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Climbing St. Patrick's Mountain
By Gary Nelson
More of this Feature
1: Around Castlebar
2: St. Patrick's Mountain
Ballintubber Abbey

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Castlebar 4-Days Walk

My second day involved a bus ride to Westport, followed by a walk towards Crough Patrick (St Patrick's Mountain). The distance was more than I had anticipated, and I stopped in a pub at the base of the mountain, across the street from the Famine Ship. This is a steel statue which depicts skeletons fluttering from masts in place of sails. The artwork depicts the suffering of the Irish people during the famine period of the late nineteenth century. I had lunch and a pint at the pub and headed back to Westport.

Not one for seeing a movie twice or walking the same route if I can avoid it, I decided to take the bus the following day and then a cab to the previous days pub. I turned the corner of the pub and began the climb of St. Patrick's Mountain. This is the mountain that St. Patrick climbed and where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Pilgrims climb this mountain the last weekend in August in droves. Sometimes the numbers of pilgrims are in the thousands. The basis for the pilgrimage is to atone for ones sins. At the base of the neighboring mountain is a statue, around which the pilgrim must walk saying certain prayers. The path then leads directly to the peak of the neighboring mountain. The going on the first leg was fairly steep and very rocky, the rocks being planted deeply into the earth.

As the climber approaches the first peak, the trail turns sharply to the right. The terrain eventually changes other than for the better. Briefly there is a flat spot and the going is nice and easy until the second climb is started. Between the two peaks are stone shelters and facilities for calls of nature. For my day on the mountain the wind was energetic and in my face. Rain was threatening. Clouds were forming directly into the mountain and I was concerned about visibility. As the climber begins the second climb onto St. Patrick's itself the stones turned to a shale type, flat and stacked, and footing was at times almost treacherous. Coming down the mountain were earlier climbers who encouraged me to keep going as the reward was great.

The entire climb took 2.5 hours. And the reward was indeed great. At the top of St. Patrick's is a stone chapel dating back to the nineteenth century. Here services are held on occasion. The view was the greatest reward. Looking to the west across the bay and east into the mountains displayed a sight which made all walking in Europe that summer worth that 30 minutes I stayed at the summit. The view to the mountains was intermittent but Westport and the little town of Murrisk at the base of the mountain were crystal clear.

Going back down and bearing the base of the mountain I saw one man coming up barefoot. The intended results of pilgrims are your sins are forgiven according to the Irish folk. This man certainly had more fervor than I did.

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