Tuesday, 20 July 2010 08:09
his Reek Sunday – the last Sunday in July - will see thousands of pilgrims converge on Ireland's Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick.
Up to 25,000 climbers from all over the world are expected to climb the mountain, which forms the south part of an amphitheatre-styled u-shaped valley created by a glacial flow into Clew Bay in the last Ice Age.
Many of the pilgrims will make the 764m (2,510 ft.) trek barefoot to the tiny church on the summit.
In recent years conditions on the mountain have dereriorated, particularly on the final accent.
As a result the Mayo Mountain Rescue Team (MMRT) and the Westport Order of Malta have been kept busy ferrying injured climbers to safety. Rescue helicopters are often summoned to airlift caslualties off the mountain.
Sunday's climb will culminate with Mass on the summit celebrated by the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Michael Neary.
Times have changd since his predecessor, the late Archbishop Joseph Cunnane, banned nighttime pilgrimages.
In those days pilgrims would climb through the night to view spectacular sunrises from the summit.
However, a general all-night bar exemption was granted to the pubs in Westport and Muirrisk which resulted in many inebriated pilgrims attempting the accent in total darkness.
The all-night drinking opportunity, unfortunately, atracted more than pilgrims and the Archbishop banned the all-night 'vigil' for safety reasons. An easier option would have been to oppose the granting of the all-night exemptions.
Croagh Patrick has been the site of pilgrimages, especially at the Summer Solstice, since before the arrival of Celtic Christianity to Ireland in the first century.
Legend states St. Patrick fasted on the summit for 40 days and 40 nights in the fifth century and built a church on the mountain side.
It is said that at the end of his fast, St. Patrick threw a bell down the side of the mountain, banishing all snakes and serpents from Ireland.
The Black Bell of Saint Patrick was a highly venerated relic on Croagh Patrick for many years, and the oldest reference to it dates back to 1098 CE.
Tradition has it that the bell was originally made of white metal, but became black from constant pelting at the demons who came after Patrick on the Reek.
The bell dates from 600 to 900 CE, and is now in the possession of the National Museum of Ireland.
Traditionally Reek Sunday on the mountain is wet. Hopefully the sun will shine on the pilgrims this year and the members of the MMRT and Order of Malta will have an incident-free day.