Walking Castlebar and Climbing St. Patrick's Mountain

Croagh Patrick - St. Patrick's Mountain - Ireland
Croagh Patrick - St. Patrick's Mountain - Ireland. Marek Wykowski/Moment Open/Getty Images

Castlebar, Ireland is the site of a yearly Castlebar International Four Days' Walks in March. One year it was canceled but a group of us had plane tickets and took an independent walking vacation in the area. We stayed at a bed and breakfast alongside Lough Lannah (Lannah Lake).

Castlebar is on a normal day a quiet town without the crowds of marchers seen at the yearly IML organized walk. The first day out I walked through the town and explored every corner, and later in the evening adopted McGregory's Pub on the far side of the town.

There I met Mike behind the bar and he and I discussed Irish history long into the evening.

My first excursion was on what I believed was a walking tour of historical background, the D'Humbert Trail. General D'Humbert was a French General and a hero of the area. In 1789 he routed the English from the area and forced their retreat back towards Dublin. In 1989 there had been a large celebration with French representatives on hand to celebrate what is considered by the Irish a step in the long journey towards independence.

I walked through the town following numbered markers. The route led me out of town and I started walking in earnest. About three kilometers out of town I found one last marker. I continued walking for about two hours more, and finally it began to dawn on me that this was no simple endeavor. I asked a woman along the way how far the route continued, and she answered.....fifty miles.

Well, I was into extreme marches but fifty miles one way? I turned around and walked back to Castlebar.

Climbing St. Patrick's Mountain - Croagh Patrick - A Pilgrimage Walk

My second day involved a bus ride to Westport, followed by a walk towards Crough Patrick (St Patrick's Mountain). The distance was more than I had anticipated, and I stopped in a pub at the base of the mountain, across the street from the Famine Ship.

This is a steel statue which depicts skeletons fluttering from masts in place of sails. The artwork depicts the suffering of the Irish people during the famine period of the late nineteenth century. I had lunch and a pint at the pub and headed back to Westport.

Not one for seeing a movie twice or walking the same route if I can avoid it, I decided to take the bus the following day and then a cab to the previous days pub. I turned the corner of the pub and began the climb of St. Patrick's Mountain. This is the mountain that St. Patrick climbed and where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Pilgrims climb this mountain the last weekend in August in droves. Sometimes the numbers of pilgrims are in the thousands. The basis for the pilgrimage is to atone for ones sins. At the base of the neighboring mountain is a statue, around which the pilgrim must walk saying certain prayers. The path then leads directly to the peak of the neighboring mountain. The going on the first leg was fairly steep and very rocky, the rocks being planted deeply into the earth.

As the climber approaches the first peak, the trail turns sharply to the right. The terrain eventually changes other than for the better.

Briefly there is a flat spot and the going is nice and easy until the second climb is started. Between the two peaks are stone shelters and facilities for calls of nature. For my day on the mountain the wind was energetic and in my face. Rain was threatening. Clouds were forming directly into the mountain and I was concerned about visibility. As the climber begins the second climb onto St. Patrick's itself the stones turned to a shale type, flat and stacked, and footing was at times almost treacherous. Coming down the mountain were earlier climbers who encouraged me to keep going as the reward was great.

The entire climb took 2.5 hours. And the reward was indeed great. At the top of St. Patrick's is a stone chapel dating back to the nineteenth century. Here services are held on occasion. The view was the greatest reward. Looking to the west across the bay and east into the mountains displayed a sight which made all walking in Europe that summer worth that 30 minutes I stayed at the summit. The view to the mountains was intermittent but Westport and the little town of Murrisk at the base of the mountain were crystal clear.

Going back down and bearing the base of the mountain I saw one man coming up barefoot. The intended results of pilgrims are your sins are forgiven according to the Irish folk. This man certainly had more fervor than I did.

Walking Ballintubber Abbey

The next day I just walked down the road without any plan, keeping track of my turns in the road. I walked most of the day and during the last leg back I stopped in a pub for a Guinness.

In Ireland strangers are a cause in itself for conversation. I was always asked a leading question, may it be the weather or what I thought of the teams playing on television. The Irish are seriously dedicated to their sports. They have their own form of soccer which strangely resembles a little of American football. They run with the ball, required to bounce it every four steps (touch of basketball) and then kick the ball for a one point field goal or into a soccer net for three. The week I was there the local team was playing for a regional championship. The supporters of the teams where shirts with the teams colors. As it became evident the local team would lose the game, many of the local fans (Mayo County) began tearing their shirts. There must be a healthy T-shirt industry in Ireland.

My last excursion was to Ballintubber Abbey. It was 12 kilometers each way. PJ thought I was a lunatic. He insisted on driving me there. I figured the saved time could be donated to other excursions later in the day so I relented and allowed him the satisfaction of assisting me in discovering the area.

The Abbey was built at the request of friars. The legend states that the King or Ireland wanted to repay them for their service and loyalty. He sent money and materials for the abbey to be built. He waited for about a year and when he was not thanked for his contribution he became curious. It seems the money and the materials got side tracked, so when he discovered this he insisted on making it up to the friars by building an even larger and more splendid abbey. Which certainly happened.

The abbey is situated next to a golf course and care was made not to disturb the serenity of the setting. Along the outer perimeter of the grounds is a walking arrangement in stages which depicts the life and time of Jesus Christ. It took 20-30 minutes to walk and examine the various artwork, all in stone including a small bridge and a waterfall.

On the far side of the abbey from the road there is a section of wall that goes back to original construction of the abbey. On another perimeter of the property is "Mary's House". Dug into a berm it is a living quarters, bed set into the far wall, and a small kitchen on one end, and a living room. I could not find any detailed information as to originally inhabited the house and the history of the occupant, but it sits nearly obscured by the cemetery.

Of course there was a pub across the street and that is where I spent my lunch hour. The walk back I took a different route and enjoyed my last day in Ireland walking past farms and houses. Everywhere the people were most friendly with a wave and a comment.

It was painful to leave Ireland. The weather had been rainy but it seemed the sun shone in everyone's heart.

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