Croagh Patrick Mountain sits on the southern shore of Clew Bay in County Mayo, on Ireland’s west coast. It is conical shaped and stands 2,510 feet high. It is an inviting mountain, big enough to be a challenge and small enough for most people to climb. A white scar along its flank tells you how often the challenge has been undertaken. People have climbed here long before the Christian era. Tomorrow, April 2nd 2022, another group of people will attempt the climb, helping a man with motor neurone disease to reach the top of this holy hill.
I have climbed the Reek, as it is called locally, three times: Once, in company with the rest of the world who make the annual climb on the last Sunday in July. That was in 1981. I have climbed it twice subsequently, once in the company of my nephew, Robert, and once on my own. The early part of the climb is fairly easy. The later part, as you approach the summit is far more difficult and even vertical.
The reward for the climb on a clear day is a stunning panorama of distant mountains to the north, the waters of Clew Bay down below, the town of Westport and its hinterland to your right, eastwards, and the mass of Clare Island to your left, westwards, sitting at the mouth of the bay, where the waters of the Atlantic roll in.
The effect of climbing such a mountain is to take you away from the immediacy of your problems in this world, to give you a height and a distance from which to view them, and to allow the serenity of the open air and the freshness of the sea breezes to bring comfort to your soul.
I was in a troubled state the last time I climbed the Reek. I was still in priesthood, and unhappily so. It would be another three years before I found my way to freedom. Climbing a mountain and gazing into far distances can be a soothing thing, but they cannot solve your problems for you. As any counsellor will tell you a problem can only be fixed when it is faced. Keeping it at a distance gives you breathing space and respite, but not resolution.
Climbing a mountain can be symbolic of our desire to overcome problems, and of our desire to achieve a great goal in life. Rising above the everyday, literally, can help us to put our problems in a calmer perspective. We know we have to return to earth, but time spent on a mountain can help us to see things with a calmer frame of mind.
When the time comes that we can no longer climb mountains, we can still go there in spirit, whenever we take the time out of our daily round, to be still and to imagine ourselves once again on the mountain peak, and to let the Spirit of God, who is like a gentle breeze, ease the stresses of your mind, and invigorate you for the day that lies ahead.
That last time I climbed the mountain I left my mother at home doing her daily chores. Have a good climb, she said to me, and I’ll have bacon and cabbage ready when you come home.
Inspiration for anyone!
1 April 2022