Fewer climbers on Croagh Patrick despite sunshine

Eight injuries reported including one man who suffered a suspected heart attack


From a table draped with a Papal flag at the foot of Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo, an overcoated man was offering “sure fire” protection to pilgrims worried about injuring themselves on the rocky slopes.

“Get your Padre Pio stickers,” he rasped through a megaphone. “It’s guaranteed to keep you safe on the mountain.”

As it happened, there were fewer casualties on the pilgrim trail than normal but that was probably more due to a noticeable decrease in the numbers participating than saintly providence.

Regular climbers on the day of national pilgrimage remarked on the decline with some suggesting that a glut of GAA football championship matches on Saturday and Sunday — involving teams such as Galway, Mayo, Tipperary, Clare, Westmeath and Donegal — might be a factor in the nosedive.

Mary Mahon from Hollymount, Co Mayo, who has climbed the mountain without fail for decades — except for last year when she had visitors from Australia — reckoned that the interest amongst youth in the annual pilgrimage may be waning.

“It’s a pity,” she opined, “but the youngsters don’t seem to have as much interest in the pilgrimage as us older folk who were brought up more firmly in the Catholic tradition.”

Another climber, Sean Thornton from Carraroe, Galway, a veteran of about 20 similar pilgrimages, observed: “The numbers are definitely down. In other years there would be a human traffic jam on the pilgrim path.”

Without doubt the youngest person amongst the 12,000 or so who made the climb in near ideal weather conditions was 18 month old Danny Wall from Dublin who was accompanied by his mother, Mary. “We only went half way”, Mary whispered in a confessional way adding that Danny, who started walking when he was only nine months old, had insisted on leaving her arms to walk a few steps on his own, unaided.

On her 30th or so pilgrimage climb, Mary McGarvey from Creeslough, Co Donegal, wore her county jersey with pride. She was looking forward to next weekend’s All-Ireland quarter final clash with Dublin. “I didn’t pray that Donegal will win but I prayed that Dublin will lose,” she quipped as the final stretch of mountain on the descent at Murrisk loomed before her.

Early risers for the arduous climb included the Papal Nuncio, Dr Charles Brown, the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary and the Bishop elect of Killaloe, Fr Fintan Monahan who celebrated 10am Mass in Irish in the mountaintop oratory.

Preaching the homily at the Vigil Mass in St Mary’s Church, Westport, on Saturday evening, the Nuncio told the congregation that “mountains are places where we come into contact with the mystery of God. ” Dr Brown spoke of the profundity and rich significance of the climb. “We literally follow the paths traced by our ancestors, women and men of faith, who kept that faith despite the opposition they faced, despite poverty and discrimination and emigration and famine”.

Fewer pilgrims, combined with good weather, had the welcome result that there were less casualties for rescue services such as the Order of Malta, Mayo Mountain Rescue and Civil Defence to deal with. Eamon Berry of Westport Order of Malta reported about eight injuries in the early part of the day with one middle aged man, who suffered a suspected heart attack, being transferred by helicopter to Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar for emergency treatment.

Perhaps mindful of warnings from the rescue services about the dangers of making the climb barefoot, less numbers than usual made the climb without footwear. One of the exceptions, though, was Andrezej, a pilgrim from Poland.

“I could not be in Poland at the weekend to see Francis Pope so I decided to come to St Patrick’s mountain instead”, he smiled as he began the ascent with a female friend from Hungary who also went barefoot.