Croagh Patrick pilgrimage set to continue despite dangers

The madcap annual clamber up the sides of a fast-eroding mountain, which to outsiders must seem slightly bonkers, claimed its usual list of casualties, from heart attacks to head injuries, writes Catherine Shanahan. 

All in the name of tradition or religion or whatever it is that draws pilgrims in droves to climb Croagh Patrick.

Among them were one man and his dog, 77-year-old John Finneran and sheepdog Daisy, on their 61st and eighth climbs respectively, anxious to get the prayers in before John’s native Roscommon took on Mayo in the All-Ireland senior football quarter final.

“Daisy’s getting on in dog-years so we might retire her this year but I don’t know about dad,” said John’s daughter Rebecca, on her 15th year of climbing. John’s son Tony went too — for the 27th year.

“It was tough enough but they’re farmers and well used to being out and about,” said Rebecca. “Dad did the seven rounds of the Church at the top and went around the monuments seven times and he got Mass, confession, and Communion so he reckons he’s going straight to Heaven, because you can get there straight if you do it three times.”

Whatever about Heaven, John did make it to Westport for a pint and a chance to catch Roscommon draw with Mayo in the football.

The Finnerans were among 25,000 to brave what Iso Jorgensen of Mayo Mountain Rescue described as “absolutely atrocious” weather conditions over a weekend that represents a daunting challenge for all those tasked with the physical rather than spiritual wellbeing of pilgrims.

So is it complete madness to facilitate a trek where three of the at least 14 casualties had to be airlifted off the mountain, including one 70-year-old man who suffered a heart attack, but was luckily resuscitated and a 10-year-old boy who incurred head and wrist injuries?

“Reek Sunday is a unique and extraordinary event,,” Ms Jorgensen said. “There is no other place in the world where people decide to trek up a mountain in a single day and we can’t involve ourselves in the politics of it.

“Our job is to get people off the hill [if injured]. It’s not an easy hill and it’s getting more difficult because there is a lot of erosion — but the pilgrimage is unlikely to stop. The problem is it’s a generational thing. I don’t think people would listen if they were being told not to do it. And it’s worthwhile for us if we can save a life.”

At the top, attempting to save souls, no lives, was Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam.

His homily touched on how time-poor families are.

“Busy schedules, dual-career marriages, and after school activities mean that whilst parents do their best every day for their children, families are relatively time-poor compared to previous generations,” he said.

Still, 25,000 did make the time to scale the Reek and that surely counts for something in the uphill struggle towards salvation.



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