The idea of hiking Croagh Patrick had not even occurred to us. We were exhausted from our first day of travels and enjoying a nightcap in a Galway pub. When we asked the bartender 'what should we do tomorrow?' a hike up Ireland's holiest mountain was the first thing on her list. And we are so glad it was!
Now, she was young. And fit. She described this famous hike in County Mayo (in the west of Ireland) as something we could easily do in 4 and a half hours round trip. We told her all we had was normal walking shoes and she said "Aw you'll be foin." And we fell for it!
In retrospect, our first piece of advice for you is: Don't fall for it! :-). This hike is sneaky hard. Yes, thousands of people do it every year, most of them on the last Sunday of July, known as Reek Sunday. Many of them do it in bare feet (the way Saint Patrick did in the fifth century).
But for most of us mere mortals, the experience will be MUCH more pleasant on a clear day during the summer months, with real hiking boots, ski poles or walking sticks, plenty of water, and plenty of time. And folks, you do need to be reasonably fit and unafraid of heights to reach the summit. Trust us on this one :-).
That said, there are many opportunities for spectacular views in the early phases of the hike. No shame in making it 'only' part way up. Now let's move on and give you a virtual experience of hiking the pilgrimage trail at Croagh Patrick.
The first time you experience the journey taken long ago by Ireland's patron saint, it looks straightforward. From the car park, the path is easy to find. The foot of Croagh Patrick is well maintained with a statue of the patron saint of Ireland marking the way and stone steps aiding in the climb.
But do beware: the path rises rapidly. Be ready for a challenging climb in the opening stage, with a steep elevation gain and a few places where care must be taken over loose stones. We actually found phase I to be the most challenging of the three.
What kept us going was the ever-present view of Stage II (the relatively flat section at the top of this image, which the locals refer to as 'the shoulder.') Stage II does give you the opportunity to catch your breath. So take your time, take many breaks (it's not a race!) and enjoy the majestic views on the way up.
Did we mention you don't have to make it to the summit to enjoy spectacular views? On the day we visited, there must have been 50 people in various states of relief, some sleeping under canopies, others taking group pictures, all reveling in having made it to Stage II - where they had opportunities to snap pictures like this one:
Here on the shoulder you will find a beautiful contrast between the views of Clew Bay on one side and pure open countryside on the other. You may see fearless sheep grazing in the area. You'll encounter an infamous concrete structure that provides semi-privacy for ... ahem ... relieving yourself.
Another 20-30 minutes of (somewhat less difficult) walking will bring you to the start of Stage III, where the real fun begins. The top of the mountain is in your sights!
You've reached the final section of your climb. Here is where you will be most happy if you wore real hiking books and brought some form of stick to stabilize yourself on loose rocks in the steep ascent to the summit of the mountain.
At the top of Croagh Patrick you will find a small chapel, panoramic views and (probably) numerous breathless souls like yourself who have triumphantly attained the summit of Ireland's most sacred mountain.
You did it! You can count the summit of Croagh Patrick among your cherished experiences of the Emerald Isle! Now - be very careful on the journey down. Many find themselves sliding on their rear-ends for awhile, to accommodate the steepness and unsure footing during the descent down steep slopes.
No shame in that! Keep it safe and bask in the knowledge that you have completed the Croagh Patrick hike and scaled Ireland's holy mountain. Then find your way to the closest town; we recommend the lovey quaint town of Westport, to visit a coffee shop or get a bite to eat.
We hope you enjoyed our account of hiking Croagh Patrick, one of our favorite memories of all our trips to the Emerald Isle. For more fascinating stopes on our virtual tour, be sure to visit our main page on sightseeing in Ireland, here!
A note from Bruce:
My friend Stuart Marley and his wife Meredith are the founders of Real Irish Gifts and Travel, one of the finest Irish-themed businesses I have encountered. They have been operating since 1999.
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