Saturday 18 January 2020

Walk to Joe: Duffy joins 5,000 pilgrims at summit of Croagh Patrick

RTÉ presenter Joe Duffy reaches the top to complete his pilgrimage. Photos: Conor McKeown
RTÉ presenter Joe Duffy reaches the top to complete his pilgrimage. Photos: Conor McKeown
Richie Brown, from Limerick, and his daughters Marita and Maura take a selfie at the summit of Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday yesterday. Photos: Conor McKeown
Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary makes his way to the mountain’s pinnacle. Photos: Conor McKeown

Tom Shiel

More than 1,500 years since St Patrick scaled the perilous slopes of Croagh Patrick's northerly flank, 5,000 pilgrims retraced the footsteps of the 'Holy Mountain'.

For some - including RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy - the ascent was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But for others it's a perennial pilgrimage.

John Commins, respectfully known as 'The Guardian of the Reek', makes the 765 metre-high summit up to five times a week in summer.

Upon reaching the top, he cleans and repairs the mountain-top oratory.

This year was John's 50th pilgrimage.

He spent Saturday night on the mountain along with his daughter Mary Patricia, to ensure that everything was shipshape for 'Reek Sunday' Masses, which were celebrated yesterday every hour from 8am to 2pm.

"John is very much a man of the mountain. He probably gets to the top about 500 times a year," explained Westport parish priest Father Charlie McDonnell.

"He was even married in the chapel in 1984."

There were fewer injuries than normal reported along the rocky pathways. However, one 46-year-old man from Mayo was airlifted to Galway University Hospital with a suspected cardiac arrest.

The Order of Malta and Mountain Rescue teams reported no serious injuries on the climb, with over half a dozen people requiring treatment for minor injuries.

The low number of injuries was attributed to the good weather.

"No need for 4x4 tractors pulling parked cars out of the muck this year," remarked one of the delighted car-park attendants as the day progressed without hindrance.

Many of those who made the ascent were parents with young children. This augurs well for the future of the pilgrimage, according to Fr McDonnell.

The Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Fintan Monahan, celebrated the 9am Mass while the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, celebrated Mass at 11am.

In his homily for 'Reek Sunday', Dr Neary told his congregation: "The rugged, jagged, edges of the slopes of Croagh Patrick challenge and question us.

"We are very conscious of the slow, silent decline of faith in Ireland. Many feel they are strangers in a strange land.

"Pilgrimages provide an opportunity to take stock but also a time to discover new heart."

Owen Ward, from Tuam, Co Galway, who was refreshing his tired feet in the stream at the foot of the mountain, said he makes the annual climb for personal reasons - a young son with serious illness.

Eyeing the mountain, he pledged: "I'll be back again next year."

Thomas Chiraypath, originally from India, along with his wife Telphi and their three children started their ascent early before 8am.

"We are now living in Dublin," said Mr Chiraypath. "We climb this mountain every year. It is part of our Catholic belief.

"In India we also had a sacred mountain. It is located in Kerala State."

Irish Independent

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