Along the Wild Atlantic Way, in the northwest of County Mayo, and just outside the buzzing town of Westport stands the scree-covered peak of Croagh Patrick.
Known locally as “the Reek”, it’s scaled by thousands each year on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, with some of the more devout tackling the 7km pilgrim trail and 750-metre climb barefoot.
Despite many arriving on Reek Sunday, this is certainly not a journey that’s reserved for one day a year…
St Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, wasn’t the first to start a pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick. Croagh Patrick has been considered a holy mountain since pagan times, when people would gather at the summit to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season (known as Lughnasa), on or around 1st August.
More recently, archaeologists have found evidence of Neolithic art here, suggesting that it has been a sacred site for thousands of years.
The mountain, however, is now inextricably linked to St Patrick. It’s said that the saint fasted for 40 days for Lent hereback in the year 441 AD.
Originally, the mountain was called Cruachan Aigli, but it was renamed Cruaich (meaning “mountain”) Patrick, in the mid-14th century in honour of the patron saint.
Climbing the 764m holy mountain is an act of penance for thousands of believers on the last Sunday of July (Reek Sunday)Lonely Planet
It may be known as a place of pilgrimage, but the walk up Croagh Patrick is a popular hike for thousands of people every year, not least because of the heart-stopping views of Clew Bay that you can enjoy (weather permitting) from the top.
The journey tends to take around three and a half hours to reach the summit and an hour and a half to descend. It’s described as a moderate to strenuous walk and the weather can change quickly here, so always bring the appropriate clothing, as well as sturdy footwear and some snacks and water.
If you’re climbing on Reek Sunday, a mass is said at the church that can be found at the top of the summit. There has been a church here since the 5th century, although the church you see today was built in 1905.
Once you’ve scaled Croagh Patrick, there’s plenty more to see and do in the area. Nearby is lively Westport, home to traditional pubs, cool coffee shops, and the gorgeous Westport House, which pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, once called home.
Further afield in Clew Bay is Clare Island and its lighthouse, which you can now also stay in.
Another must-visit destination is Achill Island. Only a short drive away from Westport and linked to the mainland by landbridge, Achill boasts Blue Flag beaches, sea cliffs, and great walking trails.
Is it time to start your pilgrimage to County Mayo?
The Pantry & Corkscrew Restaurant
The Pantry & Corkscrew Restaurant is an award winning restaurant on The Octagon, Westport, County Mayo. Established by husband and wife team Dermott Flynn and Janice O'Rourke, Janice will welcome you to the front of house, and Dermot will create for you a dish to delight.