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Photography : Frank Cawley Last Updated: 2, Apr 2018 - 10:02

Blessed be the Holy
By Frank Cawley
29, Sep 2007 - 21:18

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Every last Sunday in July thousands of pilgrims head west and climb Mayo’s own holy mountain Croagh Patrick, affectionately known as the reek.  Many different people climb the mountain for many different reasons, but the biggest ethnic group of pilgrims come from members of the travelling community.  It’s a very important part of their spiritual tradition. I believe that they climb it in memory of lost loved ones.  Ireland is a changing country and this year is the first year I saw members of the Muslim faith climbing the reek, so it’s a mountain that attracts victims from all races and all creeds.  It doesn’t matter who you are or where your from if you try climbing ¾ of a kilometre towords heaven in a pair of slip on shoes after a feed of cider the night before in Rockies this mountain will take no prisoners. 

They estimate that about 30,000 people climb Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday. Years ago half of them would have done it in their bare feet, nowadays it would be less than a half of one percent. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of Ireland's vast disposable income when it comes to buying shoes or lack of interest in working for your faith. My own grandfather used to cycle 60 miles from the top toe of Belmullet, climb it in his bare feet, and cycle back with a pair of sore toes again. The grandmother said they used to leave at 4am and be back to milk the cows that evening.

Ahh it's grand to see the news footage on top of reek for the nine o'clock news, but you tend to forget that some poor work horse has to lift the gear up the steep and treacherous assent. I'd say this man slept well the night after this climb. If I was given a choice between lugging two stone of camera gear up to the quietest church in Ireland or climbing it with my naked feet I’d go for the latter. You can always comfort a sore foot, it’s a lot harder to comfort a sore back.

The first statue, or base camp. This is about as far as some drinkers get.

A lot of people from the religious vocations climb, and a lot of them are getting old. I guess I got used to seeing the brothers brandishing a stick, but they didn’t use it a lot for climbing Croagh Patrick, more often that not it was used for directing young fellas away from the path to destruction.

Fair play to this man, he made it to the top, and he needed to take his time coming down. I’m sure there will be some sort of a reward for him. The order of Malta were there in their droves, and there was plenty of people to help. These are the real heroes of the day, not the hundreds of bible thumping disciples of Christ waiting to convert the weak to the Lord's path to salvation. I was asked if I wanted to be saved? I told them I’m already saved I met the devil in a haze of drink in a pub somewhere in Westport and he gave me a tip for the Galway Plate.

Don’t judge me til you know me. No truer words ever said, some well stacked men jogged up and down that mountain with the agility of an Olympic sprinter.

This picture gives a small indication of the throngs of devotees who make the climb. I overheard a woman telling a stranger to be careful that there are foreigners on the way up the mountain. She told them that this is a holy mountain and that if she had the strength she would throw them down on top of their heads. I pointed her in the direction of the Christian Union - I said them people will set them straight lady.

My favourite people

My real favourite people

I’ve climbed Croagh Patrick a couple of times - last time being June 2007, but I never climb it on Reek Sunday, not the whole way up any way. You certainly feel you’ve achieved something when you do it and the view is a reward in itself.

I wonder if this man burnt off the 2 litres of sugar water during the climb.

This cowboy climbed it in a pair of leather pants. I’d say they walked out of the room themselves if he ever managed to take them off.

What better reward than a pair of creamy pots of Genuineness in Campbells after the big day in the sky.

Onward Christian soldiers.

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Frank Cawley
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