Croagh Patrick, colloquially called ‘The Reek’, is God’s conical shape beacon above the picturesque seaside town of Westport. The summit – bare and windswept, shrouded in mist one day; battered by gales under a blue sky the next – is the holy ground on which St. Patrick rested, fasted and reflected during all 44 days of lent in 441 A.D. Here, too, according to legend, is where Ireland’s patron saint banished the snakes from the island. It has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.
The mountain is renowned for its annual Patrician Pilgrimage in honor of Ireland’s national apostle. And penitential exercises have been faithfully handed down by many generations. On the last Sunday of July each year, its slopes are full of pilgrims, many barefooted, climbing to the summit to attend Mass.
It is a mystical place of beauty and peace, where the surrounding glens, hills and mountains – like whales – seem to talk to each other. A stone church, weathered by storms and haunted by Ireland’s prayers, waits at the summit. It is there where the people of Ireland flock nd the descendants of emigrants return to kneel together in submission on the cold rock, asking for peace and giving thanks for their freedom.
At 2,510 feet, Croagh Patrick dominates the countryside and is particularly prominent when seen from out at sea: a stony mound of a hill towering above the waves of Clew Bay. It’s no surprise that ancient Celtic tribes once held pagan ceremonies at the top.
Near the base of the mountain is Tobair Padraig, or Patrick’s Well, named for the natural spring nearby where Patrick baptized his first Irish converts. The present structure was built in the 15th century, and today is completely restored. A ghost-white, stone statue of St. Patrick – holding a green clover to the heavens in his right hand – stands at the beginning of the path. It is here that the faithful pray and bless themselves in the holy rain and bitter, marrow-chilling wind for strength on their journey to the top.