Croagh Patrick is the mountain from which we get our name and for good reason. Ireland’s holy mountain is situated right on our doorstep and has been a part of our families life in some way for generations.
Croagh Patrick as seen from Murrisk (image from WikiMedia Commons)
The mountain gained fame when a lad by the name of St. Patrick came to the village of Murrisk. Not only did this man climb the mountain he stayed on top, for 40 days and 40 nights! After that he decided to banish all the snakes from Ireland so I’m not sure what happened up there but I reckon he must have gotten a few nasty bites!
Why St. Patrick choose Croagh Patrick, or “The Reek”, as its known locally, is unknown (to me anyway). If I had to guess, I would say that it is likely to do with the Reek’s striking appearance, after all, Croagh Patrick isn’t even the tallest mountain in Mayo so not to doubt St. Patrick’s will for challenge I’d be more inclined to guess that he saw the mountain on his way into Westport, with the sun shining down behind it, giving it the halo like glow that makes it stand out from the bogs and hills behind and contrasted by the shimmering waters of Clew Bay at its base it stood out as one of the most beautiful hills he’d ever seen.
View of Croagh Patrick and Clew Bay from Westport
That is of course entirely conjecture and if we look at the fact that there was already a pagan celebration based around the Reek which sees the sun roll down its eastern slope twice a year from the Boheh Stone it is likely that the was already a mystical nature to the mountain which captured people’s attention and St. Patrick decided to check it out for himself.
As a result, Croagh Patrick has been a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years with people flocking to the village of Murrisk to climb the mountain, often times in their bare feet. Our family ran a small stall on the summit of “Reek Sunday” - the annual pilgrimage day head each year on the last Sunday or July. Our small stall was ran as a family event to honour family members we lost too soon and all proceeds were donated to charity.
The snow covered frame of a stall on the summit
The commonage on the side of the mountain has also been farmed by our family for generations with my father, Chris and his siblings often climbing the mountain before school in the morning to gather the sheep and bring them down to the base. Nowadays my brother John uses the fields on the Lecanvey side of the mountain to run sheepdog trials and a lot of the family still live within a stones throw from the Reek too.
Sunset over Murrisk from Westport Quay
All in all, Croagh Patrick has inspired pilgrims, tourists and artists and even businesses like ourselves for hundreds of years and will go on doing so long after we’re gone. For now though it’s nice to look out the kitchen window in the morning and see this tall majestic hill standing proud above our little village and our home.
- Ray Grady