Climbers leave a holy mess on Croagh Patrick
CROAGH Patrick is a holy place where thousands of pilgrims trek each year to cleanse their souls. But the site is under threat of being swamped under a mountain of litter.
These graphic pictures, right, taken after last weekend's Reek Sunday climb reveal the shocking amount of discarded bottles, cans, wrappers and fruit peelings dumped by walkers.
A small army of 20 volunteers spent two days cleaning the route after an estimated 20,000 took part in the Reek Sunday walk, and filled 90 bin-bags with litter.
The volunteers do their best to keep the place clean, but admit they just cannot pick up every piece of litter.
The age-old Reek Sunday tradition is in honour of St Patrick, who, it is said, fasted for 40 days on the Co Mayo mountain's peak.
And now John Cummins, who climbs the mountain at least twice a week and lead the volunteers in their clean-up operation, fears things will only get worse as the numbers climbing the 2,500ft-peak soar. He believes this year will see in excess of 100,000 climbers.
Mr Cummins, 59, said: "There are 700 to 800 people a day going up, and 800 to 1,000 on the weekends from the month of April and then in July that can reach 1,200 at the weekends. It's getting bigger every year."
It may be a sign of the recession that people are seeking more spiritual pastimes at home in Ireland, but Mr Cummins has no insight as to why, he just knows the numbers are increasing all the time.
"Over the whole year, I reckon there will be 100,000 climbers. We have a lot of sponsored walks these days raising money for charity and we are gearing up for Gael Force West in August when there'll be 2,500 climbing the mountain as part of a race," he added.
Mr Cummins has lived near the mountain -- which soars over beautiful Clew Bay -- all his life and feels the place is a part of him.
"Really it's part of my life, I was brought up on it. I've been climbing it for 40 years and I hope to be climbing it for many more years yet."
He spent all day last Monday on the peak cleaning up and admits he does curse those who show no respect for the mountain.
The route is marked with signs pleading with walkers to bring their litter home with them and walk organisers warn those taking part of strict litter rules.
Croagh Patrick is included in this year's Gale Force West, a 65km race of cycling, running, kayaking and hiking.
Organisers have included a strict anti-litter policy for the 2,500 competitors and warned them they will be disqualified if they are caught dropping rubbish. The rules state: "If a competitor is found to be littering they will be disqualified from the race. We encourage everyone to report littering by other competitors/teams."
They also tell competitors: "Remember, just because something is animal, vegetable or mineral, doesn't mean it belongs in the wild. A banana or orange peel can take longer to decompose than a piece of paper."
Mr Cummins said: "The majority take their stuff with them. I spent Monday cleaning up, it's not easy especially if you have bad weather and I'd be cursing some of them under my breath all right.
"I do climb it a couple of times a week all year, probably 50 or 60 times this year; a lot of times anyway. The litter is mostly plastic bottles and cans and that type of stuff.
"A lot of them bring their stuff back down with them, but you do get the odd straggler throwing their litter away.
"We clean it up as soon as we can. We look to get every little bit we can but there's always the odd one that we don't get," he added.