A clash between religion and GAA fervour on national pilgrimage day to Croagh Patrick yesterday produced what was accepted on all sides as an honourable draw.
Fears that the pilgrimage turnout might be diminished due to two All-Ireland football quarter-finals in Croke Park, in which three Connacht counties – Galway, Mayo and Roscommon – were involved, proved unwarranted.
The general consensus of pilgrims as they departed the 2,510ft (764m) mountain was that numbers who participated had held up, with more young people than normal making the climb despite occasional cloudbursts.
Donie O'Connell, from Banagher, Co Offaly, a veteran of dozens of climbs since the 1970s, hailed the sight of so many teenagers on the slopes as "most welcome. For a few years there it seemed there was nobody involved but us auld lads," he said.
A friendship forged on a hot beach in Tunisia some years ago brought Emer Rea from Co Down and Daniella Klenkova, originally from the Czech Republic but living in Co Kildare, together on Croagh Patrick yesterday,
"I've been to Medugorje and Lourdes and wanted to do Lough Derg this year but couldn't because of flu. I have climbed Croagh Patrick three times since 2008 and find it really inspiring," Ms Klenkova said.
Mary Mahon from Claremorris was climbing the mountain for more than her 40th time. She said she almost missed the pilgrimage this year, as she was thinking of going to Croke Park to see Mayo play Roscommon. Did she say a prayer for the green and red? "I definitely did. Two or three prayers actually."
Traders flogging hazel sticks at €5 a pop seemed less numerous in the various car parks at the base of the mountain than in previous years.
Not that it mattered to Dan Fleming from Co Cork. A first-timer on the Holy Mountain, he brought along a handle of a sweeping brush as a climbing aid.
He travelled with 43 others on a coach from Blarney and by 9am he had the mountain in his sights, unperturbed by the swirl of angry cloud that capped the summit. “It doesn’t look too bad. Anyway, I come from a farming background so I am used to bad weather.”
One of the first to take to the slopes was the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, who has been climbing the Reek since boyhood.
He began the slippery ascent at 7am and celebrated Mass at the mountaintop oratory . In a homily to mark Reek Sunday 2017, which this year focuses on families as part of preparations for World Meeting of Families 2018, Dr Neary criticised the consumerist nature of society.
He said consumerism is “diluting our moral standards”.
“We are part of a vast sea of change over which we have very little control. Many feel disorientated, threatened and traumatised. It is easy to become cynical.”
Dr Neary spoke of the pressures facing families with busy schedules, dual-career marriages and after-school activities.
“Families are relatively time-poor compared to previous generations,” he said. “Prayer for many is confined to Church attendance and to socially required ceremonies.”
Rescue units dealt with a litany of injuries as strong winds and occasionally heavy rain swept the mountain. By early evening a total of 13 casualties had been evacuated , among them a 10-year-old boy with a broken wrist.
One man in his 70s suffered a heart attack on the steep final approach to the summit. He was airlifted to Galway University Hospital. A 70-year-old woman with a head injury was also airlifted to hospital as was a man (46) with a dislocated shoulder.