’Reek Sunday’ pilgrims saved after ignoring warnings

A number of people were taken by stretcher off the summit of Croagh Patrick yesterday suffering various stages of hypothermia.

’Reek Sunday’ pilgrims saved after ignoring warnings

They were among hundreds of people who attempted to make the annual ‘Reek Sunday’ pilgrimage, despite being warned of the dangers posed by treacherous conditions on the Mayo mountain.

The challenging climb to the 765m summit was called off after heavy rains and strong winds swept in overnight.

More heavy rain early yesterday left the ground extremely slippy and unstable in places, eventually leading to the cancellation of the pilgrimage.

Seasoned climbers said it had never been as bad for the time of year.

Wind was gusting to gale force seven between 4am and 5am yesterday, said Mayo Mountain Rescue, with conditions several hours later still regarded as dangerous.

It is believed the organised element of the annual pilgrimage was never called off before.

While the mountain could not officially be closed or the pilgrims barred from climbing, authorities including Mayo Mountain Rescue were strongly advising people to not make the attempt.

A spokeswoman said: “It is unfortunate but we have to issue this advice in the interests of public safety.

“It is disappointing for people who have made plans but our advice is that it’s too dangerous, there are too many people, it’s a very poor surface near the top underfoot, it is raining and visibility is zero.”

A medical tent set up on the mountain by Mayo Mountain Rescue was badly damaged as the heavy winds and rain swept in overnight.

Up to 300 volunteers from more than a dozen mountain rescue teams around the country had travelled to Co Mayo to assist those making the climb.

Gardaí also issued warnings about the weather conditions. Sergeant Denis Harrington from Westport Garda Station advised people yesterday not to attempt the climb.

“The weather conditions here today are extremely treacherous,” he said.

“A decision was made by the officials here to cancel the pilgrimage today and we’re strongly advising people not to attempt to climb the mountain due to health and safety concerns.”

However, hundreds of pilgrims ignored the warnings and continued to make the climb, even though the ability of the Aer Corps, rescue teams, and medical personnel to respond to emergencies had been severely hampered by the bad weather.

Masses that were due to be celebrated by the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary at St Patrick’s Oratory on the summit were moved to the nearby St Patrick’s Church in Lecanvey instead. Glass panels at the oratory were blown out during yesterday’s gales.

Pilgrims have climbed Croagh Patrick for about 1,000 years, following in the footsteps of St Patrick who is said to have spent 40 days and nights fasting on the summit.

Many begin as early as 2am with some upholding the practice of walking and scrambling in bare feet.

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