On my most recent visit to Ireland, I wanted to see and climb Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain where St. Patrick is said to have completed a forty-day Lenten ritual of fasting and penance. With the help of satellite mapping, I figured out that the mountain was in County Mayo, near the West Coast. This was perfect as we were planning to spend several days in County Mayo at a cottage owned by friends of our travel companions. But try as I might, despite the best of modern GPS, I could not discern an exact location of either the mountain or the cottage, so decided I would figure that out once we arrived.
Getting to the cottage was a bit round about. From the main town, we were given directions to a pub along the road where we were to wait for an escort to the cottage as we would never be able to find it on our own. The pub scene with two locals at the bar and a very young bartender was a comic routine full of Irish twinkle and lore. When at last we arrived at the cottage, I could see that it was nestled in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, the mountain looming over its back yard. Although we naturally rely on external sources of information or direction, sometimes a deeper guidance is operating if we can simply allow it. I have found this to be the way of the pilgrim, surrendering to the movement of a deeper current, navigating the world with trust that the path will unfold uniquely and magically under our feet.
Croagh Patrick’s history as a place of worship reaches back in time as far as 3,000 BCE, but the mountain’s popularity for religious pilgrims dates to the time of St. Patrick. Some pilgrims famously ascend the rocky facade on their knees or with other self-imposed hardships. The way of the Pilgrim is to travel not in comfort but with intentional simplicity and even deprivation, surrendering oneself to the elements and entrusting oneself to the care of Divine Will.
We set out to climb Croagh Patrick late one June afternoon. The rain had stopped and the mid-summer sun still high in the sky was breaking through the clouds. The path was stony and steep, the far slope littered with sheep. Climbing away from the sea, the view expanded below us and the sun drew us nearer. It was a glorious afternoon, immersed in the magic of this sacred mountain.
Patrick himself was first brought to Ireland as a slave, captured and taken from his home in Roman Britain at the age of 14 (or so). He labored under slavery for 6 years and then, guided by a dream, he managed to escape and return to his family in Britain. Soon Patrick had another dream in which he heard the people of the same area where he had been held captive crying: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
Patrick then dedicated himself to God, becoming Catholic priest and then a bishop. He returned to Ireland to teach and evangelize the people who had held him captive. Patrick arrived Ireland in 433, and over the next 30 years, he converted the Irish population to Christianity, teaching, healing and working miracles. Patrick often used the Irish shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity. He wrote of his love for God in Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461. (https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=89)
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