Cruach Phádraig

Today in Mayo Mother Nature trumped Mother Church.

Due to appalling weather conditions “Reek Sunday” was called off.

I know from personal experience that the weather in Clew Bay can get seriously nasty very quickly indeed.

However, on a good day the view from Croagh Patrick is heaven itself.

That part of Mayo is where my late father was born and reared, and it has always been a special place to me.

Eleven years ago I was on sentry duty on the mountain awaiting calamity to befall the faithful.

I sat, just off the summit, in a small portable shelter with a colleague in the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team.

The rain that day was biblical.

End of the world stuff.

Every team in Ireland turns up for the event to assist the Mayo Team for this event and today would have been no different.

In 2004, we were told that the weather was the worst in thirty years.

Local people call Croagh Patrick   “the Reek”.

For my grandmother, it was a central part of her religious calendar.

I have no idea of Saint Patrick was ever there, but she was in no doubt.

The certitude of the religious has always struck me as a great folly.

However, there is no doubt that such zeal can propel people to great achievements.

I have a very fuzzy childhood memory of being at the bottom of the path as a relative, a cousin of my grandmother bade us good day as he set off in bare feet to suffer to the top where he would attend mass.

That was over 50 years ago and for him Cruach Phádraig was central to his penitent Irish Catholic world view.

In 2004, the mist was down on the mountain and visibility was about 20 metre at times.

All we could hear was the low murmuring of the faithful repeating their incantations in the small church that we could see.

After several hours of this I found that, for me, it became rather eerie at times.

It was certainly atmospheric.

Our patch of the mountain turned out to be very busy indeed.

It was a steep descent, of loose scree. Many people stumbled; some fell.

One old lady gashed her head rather badly.

We were only metres away and within minutes she was stabilized and she was on the stretcher that we had radioed for.

As we carried her down to the  First Aid tent, she was convinced that  the fact that she had fallen and slipped so near to us  was “…a miracle…”

It was how she viewed the world, and there was no reasoning with it.

My buddy across from me on the stretcher was an ex-Irish Army officer and a senior member of the  Irish Red Cross as his day job.

A member of the excellent Glen of Imaal team and  I remarked to him , as we proceeded back up the mountain, that this was a fine way for two atheists to spend a Sunday!

Once back on our position the mist cleared for a few moments, and I could see all the way back down that part of the track. There were thousands, many thousands of people on the track making their way up.

I thought that, in 2004, Ireland wasn’t as secular as I had thought it was.

Of course, some climb the Reek for an old Irish reason than Catholicism.

The Craic!

Subsequently some seriously drunk people attempted the climb that day with predictable consequences.

A decade after minding the faithful on the Reek I was on El Camino Santiago in Northern Spain.

This time I was a mere tourist and I didn’t have to rescue anyone.

About half the people on that trek appeared to be the real deal and genuine Peregrinos.

Others were there for an entirely secular experience.

I do not know what the Galician is for ‘craic’, but I’m sure they have a word for it!

Spending lots of time out of doors in a wilderness environment is, in my opinion, essentially good for you.

I think that it connects you to what our species experience for 95% of the time we have existed on this planet.

As I walk across the Derryveagh mountains here, I throw down my rucksack anywhere I choose to spend the night.

If the weather is kind to me, I awake with my head out of the bivi bag to the rising sun warming my face.

When that happens, I’m thankful to the benevolence of nature.

I suppose that is a kind of worship.


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