Saint Patrick (c. 390-460 c.e.) is the patron saint of Ireland and there are many, many locations across the island that claim some affiliation and draw pilgrims. one of these is Croagh Patrick, a peak of just over 2,500 feet that lies five miles from the town of Westport in Co. Mayo on Clew Bay. on “Reek Sunday” (the last Sunday in July), some 15,000 pilgrims climb the mountain. the most penitent climb to the summit in bare feet. on my way up, I saw one guy coming down in that fashion, and I spoke with another Irish person who’d made the trip at least once.
during the 5th century, Patrick climbed to the top of “the Reek,” fasted for forty days and forty nights. at the end of the period, he rang a bell (or threw it off the peak, in some versions), knocked a she-demon from the sky and banished all the “snakes” from Ireland. there’s a chapel on the summit where they hold services on Reek Sunday, and on other occasions.
i’d already gone on two decent walks this day, and it was already about 4 pm when I arrived at the parking lot at the base of Croagh Patrick. but i’d driven all that way, so I thought I’d start walking and see how far I could get. my guide book recommended allowing three hours to get from the base to mountaintop chapel, and another two hours to get back down again. i knew i wouldn’t have enough time before the sun set to get up and back, starting at 4pm, but i thought i’d see how far i could get in an hour, before turning back around. an hour in, i was already about 2/3 of the way up, so i decided to keep going. made it up in a breathless and exhilarating two and a half hours, had good look at the views from the summit. the hour-long trip back down was rougher in a lot of ways — the whole “going down” strain on the quads. and the shifting scree was harder to predict on the way down, and my feet went straight out from under me at one point. thought i’d have a nice bruise on my tailbone the next day, but it turned out that the challenge of shifting (and walking) posed by my aching quads overwhelmed any soreness that might otherwise have occurred.
needless to say, i slept like a log that night. it was faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic.
it’s true that most of ‘touristy’ Galway can be done in about three hours. there’s the Spanish Arch, where ships used to offload goods coming from Spain, and a memorial from the city of Genoa commemorating the fact that Columbus stopped in Galway before heading off across the Atlantic. the Claddagh village has been replaced with a modern development, but until the early 20th century, it was a thatched-roof fishing village. in addition to the River Corrib, there are lots of canals running towards the bay. St. Nicholas’s Cathedral sits next to one overlooking the salmon weir bridge. it was consecrated in 1965 by a bishop from Boston, has Connemara marble floors, mahogany pews (where up to 2,000 parishoners sit during worship), and cedar ceilings from Canada. the old town is a twist of pedestrian streets lined with shops and pubs and bustling with people. there’s a pub called the King’s Head just over the road from where I am now, which was given to the man charged with executing Charles I. it was recommended to me, so i might have a wander in later after i’ve gotten something to eat for dinner.
tomorrow it’s north again, through Cong and Connemara to Westport.