Today we journeyed to the holiest mountain in Ireland – Cloagh Patrick, which overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo. Pilgrims have been coming here for at least 5000 years so it has been significant to Pagans and Christians.
Our guide today was Michael Gibbons who is a renowned Irish archeologist. What a wealth of information and wisdom he was! Not to mention a great story teller with an irreverent sense of humor towards the Celtic clan leaders. The English and the ‘discoverer’ of Newgrange’s dodgy archeological methods. We really could just listen to him speak all day.
His first plan was to make sure those who were intending to climb the mountain were thoroughly prepared and knew what to expect, especially given the wild weather today. I’m pretty sure he discouraged a number of climbers by making them fear for their lives!
Those that didn’t climb went with Michael to some sites of significance around the bottom.
Irish National Famine Memorial
A haunting piece dedicated to the one million people who died during the Great Famine in Ireland. The famine was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852
Michael recommended a book by Asenath Nicholson On the famine. Its called The Annals of the Famine in Ireland and is available to read for free here.
This Augustinian friary was founded in 1457 by Hugh O’Malley and was dedicated to St. Patrick.
Killadangan – Stone Row
The stone row consists of four stones aligned NNE-SSW. The stones increase in height from the 0.45 metre high stone at the northern end to the 1.2 metre high stone at the south. The stones are in alignment with a small niche in the eastern shoulder of Croagh Patrick. At 1:45 on 21st December (Winter Solstice) the sun sets in this small niche.
Lunch in Campbells Tavern
At the base of the mountain, this pub has long been the watering hole of hungry and thirsty pilgrims. Today was no exception. The non climbers arranged to meet the climbers here. We had lunch while we waited. The climbers turned up wet and bedraggled but so excited about their experience which had to be cut short due to winds that attempted to blow them from the mountain.
The pub itself was a fascinating place. It had a Low ceiling where pilgrims from all over the world had pinned their business cards. There was climb memoriabilia and other knick knacks in display cabinets. The staff were run off their feet!
Michael told us it was pretty normal for Irish pilgrims to come down from he mountain and have a craic here!
Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, Connemara, Killory Fjord
The bad weather has definitely set in and the Wild Atlantic Way that we went for a drive on , showed us exactly why it had that name.
The Connemara mountains were dotted with sheep that roamed wherever they liked including in front of the bus.
To live and survive this harsh wilderness in the depths of winter is remarkable today; what must it have been like in the Bronze period that was the focus of our learning today?
Leenane – on the Killory Fjord
A quick coffee stop, leg stretch and wool museum/ store.
Michaels wealth of knowledge continued on our drive back to Galway. It was a privilege to listen to him. He has a real joy and passion for the landscape that is palpable. It did not matter what the weather dished out, he remarked how beautiful everything was – bog peats, heather fields, wet sheep, potato scarred mountains – it was all beautiful even in the teeming rain. He was also so very comfortable with the focus of pilgrimage and was able to connect to our faith and it was obvious he had a deep connection with God. Thank you Michael – for your passion for history, social justice and love of this beautiful country and it’s people.
We went to mass at the Cathedral in case we are back too late tomorrow. It was celebrated by an American pilgrim priest who made an awesome memory for himself and his group.
I learned tonight that many of us have strong connections and memories with Ireland. I love hearing the stories and people are joyously telling them. For me today brought back wonderful memories of backpacking this exact area with a bunch of English boys in 1989. I’m pretty sure that the day 3 of us decided not to go and climb a mountain was the day that Ed (who I am Still good friends with) and the other good Catholic boys, pilgrimed to Croagh Patrick. Way too much of a coincidence for them not to have and I’m eager to find out.