Croagh Patrick, the Holy Mountain, and the story of St Patrick
Have you ever heard the story of St Patrick casting out the snakes from Ireland? Well in 441AD, St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, spent the forty days of Lent on Croagh Patrick, a rocky mountain which rises up behind Westport and Clew Bay. He spent his time, as any good saint would, in fasting and prayer, and it was during his time there that he is credited with having sent the snakes slivering to their doom off of the precipice of Lugnanarrib, just south of the summit. This story has made Croagh Patrick a major destination for pilgrimages, and they take place three times each year, on St Patrick's Day 17th March, Assumption Day August 15th, and on the last Sunday in July which is known as Reek Day. (Croagh Patrick is known locally as 'The Reek')
Reek Day coincides with the old pagan festival of Lughnasa, and on this day thousands of pilgrims still make the 3hr 30min climb to celebrate Mass at the summit, many of them barefoot and fasting! The pilgrimage commences at the village of Murrisk, and the first main point of interest on the path is a statue of St. Patrick. Prayers are said here by many of the pilgrims, and it's also a stop off point for many who can't finish the ascent. Further along the path, there are three pilgrimage stations, each of which has a sign with instructions for the proper rituals and prayers.
On July 27th 2009, The Irish Times reported that only around 15,000 pilgrims made the climb this Reek Day due to blustery high winds and intermittent rain. The numbers were well down on previous years due to the poor weather conditions, but the mountain was busy throughout July, as regular pilgrims chose finer days to make the climb. Enterprising locals offered walking sticks for sale at the foot of the mountain, and as the terrain can be rough-going and shaley, these are probably a worth-while purchase! There's a great camaraderie amongst the pilgrims, and many are regulars, coming back year after year, to make the journey up to the little chapel at the top, which was built in 1905 and took twelve men six months to complete.
Reek Day in July 2014 was again misty and damp, but pilgrims were not deterred, and a great account written by one of the many visitors that day, can be read here:
At the top, pilgrims are amply rewarded for their efforts. The views from the peak are stunning. On a clear day you can see the Twelve Bens in the south, and the mountains of Achill Island in the north. Croagh Patrick itself is not particularly spectacular as mountains go, but you certainly can't say that of the surrounding scenery. This part of Ireland is particularly beautiful, and one of the true gems of the area must be Clew Bay.
Croagh Patrick July 2012
Some great footage of the 2009 Reek Day Pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick with fabulous clear views over Clew Bay
Clew Bay in the mist
Clew Bay and Westport Quay
The English 19thc novelist William Makepeace Thackery visited the area in 1842, and on seeing Clew Bay he wrote, " The islands in the bay, which was of gold colour, look like so many dolphins and whales basking there." My own first view of Clew Bay was of islands appearing through the mist, and yes , they did look like a shoal of huge aquatic mammals! There are literally hundreds of small islands and islets off the coast here, ranging from rocky outcrops, right through to the biggest of the Irish off-shore islands; Achill Island, a favourite Irish holiday destination.
Many of the rocky outcrops are actually drowned Drumlins, long hills formed by glaciers during the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Clew Bay has also attracted it's share of unexpected visitors. In 1999 a walrus was photographed on the rocks sunning itself. The creature was obviously a long way from home, but it's not the first such sighting off the Irish coast!
The Quay at Westport, an architectural gem in it's own right, looks out towards the bay, and is home to the Clew Bay Heritage Centre, which houses an eccentric mix of photos, farming implements, old coins, and other random objects. In the summer walking tours of the historic town of Westport are arranged from here. There are also a number of restaurants, pubs, and gift shops at the Quay. We enjoyed a particularly fine meal at one of them, The Asgard, which faces the sea front, on our last visit here.
Swan pedallos at Westport House, July 2012
Westport Town, Westport Festival, and Westport House
The pretty, Georgian, sea-side town of Westport offers holiday makers a warm, Irish welcome, and it has become a magnet for visitors from all over Europe in August each year, when it hosts a very lively music festival. If you're planning to come and sample the musical and artistic delights on offer, you'd do well to book in advance, as accommodation can be hard to come by in the summer months. A popular destination on the tourist trail is Matt Molloy's pub, where the best of Irish live music can be found and enjoyed in an intimate setting, and accompanied by a pint of Guinness if you so wish.
Westport's main tourist attraction is to be found about a mile out of town in the form of Westport House, http://www.westporthouse.ie/ . This elegant pile was built on the site of one of the castles of the 16thc pirate queen, Grace O'Malley, and it was designed in 1730 by Richard Cassels. These days it has recreated itself as a major tourist attraction with offerings to suit all tastes. Inside the house there are fine examples of period furniture, and numerous works of Art including a Rubens, and local views by James Arthur O'Connor. An upstairs room still displays some beautiful Chinese wall-paper dating from 1780, and a waxwork exhibit presents a tableaux that features well-known Irish writers and dramatists from days gone by. In the basement, the dungeons of an earlier building are open for view and include suitably ghostly sound effects
Outside there's fabulous grounds with a playground for children, a pitch and putt, a log flume, and a train ride round the park. The house overlooks a beautiful lake, and there are boat rides available in swan shaped pedallos. A soft play area known as 'Pirate's Den' is housed in a separate building close to the pitch and putt, and it offers indoor entertainment for children on rainy days throughout the year. Outdoors, the many activities are now branded together as Pirates Adventure, although most of these are closed in the winter months.
There is nothing stuffy or boring about Westport House. The owners themselves have a large family, and a great deal of effort and ingenuity is employed to guarantee that a good time is had by visitors of all ages. Campers and caravanners are made welcome here, and the pitch price includes access to a good deal of the Westport House facilities.
Knock Airport (see map above) is the nearest Irish airport to Westport, and is around a 45 minute drive away from Westport. Knock has flights to and from the UK on a regular basis, and also has a good selection of car hire companies on site. UK airports served by flights from Knock include London Gatwick (Aer Lingus), London Stansted, and London Luton. Be aware, however, that it is a small airport, and the on-site catering facilities in the departure lounge are extremely limited. There is hot food available, however, it's expensive and not amazing, especially if you are a vegetarian! If you are due to check in at lunch-time, take food with you, or eat before you arrive there.
Knock itself, has no small claim to fame, being a site of pilgrimage since miraculous sightings of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by St Joseph and St John, began to attract visitors to this quiet Irish town in 1879. As a site of Catholic pilgrimage it ranks right up there with Lourdes and Fatima!
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Westport hotels, Westport County Mayo Accommodation for holidays
This whole area makes a fantastic holiday destination for all the family, with diverse leisure activities available close at hand, including:
- Excellent hill walking
- Paint-balling on wild and rugged terrain at Knappagh, just a couple of miles outside Westport. There is also an assault course, and bubble football facility available for hire here.
- Swimming from blue flag beaches
- Horse riding
- Fabulous scenery
- Historic towns and villages
- Wonderful hostellries
- Boat trips
Westport and the surrounding area is very well served with a great variety of hotels, B&Bs, holiday cottages, campsites, caravans for rent, and all manner of self-catering accommodation. This is a reflection of it's popularity as a holiday destination, and the huge range of leisure activities on offer locally. The town also has a fine selection of eateries with something available to suit most tastes. The restaurants and pubs on Westport Quay offer wonderful, locally caught fish and seafood, and The Asgard restaurant is a personal favourite. But of course the great thing about a holiday in Westport, just as with any holiday on the Emerald Isle, is the warm Irish welcome.
The Chieftains recorded live in Matt Molloys Pub, Westport, Co. Mayo
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on April 23, 2011:
Hi Thelma, I've never actually lived in Ireland, but I have always loved my holidays there. The scenery is so beautiful, and the people are lovely too. I agree that the weather can be harsh, particularly in the Winter, but I guess you can't have everything! Happy Easter to you too!
Thelma Alberts from Germany on April 22, 2011:
Hi Amanda! It´s a great Hub. I have lived in Ireland for 2 1/2 years and it was wonderful. The landscapes are very amazing.The Irish people are very friendly, too. I have been to Westport, Achill Island and many others. I´m missing it now. I could have stayed there longer if the weather was a bit milder.Happy Easter!
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on August 27, 2009:
Thanks Failtetours, I have family just outside of Westport, and it's a really lovely area.
FAILTETOURS on August 27, 2009:
Well you have done a great job in promoting the "West" and I am sure that anyone reading would add it to their wish-list.
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 15, 2009:
I have family at Knappagh and at Westport, though living in the UK, I don't see them as often as I'd like. I love Westport House. It's a great day out with the kids, and Matt Molloy's music always brings back happy memories of mis-spent hours sitting nursing a guiness!
Cailin Gallagher from New England on January 15, 2009:
Beautifully done! I climbed Croagh Patrick twice when I was young...never barefoot though. I love this part of Ireland. Westport House was always a favorite day-trip for us when I lived there. Matt Malloy is from our home-town of Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon and I've seen him play here in Boston at The Burren pub in Somerville. Thanks for the memories!
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 07, 2008:
This part of Ireland is dear to me because I have family there. Ireland has different charms to those offered by mainland Europe, and the joy of the place is in the welcome, and in the scenery, and in the eccentricities of Irish life. I hope you do come to Europe, but you'll need to give yourself a generous timeframe to even begin to do it all justice!
countrywomen from Washington, USA on December 07, 2008:
Amanda- Nice place. One of these days I wish to travel to Europe. Have you checked the hub from Sixtyorso about Europe travel some very good general tips over their.
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on October 20, 2008:
You're an angel. Thanks for that!
Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on October 19, 2008:
Hi Amanda. Sorry. Your question got lost in the shuffle, I think. SEO is Search Engine Optimization. Basically, getting your article to be listed at the top of the search engines, and all the things you can do to help make that happen. Does that answer your question?
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on October 17, 2008:
Thanks for stopping by. I have ancestors from Cork on my mothers side. Tis true that the weather can be contrary in Ireland, but as you say, that's why it's known as the Emerald Isle! Having said that, my last holiday in Eire was completely rain free. We had fabulous sunshine for the whole week, but I guess that may have been a fluke!
Elisabeth Sowerbutts from New Zealand on October 17, 2008:
I love the west and sourth of Eire - my brother in Cork - but they are looking at leaving: the weather has got to them: and his wife is Irish! I guess it wouldn't be that amazing shade of green without the rain!
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on October 17, 2008:
You can't go wrong with a holiday in Ireland. Make sure you bring a raincoat, as the weather can be unpredictable, but the walking, the scenery and the hospitality are all legendary, and although I personally don't play golf, apparently the courses are brilliant as well!
Bryan Robertson from Tennessee, United States on October 17, 2008:
Amanda - As soon as I get my three kids through college I am there! You hub really makes me want to visit. Loved the video!
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on October 16, 2008:
Hi Christoph, Your avatar is looking very fetching these days! (LOL) Don't blame me BTW, as I voted for your original debonair image!
Yes, Ireland is a real gem, and you should definitely have it on your bucket list, especially with a name like Reilly. I have family in Ireland myself, and it always feels like home from home there.
Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on October 16, 2008:
Amanda: It has always been my dream to visit Ireland, and this article really makes me want to go! Thanks for the vacation (in my mind!)
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on October 16, 2008:
It certainly is a contrast Brian! The weather in Ireland too often varies between 'rain' and 'just rained'! I still love it though. Did you watch the Youtube clip? It's only very short, but it has a real flavour of happy hours drinking guinness in a crowded pub enjoying the craic and listening that wonderful diddly-dee music the Irish do so well.
Brian Stephens from Laroque des Alberes, France on October 16, 2008:
If there is one other place in the world that I love as much as the South of France, it has to be Ireland. I have fond memories of drinking Guiness in the pubs, trying to dance the jig and exploring the craggy coastline of the South. Great to read about Ireland and bring back a few memories even though its a bit of a contrast to where I am now.
Amanda Severn (author) from UK on October 14, 2008:
That was quick! I only published a few moments ago!
Yes Ireland really is a beautiful country, and we would like to get across to see our folks there more often than we do. If you ever get the chance, do visit, as the Irish are famously welcoming.
RoadLessTraveled from Florida on October 14, 2008:
Oh, I want to see it all. My husband was Irish and told me wonderful stories of the culture and scenery in Ireland. Fascinating Hub!