The age-old national pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick got Vatican approval yesterday when Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles J Brown completed the climb and afterwards declared himself delighted by the experience.
The 52-year-old Archbishop was accompanied by Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary, and a number of priests from the archdiocese including two newly-ordained clerics, Fr Shane O’Sullivan and Fr Eugene O’Boyle.
The Papal Nuncio celebrated Mass in the mountaintop oratory at 9.30am and Archbishop Neary did likewise an hour later.
So impressed was the Manhattan-born Nuncio by what he had seen during his five hours or so on Croagh Patrick that he hopes to repeat the climb in the future.
Fr Charles McDonnell, administrator of Westport parish, who was part of the climbing party, said afterwards: "He certainly was enthralled by the whole thing. And hopes to make the pilgrimage again. He stayed most of the morning hearing confessions."
Although the numbers climbing were down on previous years, there was still a good mix of young and old, with some climbing barefoot.
One man, Tadhg Flynn from Castlebar, who did the climb in memory of his wife, Breege, who passed away last year, scaled the mountain in his bare feet but put his shoes back on for the descent.
A Co Kilkenny couple, Joe and Mary Shasby from Thomastown, clad from head to toe in their black and amber county colours, turned many heads and "got quite a slagging" from supporters from rival counties.
Did they recite any special prayers for their team? "Not at all," laughed a confident Mary. "We don’t need prayers. All we need is for the fans to turn out in numbers to support us."
In his homily on the summit, Archbishop Neary prayed that the legacy to Ireland of this year’s Eucharistic Congress might be the gift of peace, forgiveness, and understanding.
"There is so much good here that has been swallowed up in criticism," he said. "There is still a vibrant faith expressed by the many people who trek to daily Mass, those who go out to care for the poor and all those who direct their energies to deprived children and the forgotten elderly."
Mayo Mountain Rescue reported around 2.30pm they had about one-third less casualties at that time of day than in previous pilgrimages.