Ireland is no stranger to beautiful countryside, but one mountain stands about the rest, metaphorically, at least. Croagh Patrick is located in County Mayo, one of the western counties and five miles outside the beautiful town of Westport. Driving through the rural farmland, it's impossible to miss, and significant in both Ireland's history and culture. A staple backdrop in your photos, at 2,500 feet, it overlooks the country in more ways than one.
One of the most accessible spiritual pilgrimages in the world, the hike only takes a couple of hours to reach the top of the peak, and you'll be rewarded with views of the stunning Clew Bay, which was carved by a glacier during the last Ice Age. Visitors can hike Croagh Patrick year-round but summer is recommended. The starting point of the trail is marked with a statue of it's namesake. Upon reaching the top, masses are held throughout the day at the very summit where St. Patrick held his Lenten fast. Mass and opportunities for confession are also available at the chapel located at the top of the mountain.
In 441 AD, St. Patrick fasted on the summit of the mountain for 40 days of Lent. It is also hypothesized this is where St. Patrick cleared the Emerald Island of all it's snakes. But what makes this hike unique? Bare feet. Traditionally, the pilgrimage has been completed by individuals who choose to walk barefoot up the rocky, muddy terrain as an act of penance. But with signs of erosion and overuse due to millions of visitors a year, authorities have strongly urged those making the trek to wear appropriate footwear. That has not stopped those who insist on carrying out the tradition.
If you want a more meaningful way to celebrate St. Patrick beyond wearing green and clinking pints to toasts of “Sláinte,” consider making the trek to Croagh Patrick the last Sunday of July. Called Reek Sunday, it's a day of worship practiced by over 25,000 visitors who participate in the pilgrimage by hiking the Holy Mountain of Ireland. This traditional pilgrimage has been made consistently for the past 5,000 years. Interactions with the mountain date back to the Stone Age with the use of the mountain by the pagans’ celebration of their harvest. You do not have to partake in the pilgrimage purely for the religion — the visual aspect and the experience are reason enough to participate in Reek Sunday. But there are rumors if you make the trek three times in your life, you will be guaranteed a spot in heaven.