I decided to keep the “Camino” spirit going by walking from “Ballintubber” abbey to “Croagh Patrick” on the 27th August 2016.
This walk takes place in Co Mayo, Ireland and is about 35 km in length. I suspect this is a well guarded secret, as I passed a fierce “Guardian” on the way down !!!
The “Tochar Phadraig” meaning “Patricks Causeway”, is an old pilgrimage route and used to attract pilgrims from all over Europe. It was very popular when travel to Santiago in Spain was difficult because of the Moorish invasions.
The route to “Croagh Patrick” has ancient origins. It was very important in pre-Christian times to the Druids of the Celtic people who worshipped the Sun. The mountain was then known as “Cruachan Aigle”
It is said that St Patrick preached to the Druids, that though the Sun they worshiped was very powerful, it was no match to the Son of God, whose light never dimmed or set. This is why the Celtic cross has a circle with a cross in the centre.
The Abbey of “Ballintubber” was founded in 1216 by King Cathal O`Conner of Connaught. There is a legend associated with the Abbey, that it was in thanks for being granted sanctuary as a young boy.
When his father King Turloch O`Conner died, his Queen tried to kill Cathal and his mother, as he was the natural successor. They managed to escape and as was customary at the time, were granted safe haven in the monasteries.
Another part of this legend states that he had been treated with great kindness by a man in “Ballintubber” during this time. When he returned many years later as King, he asked his now old friend if there was anything that he could do for him.
He replied that he needed nothing for himself, but he would be doing a great service, if he could repair the old church. The king said he would do better than that, and said he would build a new church for the parish.
Many years later he returned and asked his old friend, was he happy with the new church. His friend said there was no church in “Ballintubber”.
It turned out his masons had built the church in “Ballintubber”, Roscommon instead of Mayo. To rectify this mistake, the King said he would build a church several times bigger, leading to the Abbey of “Ballintubber”.
Due to the popularity of the pilgrimage to “Croagh Patrick” the Abbey built a Hostel for the pilgrims which also had a ritual bath known as the “Dancora”.
This was known as the bath of the “Just or righteous” and was used by pilgrims returning from “Croagh Patrick”. The huge popularity of the pilgrimage led to other churches establishing hostels.
The walk was due to start at 8.30 am, but was delayed to 9.30 am by a rain shower. Father Frank Fahy, a sprightly gentleman in his 80`s, gave the assembled walkers now “100 strong”, a pep- talk, before we set off.
He said there were certain rules on this pilgrimage, that helped us appreciate it ancient origins. This helped us to be true pilgrims, rather than just tourists for the day.
- We were to light a candle in the Abbey for someone deep in our hearts.
- There was to be no complaining, even when stepping in un-mentionables !!!
- There were to be no strangers, so no cliques please !!!
- We were to think about what the Lord is suggesting, needs to be changed in our lives !!!
- We were to share, care, and be joyful with others !!!
We were divided into groups of “10” each, lead by an old hand of the route. These groups then set off at staggered intervals, to prevent “traffic jams” at the crossing points.
I was worried at the beginning that it was going to be very congested, as we walked. However with the Irish disregard for authority, the groups soon became mixed and spread out.
The scenery was glorious with lots of “traipsing” through farmers fields. There seemed to be a competition amongst the landowners, as to who could build the most fancy stile.
The way was reasonably flat with the odd small gradient. There were numerous small forests.
Just before “Aghagower” we started to get our first glimpses of “Croagh Patrick”. It is definitely volcanic in origin and I kept being reminded of pictures of Mount Fuji in Japan.
It is said there is a rich seam of Gold under the mountain, but fortunately Governments in the past, have refused to grant mining concessions, fearing the public outcry.
After lunch there were more stunning views of “Croagh Patrick”, and now the mountain was almost a constant presence in our sight. There was then a steep climb through a small mature “mixed” forest.
It was said a lot of the docks in Liverpool were originally built with timber from forests in this area. I took a photo of a “cheeky” horse in a paddock !!!
At the top of the small hill I was greeted by a well wisher !!! They are very friendly on this “Camino”.
Shortly afterwards we stopped for mass at an ancient Celtic “Rock of Worship”. This had concentric circles carved all over its surface.
The jury is still out regarding their meaning. Some archaeologists go for ceremonial, others say astronomical but nobody really knows. There was a small cross carved at the back of the rock, so I guess ownership is now in the hands of St Patrick !!!
It was a very nice service and though I am a Christian it was very inclusive of all beliefs. Father Fahy made a nice reference to how blessed we all are. He had just conducted a mass for a party from St Michaels House.
He said there were individuals in the group with severe mobility issues. He was struck by the contrast with the “struggles”, he knew our group would be facing, and thought it might “steel” our resolve. We must remember he said, that there are others who would love to be in our position. We are very lucky indeed !!!
The path mainly on the road now slowly started to rise. There was a lovely purple glow of heather, off the ever looming “Croagh Patrick”. It was very mysterious wrapped in a “cocoon” of white cloud !!!
Talking to one of my fellow walkers, I realised because of the number of pilgrims and the group transport home, it would not be possible to “kick on” to the summit.
As I have learnt from previous “Camino`s”, it`s not the destination that matters but the experiences you have and what you learn from them. I will come back again in a few weeks to complete my quest !!!
Reaching the base of the mountain there was a long “trek” through very “boggy” ground, before reaching the path up the side of the mountain. It then was fairly straight forward to reach the top of the saddle of “Croagh Patrick”.
The view from the saddle over “Clew” bay was breath taking. I had been up “Croagh Patrick” many years before, but never before had I been afforded such a clear view. I asked one of my fellow pilgrims to take a picture.
What “goes up must go down” and after a few minutes absorbing the view, it was time to descend. It was tough going for me, as I have a “dodgy” knee and ankle. There was lots of loose shale and unstable rocks, so I had to be careful !!!
I would complain about the swarm of midges that descended up on me, but I am not allowed to under the terms of this pilgrimage.
The lovely little fellows “kissed” every part of my exposed body. Every time I brushed my arm face or leg, I was left with a sea of “black” on my hands.
At the bottom of the hill as I passed the statue of St Patrick, they miraculously disappeared. I think this was a final test for me.
There was only one course of action now, a pint or two of “Guinness” in the infamous “Campbells” pub, at the foot of the mountain. This brew is believed to have special healing qualities !!!
The locals say “What happens in Campbells, stays in Campbells”, so I am going to sign off now !!!
I wish you all a “Bonne Camino” and “Slan” from the home of “Croagh Patrick”, Mayo, Ireland !!!