Volunteer vents frustration at Croagh Patrick climbers: 'A couple with a 12-week-old baby ignored us and climbed to the summit'
Seven people, including a 14-year-old girl, were treated for hypothermia yesterday
A mountain rescue volunteer has expressed his frustration at the fact that around 5,000 people climbed Croagh Patrick yesterday, against the advice of local volunteers.
Paul Feeney from Mayo Mountain rescue said a young couple carried their 12-week-old baby up the mountain in adverse weather conditions.
Seven people, including a 14-year-old girl, were treated for hypothermia yesterday.
Up to 20,000 were expected to make the traditional pilgrimage yesterday but the annual Croagh Patrick trek was officially cancelled early yesterday morning.
Despite repeated health and safety warnings not to proceed with the climb, a steady stream of worshippers continued with their annual trek, including families with young children.
Many only turned back after they reached the ridge, where they were met with strong winds and poor visibility.
Rescue teams had said they would be unable to properly assist those who got into difficulty because of the dangerous climbing conditions.
Mr Feeney said: "We advised a young couple with a 12-week old baby that they should not be on this mountain."
"We went over to them and we said 'this is not the right place to be'... they ignored us and continued up the summit."
"It's very frustrating... we know this hill, we give advice... we're experienced. We say to people 'we want you to turn around and come back," Mr Feeney told Morning Ireland.
Croagh Patrick is considered the country's holiest mountain and the pilgrimage has been carried out uninterrupted for over 1,500 years.
Part of the temporary structure erected for Masses on the top of the mountain was blown away as was Mayo Mountain Rescue's medical tent.
The Coastguard had also warned its helicopter would be unable to land due to zero visibility on the mountain.
After consultations between a number of agencies, including gardai, Mayo Mountain Rescue and Mayo County Council, the pilgrimage was cancelled at 7am yesterday with Masses moved to the nearby St Patrick's Church in Lecanvey.
Conditions on the mountain were described as among the worst many walkers had seen in decades.
Dymphna and Paschal Mannley and their two children Óisín (10) and Bláithín (8) travelled from Fermanagh for the trek. Despite the warnings they opted to complete the pilgrimage. "We were advised about health and safety but you have to be careful, good day or bad day. We are going to keep going and hope for the best," said Dymphna.
Paddy Smyth, from Offaly, braved the trek back down the mountain in his bare feet. He started the climb at 6.45am with his wife Catherine. However, she turned back due to the weather. "People were saying not to go but I kind of felt I'd know myself if I was in danger, and if so, then I'd opt out. It was hard going at the same time. My wife had recently had surgery so the conditions weren't good for her," he added.
Friends Sheila Rooney (59) and Mercedes Coen (70) from Armagh have climbed the Reek numerous times. They set off at 4.30am making the summit at 7am.
"We do it every year and this is the worst year so far. It was so windy it was very difficult to keep yourself on the mountain," said Sheila.
Sean Clenaghan and his son Eoin (9) also undertook the climb, but they turned back because of the weather.
"I've done it three or four times before and Eoin completed it last year. When we got to the ridge this morning it was too windy to keep going. I wasn't going to risk it," said Sean.
"We will definitely be back next year," he added.
By yesterday evening, five casualties had been treated by medical volunteers, including a 14-year-old girl suffering from hypothermia. None of the cases were considered to be serious.