Did you know there is an ancient pilgrim pathway in County Mayo named after Saint Patrick?
In today's post, especially for Saint Patrick's Day, Irish American author Martha Geaney shares her journey along St Patrick's Causeway from Ballintubber Abbey stretching all the way to Croagh Patrick.
This post is dedicated to Saint Patrick, on his feast day.
Let me hand you over to Martha, to share her story.
Table of Contents
The Pilgrim Path or Tóchar Phádraig
St. Patrick’s Day is here once again and (maybe in this time of the pandemic) there will be parades. Of course, there will be corned beef and cabbage. But in this blog post, I’d like to share another way in which Ireland celebrates St. Patrick: Tóchar Phádraig (Irish for the Pilgrim’s Path - phonetic pronunciation is toe-hur Faw-dhrig).
The Pilgrim’s Path ultimately ends at the top of the Reek. The Reek (Croagh Patrick’s nick name) is about 2500 feet above sea level. It is north of twelve mountains (called the Twelve Pins) that form a mountain range in Connacht.
Now, the Reek is considered a holy mountain. It is said that Patrick climbed to the summit where he fasted and prayed for forty days and nights. And, each summer on the last weekend in July, thousands of people come to County Mayo, Ireland to climb the Reek.
But this post is not about Reek weekend. This post is about the Pilgrim’s Path which I walked one glorious summer day.
The Pilgrim’s Path is a 26-mile walk from Balintubber Abbey along the route that Saint Patrick took to the mountain top. The day I did the walk there were about 30 participants. One of the Abbey’s priests guided the walk.
Before we began, the priest suggested that each of us go into the abbey’s church, light a candle, and make an intention to guide us through the day.
At that time, my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. So, I lit a candle to the Sacred Heart that I could do this walk for my father. I kept the candle’s light in my heart and soul that entire day. Then, as we left the abbey grounds, a walking stick was provided to use along the way.
I followed our guide along a route over roads and through fields. Along the way, we stopped for a few moments of prayer and meditation at a holy well.
We were well along on the walk when we stopped at a cemetery. It was there in what is considered a famine cemetery, that the parish priest offered mass; just as the priest’s did during Cromwell’s time.
A Difficult Climb
Finally, after many hours, we came upon the back south side of the Reek. There is no path up this side of the mountain. Instead, each of us had to rely on sheer determination to climb and reach the summit.
The angle was so steep that at some points I had to use my hands to pull myself up.
But I did it! How you might ask? I believe it was through my set intention. That candle I lit burned in my heart and soul with the love I had for my Irish father.
When I finally reached the summit, I will never forget the view of Clew bay and the west of Ireland in all its beauty and sacredness.
Of course, then I had to make my way down the mountain on the well-trodden, dry, slippery, stone path that is the typical way in which people ascend and descend the mountain.
That day, for me, was a pilgrimage to a sacred summit. I still have the walking stick. My father is gone but his love, guidance, and faith remain with me. He especially loved St. Patrick’s Day and the parade in New York City.
So…. let us not despair when all seems awry in this world or in our personal lives. There are sacred places and people in this world. We each have our mountain to climb. But light your candle and set your intention. There’s good energy around us. Seek it. Throw your arms around it. And, get to the summit.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Martha Geaney is the author of the Star O’Brien cozy mystery series set in County Mayo, Ireland.
Her passion for Ireland grew out of her love for her parents and their families. Her father was from Cork; and her mother is from Mayo. She has kissed the Blarney Stone twice! At sixteen, her parents sent her to St. Joseph’s Convent of Mercy boarding school in Castlebar, Mayo for two years. While there she fell in love with the Irish people, especially all of her cousins, aunts and uncles. She was captivated by the lush and moody landscape, and the culture.
Inspiration for her heroine, Star O'Brien comes from Ireland, and the places around a beautiful old cottage her parents renovated in County Mayo.
Before becoming a writer, Martha was a teacher, management consultant, university professor, and dean of a business college.
Born in New York City, she lived in New Jersey before moving to Florida in 2017.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She is currently working on her third Star O’Brien mystery.
Many thanks to Martha for this lovely post today, just perfect for Saint Patrick's Day.
I hope everyone has a lovely day celebrating our Irish heritage.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade
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Thank you, Martha for sharing your story and journey along the Pilgrom Path. What an accomplishment. I would love to climb Croagh Patrick someday. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.
Irish American Mom
Hi Brigid - Thank you for stopping by to check out Martha's piece about traveling the Pilgrim Path in County Mayo. Not only did she climb Croagh Patrick, she also walked all the way there from Ballintubber - a marathon in honor of Saint Patrick.
Bridget Burpee (Ruane)
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I am from Ballina, County Mayo, and now live in Georgia USA. I climbed Croagh Patrick (The Reek) when I was in my 20s (now 70) and attended Mass at the top at midnight. Several years later I took my 2 daughters there. They finished the climb but alas I could not make it all the way.
I admire Martha for taking that long walk and then climbing the mountain. I know she will treasure that memory forever.
Slan agus Beannacht
Irish American Mom
Hi Bridget - I have never climbed Croagh Patrick and it's on my to do list, the next time I make it to the west of Ireland. Midnight mass at the top of the mountain must have been a wonderful experience. Lovely to hear your daughters followed in your footsteps many years later. Martha made an incredible journey to the top of the peak. They ascended on the side without the path. That took skill and courage. Many thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. Have a lovely Saint Patrick's Day.
All the best,
Croagh Patrick is NOT part of the Twelve Bens, which lie 20 or so miles to the southwest in Connemara
Irish American Mom
Hi James - Thanks a million for that correction. I really appreciate input from readers who help me keep the facts straight.
All the best,