Climbing Croagh Patrick

Today, I’m moving away from the ‘heart-on-sleeve-so-honest-it-makes-you-uncomfortable’ style of post that proved so controversial a couple of days ago. Instead, we’re back to the ‘fish-out-of-water-tourist-Jenny-makes-amusing-mistakes-but-still-manages-some-weird-understanding-of-the-world-around-her.’
Yay! Tourist Jenny! She’s my favourite Jenny.
Much more fun than Honest Jenny.
Or Identity Crisis Jenny.
Or 3:30am Jenny.
So, yesterday was my last day at Fishamble, which was quite sad *sniff sniff*. But, I’m meeting up with the Literary Manager again next week to talk over the internship, so its not all over, not quite yet. Dragging out that ending as far as it can go.
Anyway, as I have a week and a half before I head off to Alaska and not much time in Ireland when I return, I thought I would try and squeeze in as many Irish tourist things that I have wanted to do all year and never have for one reason or another. I wanted to see Co. Mayo, Co. Sligo and Co. Donegal and I wanted to do it all in 6 days. Ambitions? Yes. Do-able? Just.
My final shift at Fishamble turned into half a shift and going to see a lunchtime production of ‘A Galway Girl’ at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, which was quite fun. Now, that is a full-length play, not just someone singing the Steve Earle song over and over for an hour. In fact, there was absolutely no mention of that song, which is kind of a relief. Not that I don’t like the song, but… well, its all about context, people. Something that you might enjoy after a couple of pints whilst surrounded by American tourists may not be exactly what you want to hear when you are going out to the theatre completely sober.
After the show, I headed home, picked up my bags and walked to Dublin Heuston station. The sun was blazing. I mean, it really was blazing. It was warm. It was HOT. Its funny, that’s the time I miss Australia the most, whenever Ireland is most like Australia, that’s when I get homesick. Maybe its because I don’t know what to do with myself in Ireland when its warm. Or maybe all my Australian memories are indelibly tied to blazing, uncomfortable heat. Whatever. To make things worse, when I saw down at Dublin Heuston station, with the blazing sun blazing through the glass roof in a blazing manner, three Australian women sat down next to me. I desperately wanted to talk to them, but, at the same time, I had a strange desire not to be so needy (‘I couldn’t help but hear… are you Australian? So am I! Perhaps we could discuss superficial cultural things that we may have in common. Umm… the ABC? BBQ’s at the beach? I know, Vegemite! Or thongs, with me safe in the knowledge that no-one is going to get uncomfortable because they think I’m talking about underwear? I’ll even talk about Tony Abbott for a bit, if that’s all you’ve got!’) I pulled out my Lally Katz collection of plays on the off chance that they happened to be Australian theatre buffs with a passing interest in the new generation of Australian female playwrights and would recognise me for the Antipodean I was. Turns out they didn’t get the reference. Still, it was nice listening to them talk. Reading my (Australian) book, listening to the Australian accent and with the blazing sun blazing away, I got a strange sense that if I just closed my eyes, enough Australian things would conspire into some sort of vortex, transporting me back to Central Station, waiting for the Newcastle and Central Coast line, heading home to see Dad. I think the Katz plays were affecting my sense of reality. Those things are trippy.
Anyway, I was actually getting a train from Dublin Heuston to beautiful Westport, which is the closest town to Croagh Patrick (croagh=mountain). Croagh Patrick is a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics, as Saint Patrick is meant to have spent 40 days and nights up there one Lent many a moon ago. It was my plan whilst in Westport to walk up Croagh Patrick, visit Achill Island and then head to Donegal. I had decided that if there was any place that I really, really, REALLY needed to hike up in Ireland, it was Croagh Patrick, for what I would assume would be obvious reasons.
The evening in Westport was just as beautiful as it had been in Dublin. We’re moving into that wonderful part of the year in Ireland when the sun stays out until 10pm. I still find it a bit confusing (I think one of the reasons I’ve been staying up so late is because I’m not used to going to bed so soon after it gets dark), but it is glorious when the sun is out. And the sun was out.
After dumping my things at the hostel and getting a little dolled-up, I headed out to find a pub my housemate had suggested I check out (as a side-note, I’ve decided that the reason I like my new hair colour some days and not on others is because it really needs me to wear make-up with it for it to look right. My hair + no make-up kind of looks like wearing a gold lame disco top with tracksuit bottoms. It doesn’t quite work. As I often go about without make-up, it sometimes looks a little odd with my party-bright-disco hair. But, that is by the by). The pub is called Matt Molloy’s and is owned by the flute player from ‘The Chieftains’. I checked it out on the map and it looked like it was just opposite my hostel. Easy. I set forth, full of optimism.
Of course, this being Ireland, maps are not to be trusted, street signs are non-existent and you’re better off just following your nose. I circled the inner block of the town 3 – 4 times without seeing the pub, gave up and wandered into a random place that seemed atmospheric and had music going on. As I walked in, an American tourist told me I looked lovely, which just added to the charm of the place, really. As I was ordering my drink in this pub, I looked at the barman’s shirt, and, of course, it was the pub I had been looking for. I must have walked past it four times without realising it was the place I wanted. Oh well.
There was a fantastic band playing, who also happened to be Norwegian, which meant that they were doubly fantastic. Of course I went up and tried to talk to one of them in Norwegian, but he couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand him. He was from Trondheim, which I am telling myself was the problem and not the fact that I’ve probably forgotten most of my Norwegian through lack of use. The bass player was the most typically ‘Norwegian’ looking man ever, he had snow-white hair, blue eyes and the jaw bone and facial structure I associate with the Norwegians, so I developed a special fondness for him. He noticed and kept shooting me smiles, too, which was nice. All innocent, people, he was probably older than my Dad. Not that you are old Dad, all I mean is just..  oh, dig UP, Jenny, dig UP.
So, yes, where was I? Sorry, Facebook interlude. Umm… yes, I had a lovely time at Matt Molloy’s pub and a man from Atlanta, Georgia told me that he could tell I was ‘an adventurer’, which I very much appreciated and would like to put on my business cards, please. ‘Yes, hi, I’m Jenny and I’m an adventurer. A man from Georgia told me so.’
This morning, I woke up to a blazing hot sun (BLAZING) which was coming right through my curtain-less hostel room and interfering with my dreams. I had learnt the day before that my travel plans for my days in Westport were not going to work out as I had hoped. The buses to Achill Island only departed at 4pm in the afternoon, presumably because no-one goes for day trips, they only ever stay out on the island for at least a night. Well, that is to say, they are FORCED to spend a night out on the island because the Irish don’t run a bus service that caters to day-trippers. A cunning plan, Tourism Ireland, or, at least, Tourism Achill Island.
Not knowing how else I could get out to Achill Island, I started looking at the information available at the hostel. And I came up with a plan. The other way to get to Achill Island would be to cycle there. Now, it is 42 km from Westport to Achill Island, so it would be no mean feat to cycle there and back in one day (84km. Seriously. Do the math). However, it seemed my only option, so I decided if I got up really, really (REALLY) early, I could take it slow, with lots of breaks and of course, there was the glorious sun that would stay out until 10pm, giving me plenty of time to complete the marathon cycle if necessary. I then realised that if I hired a bike today, instead of just on Saturday, I could not only start cycling really, really (REALLY) early towards Achill Island, but I could also cycle to Croagh Patrick instead of walking there and shave a good 3 – 4 hours off my travel time. Part of me was thinking, ‘Now, come on, Jenny. I know you’ve started back at the gym, but who are we kidding? You’re still pretty out of shape. Can you really cycle 84km in one day? After walking up Croagh Patrick the day before?’ I decided to ignore this voice. 
So, off I pottered to the bike shop. I’m ecstatic that I did. They’d only just opened when I got there and the man who helped me was a bit flustered. The good weather had meant the place had been very busy and he wasn’t sure which bike, if any, he could give me. 10 minutes later, though, he had me set up with bike, helmet, lock, panniers and high-vis vest. He showed me the best way to get to Croagh Patrick and off I headed into the blazing Irish sun. The bike man told me that they could also arrange a pick up for me the next day, meaning I would only have to do 42km and not 84km if I wanted to see/get to Achill Island. I was delighted with myself for taking the chance and not stopping myself before I’d even tried. 
Really, the money for hiring the bike the extra day was worth it just to get the bike-man’s advice on how to get to Croagh Patrick. I would have taken the main highway, but the bike shop man directed me to an old railway track which is now a pathway/cycleway and then onto the coast road. It was a quieter, safer, and most importantly, more picturesque route. I had the magnificent Croagh Patrick in clear view on my left pretty much the whole way.
Now my camera has finally given up after 8 years of faithful service (it had still been working on and off in the last few months, but it was starting to make everyone and everything look like you were viewing them whilst on an acid trip, so I decided to retire it), so I’m relying on the friendly internet to give you a sense of what I saw today.

The magnificent Croagh Patrick. But today, there was not a cloud in the sky. NOT A SINGLE CLOUD. Its some sort of modern-day Irish miracle. Found at:

The ride was beautiful and almost exclusively downhill which gave me a false sense of confidence, whizzing away, going, ‘Oh, I don’t know why I was worried, this is going to be a breeze’. I kept ignoring the voice that pointed out I would have to climb back up these hills on the way home…
At the start of the ascent of Croagh Patrick is a car park, where I locked up my bike, feeling very smug as I walked past all the people who had merely driven to the mountain. Oh, I was so feeling so fine, so fit and healthy on this glorious sunny day.
I started the hike up and almost immediately came across this:

Found at:

My first thought was that St. Patrick was pointing a pistol at me. I think, is this a message from God? That he wants no heathens on his holy mountain? On closer inspection, I realise St. Pat is holding out a shamrock, but I was sufficiently unnerved to wonder if the whole expedition was actually that good an idea. The ascent is very steep, the mountain is very high, I’m not very fit, I’m using my handbag as some sort of demented backpack because I forgot to bring one and the sun is… well, did I mention that the sun is blazing? Yes?
But, on I go. Ten minutes in and I feel like I’m dying of thirst. I drink half my water and I’m not even a third of the way up the mountain. Again, I think, maybe I’m not fit enough for this anymore. But I convince myself to keep trying, taking it slowly, stopping now and then to admire the scenery (and catch my breath). It really was a magical place. Despite there being a fair few other people on the mountain, it was so quiet that all you could hear was the hollow whooshing of the wind through the grasses. Oh, and the occasional sheep. You could tell why people would think it might be a place to become enlightened, to converse with God or have a religious experience.
By the time I’ve finished the first ascent and gotten to the only flat bit of the hike, I’m feeling good. A Cork man in a black shirt who was powering up the hill before is now stopped and waiting for his brother. He seems intent on letting me know that it’s his brother holding him up and not exhaustion on his behalf. He adds in that he did a long run yesterday too, so he’s feeling a bit tired. And it’s hot. Otherwise, the implication is, he would be bounding up the mountain with the speed and grace of a runaway gazelle. It was an interesting conversation, because, of course, once upon a time, climbing Croagh Patrick was meant to be a religious experience, about pain, suffering and penitence, whereas now its just about the challenge, the exercise and the achievement. You can do runs up Croagh Patrick, you can do 7 day challenges, where you climb it 7 days in a row and all sorts of other things. I guess its still a religion of sorts. The religion of personal achievement and self-improvement. But, still, within this religion, you don’t want to show that it’s any effort. Or, you want to grunt and groan the whole way but never stop. Ok, so, maybe its exactly the same as the religious pilgrimage just without the praying. And with shoes (many pilgirms walk up without shoes, because the walk is basically just sharp rocks. Now with extra suffering and penitence! What fun religion is!)

On the flat bit of the hike. Found at:

 At the top of the mountain (I did get there eventually), is a little church and a rectangular square of concrete guarded by low metal fences that is supposed to mark St. Patrick’s bed. It looked rather uncomfortable. The second ‘station’ was next to it, the first being on the flat bit of the hike and the third bring past the summit. The stations are kind of like activity stations when you’re on boot camp. Except, with like prayers ‘n stuff. They were asking me to say a set number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys whilst walking round in circles or kneeling or some such. I didn’t much fancy kneeling on the rocks, so I said what bits of the Our Father I could remember in my head, which was about 4 lines and on I went. On the other side of the church, I found other hikers and a collection of dogs. One dog, a sheepdog, was the calmest, more centred, blissed out dog I have ever met. Seriously, this dog looked like a guru in an Indian ashram. I felt like this dog had it all worked out; he understood more about life then I did. He was just hanging in the sun, looking chilled and wise. When I sat down next to him, he immediately rolled slowly onto his back, one front paw raised and making a patting movement in the air whilst he watched me. Not demanding or excitable like many puppies or dogs, just, ‘you will do this for me now.’ So, I rubbed his belly for a few minutes which he enjoyed. When I stopped, he sat up, put his paw out again and made the same patting movement, as if saying he still wanted me to pat him. I patted his paw and then he put his paw on top of my hand, bringing it down to the ground with his paw, as if comforting me. ‘Ok, we’ll stop with the patting for now, my child, if that is what you wish.’ We sat like that for a few minutes, like the guru and disciple. It was ridiculously silly and made me so unreasonably happy I couldn’t stop smiling.

Church at Croagh Patrick summit. Found at:

After a short break, I headed down the mountain again. You always think walking downhill is going to be that much easier, but the ground was so slippery and the gradient of the hill so steep, that it required a great deal of balance and stress on the knees to get down again. I was caked in dried sweat, bright red and my hands were so swollen that my ring was in danger of cutting off the circulation to one of my fingers. But, I still made it down in good time. In fact, the only difference I think between unfit me now and Andean-leaping-fit me of 2008/2009 was that I had to go a bit slower and possibly my recovery won’t be quite as easy. I’ll leave that to tomorrow to worry about.
Anyway, because of the bike, I had many more hours than I had expected to have after finishing the hike. So, I took a breather, had some lunch and headed out again.
I saw the National Famine Monument, which was very sad. Its in the shape of one of the coffin ships and has all these flying raggedy skeletons over the top of it. In fact, it looked so sad and miserable I decided not to go in and look at it too closely. After all, the sun was blazing and I didn’t feel like being miserable. There were all these signs up for the Clew Bay Archaeological Site Trail, which I had never even heard of, but I decided that was as good a trail as any to follow and went round ticking off the sites that I could find. The trail is meant to be driven though, not ridden, so I eventually had to give up when the signs started asking me to ride 10km to the next site. I headed back to Westport, taking any side roads that took my fancy, finding myself on a pier, then on a beach, then at a quay and many other places. I saw so few people. The coastline was all mine.  Well, mine and a couple of cow’s.

Clew Bay. Found at:

The sun was so, so glorious and the sky so blue and clear that it didn’t seem quite possible that I was still in Ireland. I started to think about the other sunny days that I’d had in Ireland and I realised something interesting. Because gloriously sunny days are so rare here, I could actually remember all the details of all the sunny days I had experienced. That might sound depressing to someone back home, but I thought it was miraculous. As if each sunny day was as important and unique to you as every single one of your lovers, meaning you could recall every single detail.
This particular lover has a sting at the end, though. It always happened to me in Australia too. The first really sunny, hot day of the spring/summer, I would wander around in a happy, slightly mindless daze for hours and completely forget what happens when one wanders around in the blazing sun for hours. One gets sunburnt. And I got spectacularly sunburnt today. I’m now wearing a delightful summer dress, the effect of which is ruined by the bright-red sleeves on my arms, the angry red circle around my neck, the red-clown nose and the snow-white shoulders and decolletage they are contrasted against. Oops.



Filed under Ireland

2 responses to “Climbing Croagh Patrick

  1. wonderfully uncontroversial… x

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