Reek Sunday on Croagh Patrick draws 20,000

 

Lines of gleaming SUVs in car parks at the base of Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo yesterday was testament to the increasing affluence of the modern pilgrim or what the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary referred to as "an Ireland of growing prosperity".

Stout hazel rods, the traditional "sticks for the Reek", were on sale in abundance as were items such as mugs and "miraculous medals", but the cloth-capped, barefoot penitents seemed less evident than in previous years and there were definitely more mobile phones than rosary beads.

Still, the numbers doing the annual pilgrimage are constant. Up to 20,000 pilgrims, some barefoot as is traditional, made the climb in good weather conditions.

There were no serious injuries, fewer than 20 "walking wounded", according to Lt David Fahy, of Westport Order of Malta. An Air Corps helicopter assisted in evacuating casualties from the mountain and a small number were transferred by road to Mayo General Hospital.

Stick seller John Cruise, from Galway, was doing a brisk trade but bemoaned the fact that he was unable this year to get St Patrick medals to sell to pilgrims. "It's impossible for love or money to get a medal of St Patrick," he said. "They don't seem to be making them anymore."

Mary McLoughlin from Ballylinan, Co Laois was perhaps one of few climbers who would admit not making it to the summit. "I went three- quarters of the way up," she said, "then the knees gave in on me. Sure it doesn't matter. I can pray as well at the side of a mountain as at the top."

A group from the Rossport area of north Mayo, supporting the five men jailed because of their opposition to the onshore Corrib gas pipeline, collected signatures at the base of the mountain.

One of them, Bríd McGarry, said they were getting a good response. "Even though pilgrims were concentrating on the tough climb ahead of them, they still took time out to get informed about the reality of what is happening in north Mayo," she said.

Archbishop Neary celebrated Mass to mark the centenary of the building of St Patrick's Oratory on the summit. "Since that day hundreds of thousands of people have carried their pain, their hopes, their loneliness, their doubts and their faith to a listening and caring God."

He said that despite "the seeming weakness of faith in an Ireland of growing prosperity" there was "still a vibrant church calling men and women to seek God with the strength and companionship of others".