Mountain rescue workers on Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo have had a busy day this Reek Sunday, with several people treated for injuries, including a man who was airlifted to hospital after cardiac-related chest pain.
Thousands of people scale the Co Mayo mountain every year for the Reek Sunday pilgrimage on the last Sunday of July. The annual outing drew a smaller than anticipated number of pilgrims this year.
Though weather conditions were their best in many years, the number of pilgrims completing the pilgrimage was estimated at more than 5,000, with some estimating a far higher figure in advance. Pilgrims began the three-mile trip over a 750-metre climb at first light and continued throughout the day.
One man aged 46 and from Mayo, was airlifted to Galway University Hospital with a suspected cardiac arrest.
Both the Order of Malta and Mountain Rescue teams reported no serious injuries on the climb, with seven people requiring treatment for minor injuries.
Mayo Mountain Rescue said it had treated a number of individuals, including a 71-year-old woman who was dehydrated, the 46-year-old man evacuated by Air Corps helicopter to hospital for chest pain and a 54-year-old man with an ankle injury. Others were treated for minor injuries and have been able to walk off the mountain, including a child aged 12.
Mayo Mountain Rescue is co-ordinating the rescue efforts from its base at the back of the mountain. A team of rescue personnel from Ireland and the UK were in place on Croagh Patrick overnight.
They are operating out of a medical tent that was transported onto the mountain by an Air Corps helicopter on Saturday.
A protest by the We Need Water Now group calling for the development of a pipeway from Louisburg to Westport was mounted at the base of the mountain. Residents claim €6.3 million allocated in 2007 to provide a water supply for 3,000 residents has not been delivered. A group of residents met with representatives of Irish Water and Mayo County Council to discuss the issue last Friday.
The Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, said Mass on the summit. In his homily, he said the Church "is called to return, for the umpteenth time in the repeated ebb and flow of its long history, to penance and prayer. To begin yet again that historical process of Christian discernment which has at its heart the attitude of listening to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
“The rugged, jagged edges of the slopes of Croagh Patrick challenge and question us. We are very conscious of the slow, silent decline of faith in Ireland. Many feel they are strangers in a strange land. Pilgrimages provide an opportunity to take stock but also a time to discover new heart,” he told listeners.
For Miltown, Co Galway native Martin Donnelly, Sunday was his 55th occasion to climb the mountain, having missed the outing last year.
A number of pilgrims continued the tradition of climbing the route in bare feet. John Toner from Kinlough in Co Leitrim was climbing the route for the 20th time and showing few signs of distress.
“After the first half mile, it is OK. One is more connected to the Earth and more rooted in the spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage in your bare feet. I’m not overly religious, but I still have faith. It’s important to carry on this tradition,” he said, having begun at 6am after leaving his North Leitrim home at 3.30am.
Inspired by St Patrick
Four members of the Ursuline Order of Mary Magdalene from Portlaoise were making the climb for the very first time. Two, Sr Jasmin and Sr Mareena, are from India. “We’re doing the climb in honour of St Patrick. We’ve read a lot about him while in India and we’re inspired by him.”
Both members of the order have been living in Ireland for nine months and described their climb as “a very enjoyable experience”.
Charlie Goh, a native of Canada now living in Las Vegas, was climbing for the first time, accompanied by his sister Jennifer Kelly, who lives in Carrick-on-Shannon.
“We’re both Buddhists, but we like the spiritual element of this. Conditions have been perfect, though the climb is not a race. As Edmund Hillery, the first conqueror of Everest once said, “it’s not the mountain we conquer, it’s ourselves.”
While numbers climbing the summit have fallen in recent years, the enduring appeal of the mountain is creating a challenge for the local community, with paths deteriorating considerably in recent years.
Chairman of Murrisk Development Association Chris Grady says Croagh Patrick continues to have “huge religious significance; people come with wishes for people, or someone to pray for. It also provides a great sense of peace and contentment for many pilgrims. However, we have a huge concern over the continued erosion of the pilgrim paths.”
A Croagh Patrick Forum, comprising members of the local Development Association, Garda, Church and officials from Mayo County Council, have engaged the services of Scottish consultants Chris York to consider the development of pathways near the summit.
“It’s important the welfare of the mountain is maintained for future generations. The forum is also looking at policing the amount of people climbing the mountain. Tacit permission is given by local landowners to climb the mountain” said Mr Grady.