At the end of last year when I was considering where to take the Third Years (Grammar Year) on retreat, I was thinking of all the magnificent places we have in Ireland. I thought it would be nice to expose the boys to some (or at least one) of these and so I started to make enquiries about Croagh Patrick. I had never climbed this holy mountain myself, partially because I am lazy, so I thought that I might make it with 74 boys to help me! Croagh Patrick is just a few short miles from the beautiful town of Westport and as we neared the site, we could see the rise of the mountain in the shape of a cone. The views at the foot of the mountain were just spectacular. At one point I turned around to see the stretch of clew Bay below through the mist. It was truly breathtaking.
Apparently Croagh Patrick is the third highest hill in County Mayo and it attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. I was surprised to meet so many people there who were also making the climb the same day we arrived. We met some lovely young people and their teachers from another school in Galway, American tourists and local regulars who climb the mountain perhaps twice a week! So what connection has this mountain to St. Patrick? The story goes, that on Croagh Patrick, the Saint fasted there for 40 days.
It is reputedly from this site that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland. It is indeed a dangerous climb in places, but well worth the effort. Thankfully, although we had a few slides on gravel here and there, we returned to Clongowes with 74 intact bodies, although the tummies were a little empty! Ms. Cooke sorted that out though!
My sincere thanks to Shane Heslin, Jane O’Loughlin, Liz Keighary, Fr. Michael Sheil SJ and Tim Hill (GAP student) for accompanying us. Thank you especially to our wonderful guide for the day Michael Murphy, who has since sent me photographs of a wedding that took place on Croagh Patrick in the snow as proof that he wasn’t kidding me with a wild tale!!!
by Aisling English