Family is the focus as more than 20,000 pilgrims brave the Reek
Winnie Woodburn, 84, at the annual pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick. Photo: CNS

Over 20,000 people braved the harsh weather to climb to the summit of Croagh Patrick last Sunday, with pilgrims of all ages, abilities and disabilities approaching the mountain with rain coats, backpacks, walking sticks, and climbing boots – or in some cases without, with a few hardier souls braving the rough terrain barefoot.

Tuam’s Archbishop Michael Neary, who led the climb, kicked off the event with the Reek Sunday homily, saying: “Our pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, situated on the western shores in a most scenic setting, brings us into close contact with nature and God’s creation. The setting provides an opportunity to reflect on who we are, on what we are doing, our place in the world and the meaning of life.”

At the mountain’s base, volunteers were handing out stickers, inviting pilgrims to pray for families during their time on the mountain in preparation for next year’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

Steep inclines

With hourly Masses at the summit and Confession available throughout the day, pilgrims could climb at their own pace, and take the time as they climbed to reflect on family, ourselves, the world we live in and the truth behind it all.

Croagh Patrick’s slopes features steep inclines, loose rock and slate that make it physically demanding and varying weather such as harsh winds and battering rain only worsen the problem, but being close to God’s creation was one of the main reasons that Emily Reid travelled over from Scotland to climb the Reek for her second time. “Last year my breath was taken away by the beauty of the mountain and also the kindness that everyone shows each other. Everybody looks out for each other in some way, even though we don’t know each other. It’s a sign of God’s love at work,” she told The Irish Catholic.

“I couldn’t see the top which would have been a big motivator for me,” she added, referencing the heavy fog that obscured her vision, “when I stopped or looked a little down though, people would tell me ‘you’re nearly there’ or ‘you can do this’.”

Family was another reason for her return as her initial interest in participating was due to her parents. “My parents met on this mountain so I wanted to do it in honour of them. That’s why I did it last year and hopefully I can continue to do so,” said Emily.

Another pilgrim honouring loved ones was Patrick McLoughin, who in 1991 was introduced by his father to the idea of climbing the mountain for Reek Sunday.

“We didn’t really know what we went into that first time we started,” he said. At the time, his father was 70 years old so they could only climb together that one time. Something stuck with Patrick, however, and he continued to do the pilgrimage year after year.

First climb

Before his father’s death, “he would always come with me and simply wait in the car till I came back down”, Patrick said, adding that since that first climb, he has climbed Croagh Patrick 29 times, with 27 of them being on Reek Sunday. “Along with honouring my father, I do it for religious reasons. Faith is very important to me and the Mass is my favourite part,” he explained.