Home Uncategorized Walking the Remarkable Pilgrims Trail- A Croagh Patrick Hike

Walking the Remarkable Pilgrims Trail- A Croagh Patrick Hike

by Roberto
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For the Irish, the Croagh Patrick hike needs no absolutely introduction. As the holiest mountain in Ireland, it attracts about one million visitors a year. Known as The Reek, over 25,000 pilgrims climb the pilgrimage trail annually on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July. This climb is often completed barefoot by the pilgrims also. Yes barefoot! The pilgrimage finishes at the church on the summit, where mass is then celebrated. Climbing Croagh Patrick differs from most Irish mountains, in that you are likely to come across people of any age, 18 to 80.

But don’t let that lead you to the assumption that it is an easy climb. Despite the large numbers that tackle the mountain, it’s not one to be taken lightly. It’s a constant and difficult climb despite its short length, and the latter half is over loose stone and shingle. That poses a bigger challenge on the way down as even the most goat like are likely to lose their footing on the shingle.

Remember the mountain welcomes you, you don’t conquer the mountain. Every year there are a significant number of mountain rescue callouts. In August of 2020 a climber died on the slopes after a fall. On average around 20 people are treated for falls by mountain rescue every Reek Sunday. On the day I climbed, I witnessed a heavily bandaged climber coming down the mountain, who had sustained a head injury also. It’s highly important to come fit, prepared and with the right gear also.

History of Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick has been a site of pilgrimage for over 3000 years. Pagans would ascend the mountain to light fires during celebratory times. Presumably Halloween would have been a lively place on that hill. However it only really gained real prominence as a pilgrimage site, when St Paddy himself climbed the mountain, and spent the 40 days of lent here. He didn’t even get a reprieve on the 17th March (an Irish tradition where we can forget what we gave up for a day, and all go to the pub). It’s even told that this is how Saint Patrick rid the snakes from Ireland.

Directions to Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick is located in Murrisk on the R335 route which follows the Wild Atlantic Way, which is in fact 8 km from the nearby large town of Westport in County Mayo. It is 230 km from Dublin and 92 from Galway. There is a regional bus service which runs from Westport to Louisburgh. Take bus 450 from Westport bus station. Westport is also serviced by trains from Dublin.

Some Facts about climbing Croagh Patrick

  • There is a large car park at the foot of Croagh Patrick. This is a paid car park, so remember to bring some coins for the machine. Charges are €4 and the gift shop here won’t give coins without a purchase also. This is how I ended up owning some Croagh Patrick postcards
  • There are 3 pilgrimage days in the year, Reek Sunday, Garland Friday, and also the Feast of the Assumption of our Lady on 15th August
  • Croagh Patrick is 765 meters above sea level
  • Croagh Patrick in fact has its own website with a lot of worthwhile information – Croagh Patrick.
  • There is a Croagh Patrick visitor centre called Teach na Miasa near the car park. It was in fact opened by the director of archaeological excavations on the mountain. The centre provides information on the mountain, the local area in Mayo, has a craft shop, and also sells climbing aids, and souvenirs. There is also a café on-site. The centre was closed for much of 2020 due to restrictions and shall remain closed in early ’21.
  • The out and back Pilgrim trail is 7.6 km to the top of Croagh Patrick
  • The elevation gain is around 750 meters, which is in fact considerable for the length
  • Croagh Patrick hike time is around 3 hours 30 minutes altogether
  • The final ascent of the mountain is quite rugged and stoney so caution is recommended. Teens will enjoy it, but it would be too difficult for younger kids
  • Hiking boots are highly recommended due to the rocky terrain and it really shouldn’t be attempted without hiking poles. Walking sticks (staffs) are available for sale at the visitor centre and shop also. They are undoubtedly a godsend for the treacherous way back down
  • Bring water, snacks, a waterproof jacket (it is Ireland), sunscreen, a first aid kit, and a map also
  • The best months to climb Croagh Patrick are March through October. The weather can vary here on any day, so its best to be prepared for sun, fog, or rain.
  • The trail is available on alltrails.com
  • Remember to leave no trace.

Step by Step on the Croagh Patrick hike

Climbing Croagh Patrick was top of my hiking wish list for 2020, and when the opportunity arose in September to travel anywhere in Ireland, I grasped it with both hands. I arrived in Murrisk around 11 am, and was disappointed to see the famous mountain shrouded in a thick veil of fog. Besides the challenge of the climb, Croagh Patrick is known for the panoramic views it gives over Clew Bay, where a scattering of green islands contrast against the sea.

Parking in the large car park, the ascent begins at the statue of St Patrick. This was built in 1928 by a Reverend Father Peterson, who had collected money in America, for the rebuilding of a church in Westport. Obviously, the generosity exceeded that hoped for.

From here the trail begins with a series of stones and rocks, running alongside a rough stream. The trail is always obvious, but if there is ever a doubt, simply follow those in front of you. Immediately it’s a test of fitness because it’s all uphill from here. This section provides the best views of Clew Bay, as the elevation increases. Although it is a pandemic year there was still a good volume of people attempting the climb. The sheer age difference really surprised me. I latched onto a Galway Gal called Deirdre, a marathon runner who had turned to hiking in 2020, and we climbed together.

The Middle Section

The trail then levels off somewhat after about 1.5 km and leads you into a false sense of security. You wonder what all the fuss is about. You even imagine you could probably have done this barefoot! Incidentally it was at this time I witnessed someone barefoot, who I kindly asked if I could take a picture of his feet. For the record, that’s the first time I’ve ever asked a stranger that.

On this level there are public toilets and a stone oratory that is said to date to between the 5th and 9th century.

Statue of St Patrick with Croagh Patrick at the rear
Croagh Patrick hike
This should provide good views of Clew Bay. It didn’t due to the weather conditions
Climbing Croagh Patrick
The view across the first crest of Croagh Patrick

Walking Barefoot

The tradition of walking barefoot is a sign of penance and atonement on the trail. Some do it in remembrance of a lost loved one. Walking over the stones is said to be good for the soul. However it has been advised of late to not do it, as the path has significantly degraded over the past few decades due to traffic.

Croagh Patrick hike
Exhibit c – a brave barefoot soul

The Final Ascent of Croagh Patrick

This part presents your real challenge. The scree on the trail is strewn all the way across the path. There are supposedly plans to upgrade the trail with a better path, but perhaps that would take some of the challenge of the pilgrimage away. For now this is the only way to tackle the pilgrims trail. It is arduous over that last kilometer ascent, trying to find stable footing. It can only be imagined that this is where most accidents occur, and notably a considerable distance from the ground for mountain rescue.

The summit is the site of a church from where mass is celebrated on pilgrimage days. The church was built in 1905 by 12 local men, from stones found on the mountain side. When we finally reached the top the fog was still shrouding everything below, and around us. There is a large area atop the mountain, so its easy to relax and take a well deserved break. You can also capture your achievement by taking a photo behind the Croagh Patrick sign.

Fortunately luck was clearly on our side and the fog started to lift below us then. The view over Lough Nacorra was indeed one of the best I’ve seen all year. Proof that its good to keep the faith on the most faithful of Irish walks.

Pilgrims Trail Croagh Patrick
Expect some rough terrain on the steep ascent
Climbing Croagh Patrick
Croagh Patrick hike
View over the Croagh Patrick hike trail
Church on the summit of Croagh Patrick
The summits church
Success on the Croagh Patrick hike
Croagh Patrick hike
View of Lough Nacorra

The descent

The descent of the scree filled part was undoubtedly as difficult as the way up. With upward climbers on the clearer paths, we were forced to drift to the rougher stones to give way. Social distancing is also a consideration. I first hand learned how easy it is to slip on the scree. Fortunately my backpack broke the fall. Even mountain goats fall sometimes, don’t they? Take care. Once past this area the descent should be relatively easy. Looking back however, I doubt I will ever attempt this arduous trail again. The Croagh Patrick hike map below is the route on Alltrails that I followed.

Other things to do at Croagh Patrick

Across the road from Croagh Patrick is the National Famine Monument in Murrisk. Dating from 1997, the sculpture by John Behan depicts a coffin ship. Coffin ships, as they became known, were used to transport people to America and Canada, during the Irish famine of 1845-1849. Many died on the crossing, and the Irish famine is regarded as the greatest disaster to befall the world during the 19th century. The sculpture is startling, as ghastly skeletons surround the side of the ship. Nearby are the 15th century ruins of Murrisk Abbey also.

National Famine Monument Murrisk
National Famine Monument Murrisk

Where to stay near Croagh Patrick

Westport is the largest town near Croagh Patrick, and also the perfect local base for exploring the county of Mayo. It’s an incredibly vibrant town, with an excellent nightlife in particular. It’s at home hosting Irish stag and hen parties, as much as tourists. Add a great selection of restaurants and hotels, and there’s no real need to look any further. Guided walking tours of Croagh Patrick can also be booked in Westport.

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Where to eat near Croagh Patrick

Westport has a vast number of pubs and restaurants all serving quality Irish and international cuisine. As I had a long drive ahead of me, I sought a quick option. Chilli Coffee Shop on Westport’s main street thus fit the bill. A big mug of cappuccino and a carbs and iron stuffed steak sandwich were undoubtedly the perfect antidote for my hike hunger.

Chilli Coffee Shop Westport

Other Walks in Ireland

Most of my Irish hiking is on the east coast in Dublin and Wicklow. For some inspiration on hikes there check out the following articles.

30 Best walks in Dublin

The Spinc Glendalough

Djouce Mountain.

For more expert tips on hiking trails in Ireland, you can subscribe to Carpediemeire by simply adding your email address below.

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Have you hiked the Croagh Patrick? Let me know your experiences in the comments below.

Hiking Croagh Patrick
Croagh Patrick Hike

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