At 8am the 26th of April last 25 of us departed St. Catherine’s Salesian House on N.U.I Maynooth Campus for Westport to climb Croagh Patrick; the group was made up of members of Maynooth Chaplaincy, Salesians, and 20 students, from first years to PHD’s. We split ourselves into a mini-bus, a people carrier and a car provided by the Salesians at St. Catherine’s House. An hour into our journey we stopped at Feericks Roadhouse and after a hearty breakfast courtesy of the college chaplaincy service we weren’t long arriving at the foot of the Reek.
At 11:30, following a time of quiet reflection led by Shay Claffey , Chaplain to NUIM, suited with our packed lunches and rain gear we began our walk. For myself, the first 30 minutes were the most difficult, it had been a long time since many of us had climbed the mountain and for most it was their first time. For others the last quarter of a mile would prove most arduous, demanding a sheer climb on a slope of moving stones. However despite the strenuous vertical challenge the mountain presented us at various stages of the track, spirits were high and every-one made it to the top in their own time.
At the summit we had our packed lunches, made that morning in Chill restaurant on Maynooth campus. We were grateful of the food and capitalised on an opportunity to rest and regenerate some energy for the walk back down after almost two hours of walking against the rocky gradient. We were fortunate that the weather conditions stayed dry and clear for the entire walk and allowed for breath taking scenery to be witnessed from the top of the mountain. After we had rested, Fr. Paddy Hennessy, who had acquired the key of the small chapel on the mountain top from the local priest, celebrated a short mass for the students and our intentions. This was a unique experience for us all as the oratory on the mountains summit is rarely open and to have it to ourselves (except for the other walkers who took the opportunity to attend the mass). Many of us had climbed the mountain with an intention in mind and we brought this to prayer.
The descent back down the mountain was more awkward than exhausting and the moving stones, that have caused so many accidents in pilgrimages gone by, thankfully claimed no injuries from our group. On the way down, the sun made an appearance for a short time and some of us used this opportunity to capture the magnificent costal landscape. When we reached the bottom and had taken a moment to rest, some of us headed across the road to the National Famine Memorial sculpture and others made haste for the small pub near the visitors centre!
When the entire group finally accumulated back in the car park we left the mountain for the Westport Plaza Hotel who’s luxury was a welcoming contrast to the rigorous terrain of the Reek. That evening after dinner there was a renewed sense of achievement throughout the group and the drinks taken at the hotel bar were well earned. The next morning after check out we made our way back to Maynooth for exam preparation; however the theme of conversation on the journey back was not exams, but rather what next year’s Salesian-Chaplaincy trip should be.