So, climbing Croagh Patrick had been on my to-do list for several years.
But due to a number of reasons, it wasn’t until 2016 that myself and the aul lad visited Mayo and we actually ended up reaching the top.
At the time, I was 5 months post-back surgery and he had a dodgy hip.
I distinctly remember beginning the Croagh Patrick hike and turning around to him and saying, “We’ll end up dying up this thing“, while secretly wondering whether or not my travel insurance would foot the bill for the pair of us being airlifted from the top of Ireland’s Holiest mountain.
Doubts aside – climbing Croagh Patrick is one of the best things that I’ve ever done in Ireland.
Climbing Croagh Patrick… With a dodgy back and a banjaxxed hip
1 – Before climbing Croagh Patrick – appreciate its history
Considered to be Ireland’s holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick is renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honour of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron Saint. It was at the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD.
Stretching back a whopping 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption, the pilgrimage takes place on the last Sunday of July.
Known as Reek Sunday, it attracts over 25,000 pilgrims each year and originally began during the time of the pagans, when people gathered here to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season.
2 – Croagh Patrick weather info
When we were planning our trip, I used yr.no to get as much info on Croagh Patrick weather conditions as far in advance as possible.
We were hoping for a clear day as the view from the top out over Clew Bay is one of the best in Ireland. By sheer luck, the sun was blazing.
If you’re planning a visit, knowing what the weather will be like in advance is essential.
3 – Onto the climb – first up – the essentials
Right, this probably sounds obvious – but packing enough water is an absolute must.
We climbed it on one of the hottest days of the summer and ended up having to introduce rationing methods to stop us from draining the bottles dry after ten minutes. Sounds dramatic, but sure look.
Make sure you’ve some snacks packed for your Croagh Patrick hike. I stuffed a little bag of almonds into my pocket along with a banana, which did the job. You’ll see plenty of people with sandwiches and flasks of tea.
Now, carrying a banana in your pocket may seem a bit awkward, but let me tell you, it’s about fifty times more awkward than it sounds. We forgot to bring a rucksack which meant carrying everything. Not only is this a pain but it’s also pretty dangerous.
You need your hands free in case you slip to break your fall. We learned our lesson pretty sharpish.
4 – What to wear on the day
The gear you wear will, of course, be decided by the delightfully temperamental Irish weather.
We had an absolute scorcher of a day when we were climbing Croagh Patrick in 2016, as you can see above, so a t-shirt and shorts did the business. In hindsight, we would have swapped out the runners for something a bit sturdier.
Ideally, you’d want to set-off on the climb in a pair of hiking boots but we had to improvise.
The one thing you’ll realise pretty quickly is that the stone underfoot from the top to the bottom of Croagh Patrick is incredibly loose – so the more grip the better.
4 – Aid your climb with a stick
I’ll be honest – dodgy back or not, I wasn’t gone on the idea of renting a stick for our Croagh Patrick hike, but this was an absolute lifesaver.
You can rent them from a bloke in a little hut in the car park for around three euro (you get one fifty back if memory serves correct).
They’re dead handy on the way up and make things an awful lot easier on the way down. Just don’t be tempted to whack someone with it.
Funny enough, we still have these sticks. A nice little souvenir.
5 – Admire the views but be alert
Once you start to get stuck into your hike, you’ll realise that climbing Croagh Patrick isn’t as straightforward as just, well, climbing. The severely loose stone underfoot makes sections of the ascent and descent like walking on butter.
You’ll find that the ground beneath you moves and slides at random, making staying on your feet no easy task at times. Stay alert and move at your own pace.
It’s most difficult as you begin your final climb towards the summit.
This is when that walking stick comes in nice and handy.
6 – Prepare to eat humble pie
On our way up and down we came across kids and old (and I mean old) men and women absolutely flying up and down the mountain.
As I struggled up the first section, sun cream and sweat half blinding me, a kid that could have been no more than nine and a woman on the tail-end of sixty blazed by me.
Watch on in admiration and continue to take it at your own pace. The last thing you need at 2,000 feet is a twisted ankle.
7 – Have a chat with your fellow climbers
It’s impossible not to get stuck into conversation at one point or another as you collectively battle through fatigue and cramp your way to the top.
It could be as insignificant as a shout of encouragement or an exchange of thanks after offering a helping hand to a fallen climber, but it could end up being so much more.
Chat with others during your climb. It’ll make the journey all the more enjoyable.
8 – Don’t be afraid to take a minute to recoup
There’s no shame in resting. My legs felt like they were hanging off after the first ten minutes. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.
As you ascend and descend you’ll see people catching a breather.
Sit back, take a gulp of water and bask in the beauty that surrounds you.
10 – Bask in the buzz of reaching the top
There’s an immense sense of achievement when you climb Croagh Patrick and reach the top.
You battled your way up it over the course of a few hours and the view out over Clew Bay (if it’s a clear day…) will make it all worthwhile.
Kick back, take the weight off your weary legs and soak up the view!
10 – Take a moment to consider the history of the summit
Good God that picture is dark. Anyway…
It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and, according to The Book of Armagh, built a Church.
During an archaeological excavation on the summit in 1995, the foundation of a stone oratory dating back to between 430 and 890 AD was unearthed.
The white Church pictured above was built in the early 1900s by Dr Healy, Archbishop of Tuam, and Fr Michael McDonald.
I’d just love to know how they had the energy to build it after the hike to the top with the materials they used for its construction..
10 – Be vigilant on the way down
The journey back down the mountain can be dangerous – make no mistake about it. The stones give way under you at times so take it handy and stick to the left.
There’s a slight edge from the summit that runs a good stretch of the way down.
You’ll be able to get a decent bit of grip here to help you on your way.
11 – Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.
As you finally hit the tarmac of the car park you’ll feel another immense sense of achievement – I did, anyway.
There’s a lovely little pub just outside the car park where you can grab a victory pint and a bite to eat.
Croagh Patrick FAQs
I’ve popped in 3 of the most frequently asked questions that we receive around climbing the Reek.
Getting to Croagh Patrick
if you’re travelling from Westport, it’s a handy 13-minute drive, a kind of handy 32-minute cycle and a definitely not handy 3-hour walk.
Here’s a map of Croagh Patrick in case you’re unaware of where exactly it is.
How long to climb Croagh Patrick
it took us roughly 3 and a half hours to get to the top and back down.
It was around 2 and a half hours to the top.
Where to stay near Croagh Patrick
If you’re only in the area for the hike and just after a place to as close to the mountain as possible, then Croagh Patrick Hostel and Cottages is a good shout.
It’s a handy 5-10 minute walk (info here).
Personally, I’d climb it in the morning, chill in the late afternoon and then spend the night in Westport, and have a decent feed and a few pints in one of the many solid pubs the town has to offer.