quinn of Fáilte Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way team said it would be disastrous for tourism if Croagh Patrick was closed down.

“We want the facility managed, as does the community and local authority.

“We are awaiting a change in the law, which is imminent. It will give blanket insurance to walkers above 300 feet and Croagh Patrick will be part of that,” Mr Quinn said.

‘Worst-damaged pathway’

Scottish mountaineering expert Bob Aitken dubbed Croagh Patrick "the worst-damaged pathway in the UK and Ireland" at a seminar attended by stakeholders at the end of 2013.

A report commissioned by Mountaineering Ireland some years ago concluded the pathway needed a "major intervention" which would cost €1 million.

Martin Keating of Mayo County Council said that "engagement between the relevant stakeholders is ongoing" regarding the management of the mountain.

He confirmed there was an annual revenue of circa €40,000 from car-park charges at the base of the mountain, which was shared between the Murrisk Development Association and the municipal district.

In excess of 100,000 people climb the mountain each year.