Three-year-old child among pilgrims rescued from reek
Published 28/07/2015 | 02:30
Two children wearing light clothing were amongst 12 pilgrims who had to be rescued from Croagh Patrick amid the worst weather conditions for Reek Sunday in living memory.
A 14-year-old girl was stretchered off the mountain with severe hypothermia, while a three-year-old child was also treated for hypothermia amid Gale Force 8 winds that whipped up at the ancient Co Mayo site of pilgrimage - even ripping off the glass oratory on the church at the summit.
Despite a decision to cancel masses at the summit on grounds of health and safety, fewer than half of the pilgrims who had already begun the ascent turned back after becoming aware of the weather warning.
Over the course of 18 hours, mountain rescuers faced an ongoing battle to get the pilgrims to safety amid howling gales which even damaged a tough polar-expedition quality tent that was being used as a central point for treatment.
The first victim was a teenage girl who had to be treated for severe hypothermia after being brought up the mountain by her parents in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Rescuers said she was clad in just a pair of half length leggings and a cotton t-shirt when she was found by rescuers at the summit at 3.30am, right beside the church.
A three-year-old girl who had also become hypothermic after she got cold and wet was taken off the mountain by rescuers at midday. Mountain rescuers said she was also wearing "quite light" clothing.
On Saturday afternoon, a couple climbing the mountain with their 12-week-old baby ignored mountain rescue volunteers who warned them that it was not safe to proceed with such a young child.
Team Leader of Mayo Mountain Rescue Jerome Hopkins said the warning not to climb was issued by the authorities in conjunction with priests and local rescue groups at 5.30am on Sunday, ahead of the first mass at 8am.
It followed a Yellow weather warning weather by Met Éireann, forecasting heavy rainfall of between 25mm and 30mm.
However the situation proved even worse than forecast, said Mr Hopkins.
"No one can predict the weather on the hill - even the weather forecast didn't predicted it to be as bad as it got," he said.
"The weather conditions were horrendous up there."
Around 130 rescue volunteers were involved in the operation, assisted by gardaí and Mountain Rescue groups from all over Ireland.
Mr Hopkins, who was commander of the rescue operation, had to make a call in the early hours of Sunday whether or not to send a team up the mountain.
In all, there were around 12 casualties, ranging from hypothermia to minor lower leg injuries caused by falls on the slippery mountain paths.
The last pilgrims to be rescued in a harrowing day for rescue volunteers were two elderly women brought down at 9.30pm, one of whom was stretchered off with a twisted ankle.
"It's fair enough to say that we were lucky there was no fatality or major, major incident," said Mr Hopkins.