The Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage

Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage


The Ascent of the Mountain

Croagh Patrick is situated about five miles from the pretty town of Westport,
Co. Mayo, on the shore of Clew Bay, where it rises gracefully to a height
of 2,510 feet above sea-level. Most of the pilgrims come to Westport,
and make the ascent from there, though some begin the climb from the
Aughagower or Louisburgh side of the mountain.

From Westport pilgrims can go to the base of the mountain by bus or
motor, and begin the climb at Murrisk. A short distance from the road
there is a statue of St. Patrick. It should be noted that this statue
dose not mark one of the ‘stations’ of the pilgrimage, but is meant
to signify St. Patrick’s welcome to his holy mountain.

With good steady climbing, an ordinary person should be able to reach
the summit in about two hours, some, of course, will take longer, and
let me repeat, the climb is stiff and difficult. Pilgrims would be well
advised to so the first part slowly, as it is comparatively easy, consisting
of a long, gradual ascent. They will need all their strength and endurance
later on when the ascent becomes much more difficult. At the end of
this first portion of the climb there is a level stretch of ground that
affords a welcome and needed rest, and leads to the first ‘station’.

After performing this station, the manner of which will be described
later, the pilgrim advances to the base of cone, and faces what is by
far the hardest part of the ascent. From this to the summit is certainly
a very difficult climb that tests to the uttermost the strength of the
pilgrim. Unlike the lower part of the mountain, which in places is covered
with grass and heather, this part is a rocky defile or gorge, containing
large stones that slips from under the feet. The ascent here is almost
perpendicular, the pilgrim creeps rather than walks. But it does not
last long, and, tired and worn out, the pilgrim will soon see the crowds
walking around the circular top of the mountain and, with a feeling
of great relief, reach the summit.

Stations of the Pilgrimage

The penitential ‘stations’ are three in number. The first, already mentioned,
is at the base of the cone, and is performed on the way up; the second
is on the summit; and the third is situated some distance from the summit
down the Lecanvey side of the mountain.

A leaflet published in connection with the pilgrimage gives the following
instruction for the performance of the stations:


At this Leacht the pilgrim says seven Paters, seven Aves, and one Creed,
and walks round the Leacht seven times.


Having reached the summit, the pilgrim, kneeling, says seven Paters, seven
Aves, and one Creed. Next, in front of the altar of the little chapel
he kneels and repeats fifteen Paters, fifteen Aves and one Creed, and
walks fifteen times round the circular mound on the top, praying as
he goes. Having finished this he enters Leaba Phadraig and repeats on
his knees seven Paters, seven Aves, and one Creed. This done, he walks
seven times round the Leaba Phadraig.


The pilgrim at each of the circles forming this station repeats seven Paters,
seven Aves, and one Creed, and travels round each seven times, and then
goes round the ‘Garra Mor’ seven times walking.

This completes the traditional stations, but many of the pilgrims go
further down the mountain to visit Kilgeever well, but this is not regarded
as part of the pilgrimage.

Perhaps to some this Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick with its severe penance
and many prayers may seem to be out of date in the world of to-day.
But Reek Sunday represents our old Irish faith at its best, and continues
the Celtic love for prayer and penance as practised by our forefathers.


Just as Croagh Patrick has not changed its physical appearance since our
Apostle prayed and fasted upon it in the year 441, and just as the pilgrim
of to-day, standing on its summit, views the same scene as that on which
St. Patrick often gazed, so, too, the Pilgrimage itself has not changed
trough the years. The day on which it is performed, the stations to
be made, the prayers to be recited, all these have been carefully handed
down to us, and are still lovingly and faithfully observed. This we
owe to the fidelity of the good people of the West, and to the zeal
of successive Archbishops of Tuam and of the priests of the Archdiocese,
who by word and example have fostered and increased the devotion to
the Reek.

As evidence of this interest we find Dr. McEvilly, Archbishop of Tuam,
informing the Holy See inr the year 1833 of the devotion of the faithful
to Croagh Patrick, particulary during the months of June, July and August.
In answer to a petition of Archbishop, Pope Leo XIII, in a Rescript
dated May 27th, 1833 granted in perpetuity the following indulgences
applicable to the souls in Purgatory:



  1. A
    Plenary Indulgence to be gained once during the months of June, July
    or August, on the day to be fixed by the Ordinary. The conditions being:
    Confession, Holy Communion, and a visit to the chapel on the summit
    of the Reek, prayers being said there foe the Propagation of the Faith
    and for the intentions of Holy Father.
  2. A
    Partial Indulgence of one hundred days, to be gained on any day by those
    who visit this chapel, and pray there for the intentions mentioned above.

Two years later Dr. McEvilly presented another petition to the Pope, asking
that the indulgences already granted to those who ascended the mountain
‘be expected to those who visit the parochial church at the foot of
the mountain’.

This parochial church is the new one that had been recently erected
by Dr. McEvilly at Lecanvey, belonging to the parish of Westport.

The reply of the Holy See to this petition is dated July 19th, 1885,
and ‘graciously granted the extension of the indulgences to those who
owing to a legimitate impediment were unable to perform the stations
on the mountains.’

On the death of Dr McEvilly, Dr. Healy was appointed as his successor,
and took possession of the See of Tuam on the Feast of St. Patrick,
March 17th, 1903.

Devotion to St. Patrick was a marked feature of this great Archbishop,
who seemed to live with the memory of the Apostle ever before his mind.
It was delightful to listen to him as he described incidents in the
life of the Saint, which he clothed with impressive vividness; it was
edifying to hear him, as he retired at night to his room, repeating
the ejaculation, ‘Sancte Patricii, ora pro me’.

As mentioned, he entered into Tuam on the Feast of St. Patrick and,
when his end came, those who watched by his death-bed did not fail to
notice, and to regard it as more than a mere coincidence, that he died
on eve of St. Patrick’s Day, 1918, as if the saint wished him to celebrate
that feast in heaven. As was only to be expected Dr. Healy took a great
interest in the Pilgrimage. As Reek Sunday of the year 1904 – the year
following his appointment as Archbishop, approached, it was announced
that he and Dr. Lyster, Bishop of Achonry, would take part in the Pilgrimage.
They did so accompanied by an immense number of pilgrims. As Dr Healy
afterwards expressed it: ‘We successfully clambered to the top’.

He also ascended the mountain the following year and, all through his
time as Archbishop, he made it his practice to be present at the Pilgrimage.
His association with the Reek is perhaps most likely to be remembered
from the fact that crowns the summit, which will be referred to later

When Dr. Healy died in 1918, his successor as Archbishop was Most Rev.
Dr. Gilmartin. This man of God, for such undoubtedly he was, continued
the good work for the Reek. Whilst he was a professor in St. Patrick’s
College, Maynooth, he performed the Pilgrimage and, on one occasion,
he preached the sermon in English. As Archbishop he came every year
to Pilgrimage, no matter how great the inconvenience. His presence and
his touching words to the pilgrims moved both priest and people to an
ever-increasing devotion to St. Patrick and to the mountain. When Dr.
Gilmartin died, Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Walsh was appointed Archbishop.
A native of Newport, he had been from childhood accustomed to gaze daily
on the holy mountain, and as a student and priest he often made the
Pilgrimage. Last year, 1940, he signalised his first year of office
as Archbishop.

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