Hope springs eternal as pilgrims embark on annual Reek trek
THOUSANDS of pilgrims took part in the traditional Reek climb of Croagh Patrick as they took to well-trodden paths with their own special intentions in mind.
Those who had recovered from illness or were praying for loved ones still struggling through, joined with annual pilgrims and holidaymakers as they made their way up the Mayo mountain.
Numbers climbing the Reek this year were estimated at 20,000 by the Mayo Mountain Rescue team.
For the Troy family from Cork, the trek was the fourth for mum Christine and the third for children Ethan (10) and Abby (13). They started out from home at 6.45am travelling to Mayo and heading straight into the hike.
"We come for a cousin of ours who is waiting on a transplant and we'll keep coming until she gets it," said Christine.
Dutch holidaymaker Verkuylen Har was visiting the region when he heard of the pilgrimage. After surviving a stroke in 2009, the 68-year-old said he wanted to make the pilgrimage in thanks.
Among the youngest climbers to make the pilgrimage were three-year-old Tiffany O'Brien and five-year-old Patricia Dooley from Killarney.
They travelled up with their parents Cina and Richard O'Brien and Jacinta and Pat Dooley.
The girls did the trek in five hours with their mothers, while both dads, climbing barefoot, took slightly longer.
"We all travelled up the night before and we set off on the mountain at about 7am today. We'll definitely do it again with them but I'd say we might wait a couple of years until they are a little bigger," said Jacinta.
The dry warm weather helped climbing conditions. Mayo Mountain Rescue and the Order of Malta dealt with 17 casualties throughout the day.
Two people had to be airlifted from the mountain. A man in his 60s was brought to the Galway Cardiac Unit after suffering a cardiac episode on the mountain, while a 22-year-old woman was airlifted to Mayo General Hospital after suffering a severe ankle injury.
Four other pilgrims were stretchered off the mountain and hospitalised for a range of issues from broken limbs to head injuries.
Another pilgrim was veteran Croagh Patrick climber Michael Gibbons from Clifden in Galway. He has climbed the Reek more than 60 times.
"I'm an archaeologist and I worked on excavating the old church and monastery at the summit. We've been doing the Reek climb since we were kids, it's a great ritual," he added.
He dismissed any concerns that the mountain was being dangerously eroded by the annual climbs. "This is a living breathing mountain. It's a penitential pilgrimage and we shouldn't do what they have done on Skellig Michael," he said.
In his homily at Mass on the summit, Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary hit out at the increasing move towards secularism in Irish society. "In times past it was difficult to imagine the world without God. Today it is becoming a challenge to imagine the world with God," he added.