Croagh Patrick 'may disappear' because of hikers
Ireland's 'holy mountain', which was climbed by bare-footed pilgrims for hundreds of years, is being destroyed by hikers, boots and 'gangs' of walkers.
"If we don't do something about Croagh Patrick it won't be there in the future," warned local priest Fr Michael MacGreil, addressing the recent AGM of the Western Tourism Organisation in Mayo.
"The growing number of climbers on the mountain is now cutting into the mountain and their heels are digging into the shale on the path. It is not like when pilgrims went up in their bare feet -- they didn't damage the path" he said recently.
The sheer number of visitors to the famous Mayo mountain, their tough modern footwear, and erosion, are all ravaging the surface of the famous mountain and leaving it in a treacherous condition.
According to legend, St Patrick spent 40 days and nights fasting on the summit in the year 441 AD, but in the past year part of the pathway to the top has become almost inaccessible.
According to the Mayo Mountain Rescue, last August they had to deal with nine incidents on the mountain, ranging from suspected heart attacks to people with broken limbs.
Now international hillwalking tour operator, Hoofbeats International, are warning visitors: "Do not ascend to the summit of Croagh Patrick Mountain owing to the steepness and erosion of the track near the top which is considered unsuitable."
In recent years Croagh Patrick has also become a magnet for adventure-sports enthusiasts who descend en masse upon the mountain. However, many fear that their presence is causing severe erosion: "What has caused the problem are these challenge races where you have a large number of people tearing up and down the mountain," says Gwen Mitchell with the Westport Mountaineering organisation.
Mayo County Council accept that the mountain is dangerous but feel that their hands are tied in the matter: "People have been climbing Croagh Patrick for thousands of years and it was always dangerous. It is meant to be a pilgrimage after all . . . We don't own the mountain and we don't look after it. The path upwards is very ancient and steep and I don't see what you could do with it. It is not like the edge of a cliff where you can put up a fence to keep people back," said John Condon, county secretary of Mayo County Council.